The Hurricanes are off to a hot start this season. The team is riding a three-game winning streak, and their only loss came on opening night in overtime. The 3-0-1 record has the Canes sitting atop the Eastern Conference after the first week of the season. Coming into the year with a lot of turnover in the front office, coaching staff, and on the roster, people weren’t sure what to expect from the Canes this season. But, the red-hot start has fans excited and the whole league talking. The Hurricanes have a different vibe to them this year, and it’s not going unnoticed by anyone. So, what’s causing the success on the ice so far? We’ll discuss that and a couple of other storylines here.
Jordan Staal Looks Rejuvenated
Staal has been a fun player to watch this season. He has scored three times and has five points in his first four games of the regular season. I think that everybody expected Staal to play a key role this season, and he’s done just that, averaging 19:15 TOI per game so far.
The best part of Staal’s game so far has to be the physicality. He is banging bodies and is playing with a huge edge. Staal just looks like he is confident in himself and the players around him. I think that Staal is genuinely enjoying being out there with this group of players, and this is the best that I’ve seen him look in a few years.
Sebastian Aho’s History of Slow Starts is Over
In Aho’s rookie season, he didn’t score a goal until November 12th, the 14th game of the regular season. Last season, Aho’s first goal came on November 13th, the 16th game of the regular season. This year, Aho scored his first goal on October 5th, the second game of the season. Aho scored on October 9th as well, giving him two goals while adding four assists for six points through his first four games of the season.
It’s very encouraging to see that Aho is wasting no time to start this season. The best part of his strong start has to be that he’s doing it all while playing center for the first time as a NHL player. Aho’s stat line in his first four games: 2 goals, 4 assists, 6 points, 18:40 TOI per game, 59.2 FOW%. That’s pretty good for a first time NHL center.
Part of Aho’s success has to be new addition Micheal Ferland. Ferland came to Carolina as part of the Dougie Hamilton trade, and he’s instantly become a fan favorite. Aho and Ferland have some serious chemistry playing alongside each other, and it shows with Ferland’s two goals and five points. Ferland and Aho just seem to know where the other is on the ice. They’ve made some seriously impressive passes to each other, and they’ve been responsible for creating a lot of offensive for each other. Here is an example of the chemistry between the two: https://twitter.com/brett_finger/status/1049808116374736897
The Rookies are Confident
One of my biggest questions about the team coming into the season was if too much pressure would be put on Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. So far, that hasn’t been the case.
Svechnikov has started the season playing alongside Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook, and that line has been very impressive. Svech has two goals already, both being the eventual game winning goal (one against the Rangers, one against the Canucks). He has looked very good so far, and he would have even more goals if he didn’t hit the post twice against the Islanders. Here is one of those shots, with the pass coming from Martin Necas.
Martin Necas, on the other hand, has yet to score a goal, although he does have an assist. Necas has also only won 36% of his faceoffs so far. I would say that the faceoff stat is more concerning than the points, although I wouldn’t worry about either too much yet.
Despite the lack of success on the stat sheet, Necas looks extremely confident on the ice. His skating ability is really awesome to watch, and he has some serious vision. Those skills give Necas the ability to create offense, and he makes some very impressive passes. Necas isn’t afraid to take the puck into the zone by himself to try and create offense. Here is another look at a great play from Necas:
I wouldn’t worry about Necas. He’s a young center adjusting to the NHL. And, he’s also started off playing with Brock McGinn and one of Phil Di Giuseppe or Valentin Zykov. I expect that, once he gets more accustomed to the NHL style of play, Necas will be put in a better position to produce offense at even strength.
Special Teams is Still a Concern
Both special team units have struggled thus far for the Hurricanes. The powerplay is converting at just a 10% rate so far, which is tied for 9th worst in the NHL. The penalty kill is killing off just 71.4% of penalties, which is 8th worst in the NHL.
Part of the reason the PK has struggled is that the team is taking too many penalties. The Canes have been shorthanded 14 times already this year, and have been shorthanded at least three times in every game this season. The penalty killers have also been more aggressive, which is both a good and bad thing. Players like Warren Foegele have gotten a couple of offensive chances while shorthanded, and it’s been fun to watch. The downside to aggressiveness on the PK is the chances it creates for the other team. The Canes are still using a lot of guys to kill penalties, which is a good thing. I think that the PK will improve, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about it at all.
Dougie Hamilton wasn’t even getting much PP time early on, and that will change which will single handedly help improve the PP. The Canes have gotten chances, and they haven’t had powerplays where they just look completely incompetent like they did last year.
It’s reasonable to expect the special team units to struggle initially due to the change around the coaching staff and roster in the offseason. Things should get better, but they need to do so quickly if the Canes want to continue their success.
What About the Goalies?
After losing apparent starter Scott Darling to injury before the regular season even got underway, Petr Mrazek was set to step in as the Hurricanes’ starting goalie. The team also claimed Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis McElhinney to be the backup until Darling returns.
McElhinney has been outstanding in his first two starts as a Hurricane, winning both games while posting a .930 SV% and a 2.00 GAA. Meanwhile, Mrazek has struggled a bit. His first game of the season came on opening night, and he looked solid in the 2-1 loss in overtime. His next start came against the Rangers, and Mrazek got the win despite giving up five goals. Mrazek has posted just a 1-0-1 record, a .841 SV% and a 3.43 GAA in his two starts. Now, tonight in Minnesota, McElhinney will get the start, giving him his third start of the season over Mrazek.
Mrazek signed a one year “prove it” deal in the offseason, and in his first game, he looked like he was going to prove that he can be a starting goaltender in the NHL. His second game wasn’t pretty, but that also wasn’t all on him. It’s also important to note that Mrazek is adjusting to his third NHL team since the start of last season, so it’s reasonable to expect an adjustment period.
Eventually, Darling is going to return to the ice, and then the active roster. When that happens, the Hurricanes have an important decision to make. Do they keep three goalies on the roster? It doesn’t happen very often, but I think that is the best way to go about the goalie situation. What harm comes in keeping all three goalies on the roster for now? McElhinney is on a very cheap contract, so that makes it easier to keep him around. Plus, if you waive McElhinney, there is almost no chance that he clears waivers. I honestly believe that the best way to go about the situation is to keep all three around, rotate them in and out for a while, and keep all three guys until one of them proves to you that they don’t deserve to be on the NHL roster.
It’s been a great start to the season for the Hurricanes, and it’s been very exciting to watch. The players seem to love it. The fans love it. And the team is giving us results that we’ve wanted to see so far. Plus, how do you not love the new win celebration?
Also, huge thanks to Brett over at Canes Country for the GIFs. Check him out on twitter @brett_finger for some great Canes related content.