Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues with the recent thread of articles looking forward to the 2021 NHL Playoffs. The team that wins it all usually hits a near-perfect storm with a high percentage of its players playing at the peak of their game in the post-season. With the aim of reaching peak Hurricanes by next week, today’s article identifies players trending up, trending down and worth monitoring as the playoffs approach.
SAT line – Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen
Since the return of Teuvo Teravainen and that line being put back together shortly thereafter, the trio has been scorching hot. In five games since returning from his long injury layoff, Teravainen has six points. Sebastian Aho, who was already hot before Teravainen’s return, has a MASSIVE 11 points in those five games and 16 points in his last eight games. Finally, after collecting six assists since Teravainen’s return (he was not with Aho/Teravainen initially but I will use the same five games for comparison), Andrei Svechnikov finally broke through for two goals on Tuesday to get to two goals and seven assists in the seven games.
As noted in yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, the 2020-21 rising of Vincent Trocheck as the centerpiece of a second scoring line makes it more likely that Brind’Amour will be able to leave the SAT line together and still generate enough depth scoring.
I have not been shy about beating the ‘whichever team’s best players are better wins a playoff series’ drum. That looks promising right now at the top of the forward group.
By my count, he has saved three goals against like a goalie blocking open chunks of net being shot on in the past 4-5 games. He has also been a leader on a penalty kill that has been outstanding of late. And in general, he looks incredibly strong right now after taking awhile to round into form post-COVID layoff. He figures to be a workhorse in the playoffs, so the timing is right.
It will be interesting to see if he plays his way into the mix even with players returning. He has generated a significant amount of offense almost exclusively from behind the end line feeding teammates for point blank goals. He has six assists in his last 11 games and a number of other set ups of scoring chances. In under 10 minutes of ice time per game and surrounded by players in the bottom half of the forward group. He might or might not keep his spot when the roster is healthy, but if nothing else he has shown his ability to bring a different element to the fourth line.
He had a tough third period, overtime and outing in general in a recent loss to Florida but otherwise has been a model of consistency that should inspire confidence. If Petr Mrazek can quickly get back up to peak form after a layoff for the second time this season, I think Brind’Amour will go with Mrazek out of the gate, but be reasonably quick to go to Nedeljkovic if Mrazek falters even slightly. But if Mrazek has trouble getting back up to speed in the final few games of the regular season, Brind’Amour will have a tough decision to make. Either way, Nedeljkovic is another player trending in the right direction heading into the playoffs.
Playoff Foegele seemed to arrive a bit early a few weeks back. The peak version of Foegele is fast to the puck and a chaos and turnover-creating machine. The result when he is playing at that level is quick transition chances for Foegele and his line mate caused by forechecking turnovers and regular messy efforts by opposing defensemen trying to exit the defensive zone. The playoff win over the Capitals in 2019 required a full team effort, but if one had to credit a single player for flipping the ignition switch after the Capitals won the first two games of the series, it would be Foegel in games three and four. Of late, he has been playing that same disruptive brand of hockey.
Trending down or worth monitoring
Petr Mrazek has only played one game since trying to make his second return from injury this season, but is worth watching in the final three regular season games. After returning from a long layoff the first time, he hit the ground running and played as well as he did in his red hot start to the 2020-21 season. His first game back this second time was a bit of a struggle. Most significantly, he seemed to have trouble tracking the puck just doing his best to make reaction saves on everything and spitting out rebounds on most of what he saved. He did get better as the game wore on and allowed only one goal in the final two periods, but that recovery did not tell the story of his continued struggles with rebound control. He spit out juicy rebounds on three early shots in the the third period and was too often more lucky than good. It is reasonable to expect Mrazek to need to shake off some rust. Best guess is that he gets two of the final three starts to try to round into form. He is worth watching as the team prepares for the playoffs.
Skjei follows a similar theme. After a multi-game layoff after a concussion, his play has been a mixed bag since his return. He notched a goal in his first game back and also has an assist to his credit in the four games since returning. But he has also struggled intermittently with decision-making and defensive zone coverage in addition to taking two more minor penalties. His play Tuesday was the roughest of the four games seeing him with bad pinches multiple times, being a step slow marking a man in the defensive zone and taking a minor penalty. I had Skjei in a list of five players most critical to the Hurricanes playoff success since I have him as possibly the only viable option to round out a peak top 4 defensively. Like Mrazek, one has to give him a chance to get back up to speed, but he is worth watching in the final three regular season games.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on my list of Canes players trending upward right now? Who else would you include on this list?
2) Do you agree with tagging Petr Mrazek and Brady Skjei as players to watch in terms of finding a higher gear in time for the playoffs? Who else would you put on this list?