With the completion of Tuesday’s game, the Carolina Hurricanes are suddenly 21 games into the 2019-20 season.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers an assessment of the team so far
Through 21 games, the team has 27 points. That 105-point pace should easily be good enough for the playoffs. The Canes sit in third place in the competitive Metropolitan Division and adjusted for games played have a four-point cushion above the #9 team in the Eastern Conference and the playoff cut line.
Put simply, that is good. Very good.
I will of course go on to evaluate the team’s play in detail below and offer cons to go with pros, but it should not be lost that the Hurricanes are in a very good place through 21 games.
There have been ebbs and flows, but in total I think the team’s offense has been a plus. Erik Haula’s absence significantly changes things heading into the second quarter of the season, but for the first quarter being evaluated Dzingel/Haula/Necas adding some scoring punch in the bottom part of the lineup and equally significantly all contributed on the power play. That makes for three players who were not even in the mix in 2018-19 who have made significant scoring contributions in 2019-20. Haula has been a key component as a net front presence and finisher on the power play. Dzingel has actually impressed more with his playmaking than his goal scoring. And Necas is growing as an offensive player at the NHL level. Dougie Hamilton has contributed at the level of a goal-scoring forward which is a huge boost from a defenseman, and the blue line in total led the way early in the season before slowing a bit. At a bare minimum, Andrei Svechnikov has taken a step forward offensively. Right now, he is clearly pushing up against being a bona fide top-tier NHL scorer through 21 games. Ironically, a few of the team’s top offensive players started slowly and are just starting to hit stride. And the forecheck that drove the offense in 2018-19 has been sporadic at best. That suggests that the team has upside to offset any slow downs and also Haula’s absence.
As I have said recently, this team has regularly shown the fire power and finishing to out run its mistakes on some nights. The team has more weapons and better pure finishing offensively than it has had in a decade.
I do think Haula’s absence is worth watching. If the result from that is one scoring line and three scoring-limited checking lines, the team could struggle to score enough. But at the same time, the there is potential upside if top players like Aho and Niederreiter can find a higher gear.
At a general level, I would say that the team’s defense is a work in process. Through 21 games, the defense is nowhere near the level it was playing at in the latter half of the 2018-19 season. Odd man rushes against and break downs defending in the defensive zone have been far too high. The blue line that was the foundation in 2018-19 is still a work in progress. Jake Gardiner is still trying to get settled with a new team and system and has struggled. Joel Edmundson has had some ups and downs but generally been more positive. For as much as Dougie Hamilton has been elite offensively, his defensive play has had too many lapses. The core of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have mostly been stalwart, but the rest of the blue line is still a work in progress. Equally significantly, the Hurricanes forwards have similarly had issues defensively. Aho seemed to regress a bit early in the season. Staal started slowly. And in general the team has not been as successful slowing the other team immediately with the forecheck and has had trouble defending the neutral zone behind that.
Just like with the offense, I think there is significant upside here. Ideal would be if the team can re-establish its forechecking identity. When the team forechecks effectively, the volume of defending that is required decreases. …The best defense is a good offense.
Thus far, I think the goaltending has been decent not great. Neither goalie’s numbers are very impressive, but part of that has been the defensive play noted above. Of the losses, there are not really any that I would hang directly on the goalie, and the duo has stolen a few games already. In general, I think the goalies have generally played well enough to get the team the outcome it deserved. While I would not say that Mrazek is playing at the level he played at last winter and spring, I think he has been good enough. And in the challenging role as a backup, I think one can live with Reimer playing a huge role in three wins on lesser nights for the team in front of him even though he does have a few ‘meh’ outings too.
The upside here is Mrazek finding a rhythm that leads to an extended run of plus play like he did in the second half of the 2019-20 season.
The power play has been streaky but in total has produced. What started as the second unit was lights out during the team’s early winning run. More recently both units have contributed some. For a team that has struggled to be middle of the pack in recent season, the current eighth place in the entire NHL is easily an improvement.
Similarly, the Canes’ 11th place ranking for the penalty kill is at a minimum acceptable.
The absence of Erik Haula is worth watching on the power play, but the team also has offensive players who have yet to really click.
Greatest potential upside
I really do not think the team’s best players have led the way yet. Sebastian Aho has boosted his scoring of late in total for the first quarter of the season, he has played at a level significantly lower than what he did for the 2018-19 season. Jordan Staal has started slow. Petr Mrazek has been okay not great. And at a more general level, just tightening things up defensively could make it easier to win more often on lesser nights.
Cause for concern (or at least things to watch)
My biggest concern right now is that I really do no think this team has an identity yet or a consistent formula. Through 21 games, I think the team’s greatest strength has been its ability to out-score many of its mistakes. The better offense is obviously a positive, but as the season wears on it becomes tougher to win with too many mistakes. The peak version of this team continues to score in bunches but also adds an ability to dictate play with the forecheck and be sounder defensively such that winning 2-1 is possible if necessary.
What say you Canes fans?
What is your assessment of the Carolina Hurricanes at the one-quarter mark of the 2019-20 season?