First to be clear, the Hurricanes 6-4-1 start is a positive. My standings based on games above .500 (to adjust for games played) sees the Hurricanes tied with three other teams for both the last Metropolitan Division playoff slot and the second Eastern Conference wild card slot.
That is a good place to be.
But nonetheless, today’s Daily Cup of Joe turns a bit negative and offers up a set of hard truths.
1) It still comes down to goaltending
The Hurricanes have been able to outscore netminding and even special teams struggles to some degree early on. But as the NHL season wears on, the scores tend to look more like 3-2 than 5-3. As that begins to happen, the margin for error shrinks, and an extra goal here or there due to weak netminding can too regularly be the difference. And that unfortunately is exactly where the Hurricanes have generally landed right when it was time to push for a playoff spot during the winter months. I would love to believe that sub-par netminding is something that can be overcome, but I just do not think that will be the case. In the end, a significant component in determining this team’s fate will be goaltending.
2) The current team is significantly better with Victor Rask than without him
Say what you want (and it is all true) about Victor Rask’s sub-par 2017-18 season, but the current lineup would be significantly better with Rask than without him. Even the low-scoring version of Rask from 2017-18 had 14 goals and 17 assists. Sadly, that would be an offensive boost right now for the center position. Lucas Wallmark has not been bad, but his play can best be described as serviceable and nothing close to difference-making. And the ongoing tryout for the other center slot that has seen Martin Necas, Clark Bishop and now Nicolas Roy rotate through has yet to find a winner.
3) Andrei Svechnikov has been underwhelming thus far
An important starting point is to say that absolutely nothing has changed with Andrei Svechnikov’s potential ceiling long-term. The skill set is there.
But the hope that he would parachute into the NHL immediately ready to be a higher-end scorer is dwindling. Some are pinning Svechnikov’s modest production on his line mates. While there is an element of who he is playing with to be factored in, Svechnikov has had a decent number of scoring chances and is still adjusting to NHL goalies. In alone multiple times, he has gone the route of holding and then changing the angle last minute before shooting and been stoned many times in the process. At lower levels, if you can hit the net on such a move, more often than not it is a goal. That is not so at the NHL level where goalies are reading him and snuffing out some chances. Again, he is 18 years old and nothing has changed with his potential, but the team did not find immediate scoring help.
4) The team will become better when it can force Justin Williams down into the bottom six forwards
I am on record as saying and still have no doubt that Williams was the right choice as captain, but as a player early returns on the 2018-19 suggest his days playing 18ish minutes against other teams’ best lines might be ending. He just does not have the mobility at transition points, and I think the same acceleration issues are what is causing some of his inopportune passes. Like Faulk’s troubles at times in recent years, handling the puck in the defensive and neutral zones without the ability to carry it results in too many premature, forced passes that often cover too much ice and are subject to being picked off.
5) As good as Warren Foegele and Jordan Martinook are when they can win on the forecheck shorthanded, they have been ‘meh’ otherwise as penalty killers
Foegele and Martinook have posted some utterly phenomenal highlight reel type shorthanded shifts where they played in the offensive zone, won pucks and created scoring chances for most or all of some shifts. But in cases when the puck gets behind them on the forecheck they have struggled. Because they are so aggressive, when they have been beaten it has led to a good number of chances off the rush as they tried to catch up. In addition, neither has been great in the defensive zone in terms of identifying and clogging passing lanes (which I think is one of the biggest problems right now). I wonder if splitting them and giving each a ‘hound the puck’ role with more of a read/react type partner might help stabilize the penalty kill.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with these hard truths? If not, which do you disagree with?
2) Do you have any other hard truths that you would add to such a list?