With two home games and now two road games completed, here is a quick assessment of where the Hurricanes are at this very early juncture of the season.
In the standings
My playoff math says that a team must get two-thirds of the points at home and half of the points on the road to finish around 95 total which is usually a point or two above the playoff cut line. By this math, the Hurricanes are some tiny fraction of a point above a playoff pace through four games. That is a good thing, especially for a team whose recent seasons have all been doomed by lack of production in October and November.
Especially with Scott Darling making a significant transition to a new team, a new role and a new amount of pressure as a starter and Cam Ward sliding into a backup role for the first time in about a decade, I think the goaltending checks out well through four games. Ironically, Darling was not great in his lone win to start the season, but he played well in both of the losses only allowing a single regulation goal in each. Ward followed up Darling’s three starts with a decent start of his own on Tuesday night and seized a win in his first start in the backup role.
The blue line
The blue line is still very much a work in progress right now. Peters’ initial decision to split Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce lasted all of one period into the season opener before he reverted back to mostly playing Slavin and Pesce together, cheating a bit and also using them elsewhere and trying to make what lies behind that hold together.
The third pairing has struggled since Trevor van Riemsdyk was shelved with an injury. Maybe not surprisingly since we saw the same in 2016-17, Klas Dahlbeck just is not a great fit for a #7 role because his game falls off too much playing on the right side instead of his natural left side. On Tuesday, Peters’ solution to the third pairing was to limit the two players (Haydn Fleury and Trevor Carrick) to an average of about nine minutes and play Slavin and Pesce for almost half of the game to make up for it. Hopefully, van Riemsdyk returns and helps solidify the bottom pairing, but early indications are that blue line depth could again be an Achilles’ heel if the Hurricanes lose a player or two to injury.
Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk have been more good than bad but have each had some rough patches already. Hanifin had a really tough first game but has settled down since then. Faulk has similarly been more good than bad but still has too many instances where he is caught flat-footed or just does not close gaps quickly enough. The mobility issues have resulted in four minor penalties through four games for Faulk.
Much like 2016-17, the Hurricanes are winning at even strength with Slavin/Pesce on the ice. Pesce leads the team at plus 4, and Slavin is just behind him at plus 3. But the team is losing with any other defensemen on the ice. Hanifin is a team worst minus 3; Faulk is right behind him at minus 2; Fleury is minus 1.
In short, the blue line that is projected to be a strength is still very much a work in progress at this early stage of the season.
I wrote ad nauseam about the forward situation last week and will be brief here. With two big scoring outbursts and two meager nights offensively, I think something like ‘hot and cold’ or ‘inconsistent’ could be accurate tags for the offense.
The fourth line has been pretty good with both Brock McGinn and Josh Jooris in the right wing slot and seems to be gaining Bill Peters’ trust in addition to figuring heavily in the penalty killing. I am not sure anything else is really settled in terms of line combinations. Both Janne Kuokkanen and Martin Necas have shown flashes of being capable of playing at the NHL level, but through four games, neither has appeared on the score sheet. And though Tuesday’s five-goal outburst significantly boosted a number of players’ scoring paces, the real measure of where the team is offensively might be whether it can at least muster some offense in the next game where things do not seem to magically click.
Per my notes from the 5-3 win over Edmonton, I think that game could well have been a step in the direction of Necas ultimately playing most of the 2017-18 season elsewhere where he can log a ton of minutes in all situations, continue to round out his game and in the process not burn the first year of his entry-level contract. I think Kuokkanen’s game is more well-rounded and also that Lee Stempniak could prove to be a modest boost to the lineup as another experienced NHLer with a decent offensive tool bag.
The shorter version is that the Hurricanes forward lines have run so hot and cold, it is hard to figure exactly what the reality is yet.
What say you Canes fans?
Do you agree with my assessments?
Am I being too hard on the blue line?
Now with two good games and two bad games for the forwards (at least in terms of goal scoring), what do you make of the group so far?