And just like that, the pendulum swung back to positive on Thursday night with a high octane 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs who came into the game with an impressive 7-2 record and the top scoring offense in the entire NHL. The previously feeble Carolina Hurricanes offense outscored the scorers and left with a resounding win.
One explanation for Thursday’s game is simple inconsistency. The parity in the NHL makes for an up and down ride even for good teams, but based on the highs and lows thus far in the 2017-18 season for the Hurricanes, one could make a reasonable claim that the Hurricanes are maybe even more inconsistent than most.
Quick try at identifying the Hurricanes best stretches of hockey in 2017-18
If we chalk up the ups and downs to inconsistency, the article ends there. But instead let’s consider some of the Hurricanes best hockey this season:
Game 4 vs. Edmonton: In total, the Hurricanes were outplayed in this game. The possession and shot totals said so, and the eye test, if not distracted by goal scoring, matched. But the Hurricanes scored twice early against a team that likes to run and gun a bit anyway. So at that point the game opened up, and despite being outplayed the Hurricanes had and finished with high efficiency to the tune of five goals.
Game 5 vs. Calgary: I still think this was the Hurricanes best game in total. The good guys were reasonably solid defensively and dictated play throughout most of the game despite not scoring a bunch.
Game 6 vs. Dallas–Third period: After two lackluster periods and a 4-1 deficit, the Hurricanes had no choice but to pin their ears back, take some risks and go for it. When they did, they were instantly better. It was ultimately too little, too late, but before that realization, the Hurricanes played a fast and furious third period and netted two goals in the process.
Game 7 vs. Tampa Bay–Third period: Though the effort was not dreadful like against Dallas, the situation was similar entering the third period with a multi-goal deficit. Again, with nothing to lose, the Hurricanes pinned their ears back and went for it, and again they mounted a serious comeback before falling short.
Game 8 vs. Toronto: Finally, Thursday’s win in Toronto was a bit like the Edmonton game. The Hurricanes scored twice early against a team that does not mind wide open hockey anyway. The result was the opponent opening things up, but the Hurricanes getting the better of that situation with opportunistic scoring in bunches.
Seeking a common theme
When I think about the ups and downs and try to sort through the ups looking for commonality, here is what I get: The Hurricanes are very good when the game opens up and is played in a fast-paced back and forth manner in the middle of the rink.
I think the Calgary win is a bit of an outlier in that regard. I would describe that game more as steady and sound hockey for a full 60 minutes. But all of the other four games/parts of games featured one of the two things. Either the opponent was down early and willing to open things up, or the Hurricanes were down late and went into desperation mode opening things up trying to generate offense. In both scenarios, the Carolina Hurricanes thrived in the more open style of play and showed an incredible knack for opportunistic scoring (or at least scoring chance generation) in bunches.
The sample size is fairly small. And the conclusion is some combination of interpretation and reading tea leaves and therefore subject to debate. But if you do take my assessment of the best of the Hurricanes first eight games, the upshot is potentially interesting.
Are the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes best designed for wide open shootouts of the 6-5 variety? On the surface, one might think that does not make much sense for a team that finishing 20th in the NHL in scoring last year and made only modest scoring upgrades in the offseason. But on the other hand, the roster is definitely built to play a skating game that goes back and forth in a hurry. And at least relative to battling for pucks on the walls, playing in the middle of the rink is more suitable to the Hurricanes size and skill.
Next up – A couple more rounds of testing the reverse
As luck would have it, the next two games feature two Western Conference teams who will bring some big and rugged into PNC Arena. Both St. Louis and Anaheim will be more content to play the game from station to station and on the walls.
The question is whether the Hurricanes can win a battle of will against these teams and open things up a bit more, or if instead they must somehow find a way to grind out a win in a style that maybe is not ideal for them.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Could I be right that alleged to be scoring challenge Hurricanes are actually the opposite and just need to make more of a concerted effort to open things up from the initial drop of the puck?
2) What are the commonalities and trends that you see in the team’s best stretches of hockey so far in 2017-18?