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About Last Night: Max Pacioretty Experiences Hurricanes Hockey

Max Pacioretty’s strong debut wasn’t enough to boost the Hurricanes and secure a win against Nino Niederreiter and the Predators.

Nashville Predators v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Josh Lavallee/NHLI via Getty Images

On January 18, 2019, following a 4-1 loss to the league-worst Ottawa Senators on home ice in Nino Niederreiter’s debut with the team, then-rookie head coach Rod Brind’Amour slowly walked into the PNC Arena media room.

The Carolina Hurricanes had lost 25 of their 47 games up to that point, but that particular loss felt totally deflating, especially in the debut of a new goal-scoring winger.

“I said, in the dressing room, I apologized to him,” Brind’Amour said of Niederreiter. “That effort... that’s not our team, and that’s his first game, so I’m sure he thinks we’re... I don’t know what he thinks we are right now. We’ll correct that.”

We now know that they did, indeed, correct that, but it was hard to imagine a debut game ending in a loss as memorable as that one in 2019. I mean, the head coach literally apologized to the player for how badly his team played.

Four years later, almost to the day, Max Pacioretty made his Hurricanes debut against Niederreiter and the Nashville Predators. The 5-3 loss at PNC Arena certainly wasn’t anywhere near as deflating as the Ottawa loss, but for what it lacked in doom, it made up for in pure irony.

The Hurricanes honored Pacioretty’s debut with a jersey-matching 67 shots on goal, setting a franchise record. They outshot the Predators by a preposterous 42-shot margin. With 2.9 seconds to go in the third period, Colton Sissons netted an empty-net goal to make it a two-goal game and officially put the “Corsi Canes“ away.

In his first game with the team, Pacioretty experienced historic levels of Hurricanes hockey.

Let’s talk about last night.

Max Paccioretty Impresses In Debut

Pacioretty started the game on the fourth line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Derek Stepan. He ended the game on the first line with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis.

That should already paint a picture of how well things went for the 34-year-old.

His first shift was a short one that started with a defensive zone faceoff, but his second shift saw him put two heavy shots on the net. That shift was eye-opening. His shot looks and feels different than other goal-scorers on the team. When Pacioretty releases the puck, you can almost feel the weight of it from the stands.

He ended the night with six shots on goal and a pair of hits in 16:06 of ice time. He was the fifth-most-used Carolina forward, and though he showed signs of rust late in the game when he was clearly out of gas, it was a promising start for a player on a new team who had missed 38 games with an injury that could have put his career in jeopardy.

Assuming he recovers well physically after last night’s game, it seems likely that Pacioretty won’t start this weekend’s matchup with Columbus on the fourth line.

Saros Sorrows

There have been countless instances of the Hurricanes piling up shots on goal but not deserving to win. Last night wasn’t one of those nights by any stretch of the imagination.

According to NaturalStatTrick, the Hurricanes had 6.45 expected goals-for in all situations. That number is the third-highest of Brind’Amour’s coaching tenure and just .02 behind a 3-1 win over Saros and the Predators in April 2021.

Their 27 high-danger shot attempts were the most they’ve had in a game this season and their third-most since 2018. If the numbers feel hollow, here’s a visual representation of where Carolina’s shots were taken.

Hurricanes vs. Predators shot map (January 5, 2023)
Money Puck

The Hurricanes certainly took a great deal of low-danger shots, but they had nearly as many quality opportunities to put the puck in the net. They capitalized three times, starting with a deflection from the high slot by Paul Stastny.

The Hurricanes then caught the Predators on their heels during the first shift of period two, capitalizing on the extra room on the ice in a 4-on-4 sequence and pulling off a dazzling series of passes. The last pass went from Brett Pesce to Brady Skjei to make it 2-1.

Their third and final tally resulted from the third line doing what it has done all season. Jordan Martinook stripped Mattias Ekholm of the puck in the neutral zone, and Jesper Fast bumped a pass to Jordan Staal, who made a great read and shot into the offensive zone for a breakaway goal.

From that point on, it was the Juuse Saros show.

After allowing three goals on 28 shots through almost exactly one-half of the game, the diminutive goalie stopped 39 shots in the final 30 minutes, including 28 in the third period alone.

Money Puck’s tracking was less favorable to Carolina’s offense than NaturalStatTrick, but it wasn’t by much. According to Money Puck, the Hurricanes generated 6.09 expected goals, which is still absurdly high. Saros was credited with 3.09 goals saved above expected. He entered the game with just over 13 goals saved above expected in his first 28 games, a mark that already ranked near the top of the league.

Countless chaotic sequences should have ended in Carolina goals. Paul Stastny had three high-danger shot attempts in about ten seconds during a shift in the second period. Andrei Svechnikov had a very similar shift later in the game.

The Stastny-centered line with Necas and Svechnikov was flat-out tremendous from start to finish. With the trio on the ice, Carolina outshot Nashville 16-6 at 5-on-5 and racked up seven high-danger shots while giving up just two.

It’s easy to say that it was “another one of those games” for the Hurricanes. Oftentimes, there would be agreement here, but this wasn’t one of those instances. Saros was under duress all night. He did everything he could, be it sprawling for post-to-post stops, locating pucks through a seemingly never-ending bevy of humanity, or even dropping his stick on one third-period chance to swat at a fluttering puck destined to tie the game.

It was one of the best goalie performances in the NHL this season. Unfortunately, it happened on a night that saw Pyotr Kochetkov struggle as he continued to try to fight through rust.

These losses hurt a lot less when you’re the second-ranked team in the NHL, and you just went an entire month without losing a regulation game. The process, particularly in the offensive zone, wasn’t the problem last night.

If the Hurricanes follow last night up with a similar effort, the odds will be very much in their favor against Columbus.