Entering game 10 of the 2018-19 season, the Hurricanes sit at 5-3-1. The team did give back some of what was gained in the hot 4-0-1 start but also rebounded with a strong win on Monday after a three-game losing streak. In total, 5-3-1 is a solid start. Project that pace over 82 games, and the result is a 100-point pace. With the playoff cut line generally hovering around 94 or 95 points, that is obviously a good place to be after nine games especially with the Hurricanes propensity to dig holes in October and November.
But one should never rest on his/her laurels, so today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a short list of items that could drive another leg up for the Canes.
1) Scott Darling/goaltending
The Hurricanes have had strong goaltending play a key role in a handful of wins, but in total, the netminding has been ‘meh’ at best so far. The positive is that the team has proven capable of outscoring the defense on a few occasions which is a pleasant surprise. But as the season wears on and things tighten up defensively, Canes fans know too well that an extra soft goal here and there can be catastrophic. Mrazek has been up and down and could still be an answer, but the biggest wild card continue to be Scott Darling. He won 3-1 in his rehab start with the Checkers on Wednesday and figures to be in net in Raleigh as early as Friday. If he can find the level of play that won him a $16 million contract, that could be a significant boost pushing into the tail end of October.
2) Special teams
After a horrid start to the season that saw the team enter play on Monday in dead last in the league in terms of both power play and penalty kill proficiency, the units rebounded and drove a win on Monday. The power play scored both goals (not counting the empty-netter) and the penalty kill was perfect. My math in Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe before that game estimated the points lost at a big 3.5 through eight games. Here is hoping that Monday’s strong special teams outing triggers a reversion to a mean that is much higher than the first eight games.
3) The fourth line
The fourth line that started as the third line with Martin Necas centering it has yet to find its scoring legs in 2018-19. The group of players who have cycled on and off that line have produced only a single goal through nine games. If Nicolas Roy centers that line as expected on Friday, he will be the third player to center that group just ten games into the season. As the fourth line, the group does not need to lead the team in scoring, but at the same time today’s NHL requires depth scoring 12 forwards deep.
4) The kids settle in and surge
The Hurricanes lineup features four rookie forwards. Warren Foegele’s quick start and 27-goal pace would be an impressive total when considering that he is not playing on the power play. Lucas Wallmark and Andrei Svechnikov have looked capable thus far but have ceilings above their current scoring rate. Wallmark potted 17 goals in only 45 games played at the AHL level in 2017-18, and pre-draft analysis seems to unanimously peg Svechnikov as a can’t miss 30-goal scorer once he develops. The question is if some of this untapped upside can be realized sooner rather than later.
5) Blue line scoring rises
Entering Monday’s game, none of Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk or Jaccob Slavin had netted a goal despite logging a ton of ice time and regular minutes on the power play. In fact, only Brett Pesce had scored (twice). Faulk broke through with a power play blast for his first, so hopefully that breaks the ice and starts the group to contributing more offensively. On paper entering the 2018-19, the addition of Hamilton and his league-leading (tied) 17 goals for a defenseman figured to boost the Hurricanes defense scoring into the top half of the league. Thus far, that has not happened, but just like with the power play it seems reasonable to hope that more is on the way.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these possible boosts is most important?
2) Which is most likely to be realized?
3) Who has other areas for upside for the Hurricanes even after a strong start?