Carolina Hurricanes: Checking In At the 10-Game Mark

The Carolina Hurricanes are now 10-games into the 2021 NHL season, having dropped a 3-2 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Let’s take a look at how things are shaking out for the team.

Offense

As of this afternoon, the Carolina Hurricanes have scored 34 goals, putting them at 3.4 goals per game, ahead of last year’s 3.19. To give a little more perspective, the 2018-19 squad—the first Hurricanes team to reach the postseason in a decade—scored at a rate of 2.99 goals per game. Thankfully, the core of this team continues to progress.

Andrei Svechnikov has been continuing his ascent and has regularly been the team’s best player. If things continue at their current pace—and all bets are off this season—the third-year phenom would finish with 34 goals and 56 points, a point-per-game click.

Vincent Trocheck has proven to be a perfect fit in Carolina. Despite missing the Hurricanes’ last game, Trocheck, erm, checks in with 6 goals and 9 points. He’s also won 57% of the face-offs he’s taken, dished out 19 hits, and been a valuable power play contributor.

Sebastian Aho has been quietly productive, tallying 9 points. The Finn has been somewhat snakebitten as his goal total (2) has been impeded by opposing goalposts. Still, he’s contributing at just about the pace expected of him.

Now, there’s no way that I’m not going to mention Jordan Staal. The captain has been a force early on this season, using his sizable frame to create space, win puck battles, and generally make life miserable for the opposition. His offensive output (2g; 7a) matches that of Aho despite the fact that Staal has dressed in only 8 games.

Nino Niederreiter has 5 goals so far and is showing signs of a bounce-back following a disappointing 2019-20 campaign. Brock McGinn has picked up 4 goals and has been a menace all over the ice. It’ll be interesting to see what GM Don Waddell does with the feisty winger, who is set to become a UFA at season’s end.

Oddly enough, the Hurricanes had no goals scored by a defenseman until both Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce found the back of the net in a 6-5 victory over Columbus on February 7. Hamilton leads the blueline in scoring with 8 points (1g; 7a).

The biggest concern lies with Teuvo Teravainen, who sits with just 2 assists in 7 games. Health concerns are certainly a possibility following his stay on the COVID Protocol List and his performance is not at the level we’re accustomed to. Hopefully, he gets back to his old self—in health and play—sooner than later.

The power play is clicking along at 23.5%, good enough for 10th place in the league. That said, the Hurricanes have again had more than their fair share of miserable efforts mixed in with some absolute brilliance. Having Teravainen at 100% certainly wouldn’t hurt anything here.

Defense

With 27 goals allowed (2.7 per game), the Carolina Hurricanes are in decent shape. There are, however, some concerns. Defensive stalwart Jaccob Slavin hasn’t been his usual self following the team’s COVID pause. While there’s little doubt he’ll rebound, it’s always odd to see him make a bad play. It happens so rarely that this season has had moments that jump out at you.

Overall, the Hurricanes’ blueline has looked good but not great. Hamilton and Pesce have looked good overall; Jake Gardiner has looked much more comfortable, though his offense still isn’t where it was expected to be when he signed as a free agent in 2019.

Brady Skjei continues to blend in, though he frustrates me more than any other defenseman on the team. The talent is there, no question, but the consistency isn’t. I’m not writing him off—not even close—but I would like to see him smooth out his overall game. He has the tools to be a very good player, especially on this team’s second pairing.

Haydn Fleury is maturing into an ornery presence on the back-end and I love to see it. Not everybody feels this way apparently, as it seems that some Sumatran curse hovers over him when it comes to offense. He’ll break through, probably with a game-winner.

Jake Bean saw action in 3 games and didn’t look out of place, though his future with the team—and its blueline depth—is murky. The only contract coming off the books after the season is Hamilton’s and Waddell will likely do everything in his power to re-sign him. I can’t see much in the way of a trade unless Fleury or Bean himself are moved. Slavin and Pesce make tantalizing targets for other teams but I don’t see them getting moved. Gardiner and Skjei could go, though their contracts make that a tough proposition.

Looking at the penalty kill, things have been okay but far from perfect. Sitting in the middle of the league with an 80.56% kill rate, there’s room for improvement. Despite my initial thoughts, the Hurricanes have had the 10th-fewest power plays against (36). Still, there have been times where they allow too much space and let the opposition get a little too comfortable

Goaltending

Here we go, the single most divisive position among the Carolina Hurricanes’ fanbase.

Petr Mrazek came into the season as the team’s de-facto #1 and he played like it. Mrazek went 2-1 in 4 appearances before suffering an injury to his hand. While the timetable for his return following surgery is unclear, his play this season has been phenomenal:

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek

Add to that a .955 save percentage and 2 shutouts and it’s impossible to argue Mrazek’s contribution to the team’s early-season success.

In Mrazek’s absence, starting duties have fallen to James Reimer. While the veteran netminder holds a 5-1 record, his underlying stats (3.13 GAA; .883 SV%) don’t paint a rosy picture. While I don’t think those numbers tell the entire story, they aren’t close to complimenting the rest of the team. I have little doubt his performance will improve but, until Mrazek returns, the Hurricanes will have less room for error if they want to keep pace.

Alex Nedeljkovic has been serving as Reimer’s backup and got his first action of the season in Monday night’s loss. While his numbers from that game aren’t good (3.09 GAA; .864 SV%), the loss cannot be hung around his neck. One goal deflected off of Svechnikov’s shoulder; a questionable penalty shot, and then the parting of the Red Sea all played into Carolina’s loss.

Regardless of where you stand on the goaltending, one thing is clear: the soon Mrazek returns, the better for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Things will get more interesting in the offseason, as all 3 goalies are set to become free agents (Mrazek and Reimer as UFAs; Nedeljkovic as an RFA). Will we see a trade? John Gibson and Darcy Kuemper are particularly interesting options, but acquiring either would depend on how Anaheim or Arizona view their situations and what they would want in return.

Final Thoughts

With the Carolina Hurricanes holding a 7-3 record, it’s hard to complain.

Yet here we are.

Okay, I don’t have complaints—outside of the NHL’s officiating—but I do have concerns about the team’s play that need to be addressed:

  • Return to form for Turbo: Teuvo Teravainen is a huge part of the Hurricanes’ offense. While his performance is understandable given the circumstances, this team is much more lethal when Teravainen is on his game.
  • Tighten up special teams: No, neither the power play nor the penalty kill has been bad but, with the team’s talent, both could be better. Games are won and lost on special teams and, in this strange season, wins are at a premium more than ever. Even a marginal improvement here could make a big difference.
  • Goaltending: Whatever happens, the goaltending has to be better. There’s not a loss this season (so far) that I blame solely on goaltending but a duo posting a sub-.900 save percentage isn’t going to get it done. Yes, there is time left but how much patience do the coaching staff and front office have in this shortened season?

The Carolina Hurricanes’ next game is Thursday against the Stars in Dallas.

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