Chronological Blog List

On the brink

For many local sports fans, ACC tournament week is the official transition out of Carolina Hurricanes hockey season. The local media all disappears for the weekend and when the Hurricanes are out of the playoff hunt, they never really return. And for fans, a couple weeks of peak basketball excitement is enough to gradually leave Hurricanes hockey. And from that point forward, the small number of die hards ride out the remainder of the season looking for cause for optimism for next year. But as I watch the NCAA tournament brackets being announced on March 17, the Hurricanes season is anything but over. Simple math puts the Hurricanes in the first of two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference. When one adjusts for games in hand, the picture looks even brighter. With 11 games remaining, the Hurricanes control their own destiny in terms of returning to the playoffs. But the team also has a couple treacherous stretches of schedule and a tiny margin for error such that even a short burst of losing could doom playoff hopes. The key for the team right now is simply to keep pushing. After losses on Friday night on consecutive weeks, the team rebounded twice on Saturday. In doing so, the team just reached a full two months without losing consecutive games. The Hurricanes do not need to win out or do anything else spectacular. The Hurricanes simply need to keep winning at a reasonable pace. With the Canadiens faltering a bit late, something like 6-5 could be enough to win the last playoff spot especially if that 6-5 includes a win...

Gm71 Vs. Buf: Canes grind out needed win 4-2 over the Sabres

Coming off of a Friday loss for the second week in a row, the Hurricanes looked to again rebound quickly. At least on paper, the game set up well against a Buffalo Sabres team that has been struggling mightily of late.   Game recap But the game did not start well at all. For the second day in a row, the Hurricanes came out a bit flat, and the opponent was better early. For the first time since donning a Hurricanes uniform, Curtis McElhinney looked shaky and unsure of himself out of the gate in Saturday’s game. The team’s slow start was compounded early when Curtis McElhinney more or less scored an own goal on an odd deflection off his own stick and through him into the net. That was followed by a Jack Eichel shot that went right through McElhinney but somehow did not find the net and also another Jeff Skinner shot that beat him but clanged the post. The usually calm McElhinney generally looked a bit scrambly trying to find the puck through most of the first period. But the same hockey gods that did the Canes an unfair deed in terms of opposing goaltending in Friday’s 3-0 loss despite 46 shots repaid the favor a bit. The Hurricanes relieved pressure and pulled even when a harmless Jordan Martinook shot from well out leaked through Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark. Lucas Wallmark tapped the puck from the blue paint and into the net to tie the game at 1-1. The Hurricanes would escape a lackluster first period lucky to be tied. The Hurricanes and McElhinney would rebound...

‘What I’m watching’ — Gm71 Vs. Buf: Critical 5-game home stand begins against the Sabres

Had Canes fans been browsing the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes schedule in late September or early October and been told that the Hurricanes would would make it to upcoming five-game home stand sitting in playoff position and just needing to maintain it, they most certainly would have accepted that fate. That is exactly where the Hurricanes are playing game #71 at home against the Buffalo Sabres as the first of five straight at home. The week has already been a roller coaster. On Monday, Petr Mrazek absolutely stood on his in net to grab a win for the Hurricanes. On Friday, Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus proved that turnabout is fair play in blanking the Hurricanes 3-0. The game also features another quick turnaround and need to rebound quickly just like after last Friday’ loss. On the opposing side, the Buffalo Sabres were an early season surprise but have since faded. The Sabres are now one game below .500 and are 2-7-1 in their last 10 game. So after a run of five straight games after higher-end competition, at least on paper the Hurricanes will face a team from a lower rung on the NHL ladder. But the wild cards are significant. Jack Eichel will return from a couple-game suspension and former Hurricane Jeff Skinner will likely have a bee in his bonnet returning to Raleigh. As for the Hurricanes side, the Hurricanes will again be trying to follow a loss with a win before it becomes a losing streak. Aside from the slow start that was costly, the Canes played a solid game and were denied a win only...

Gm70 @Clu: Canes start slowly and are then unable to dent stellar Bobrovsky in 3-0 loss

As noted in the game preview, the Hurricanes had struggled with a 1-5 record with a three-day layoff heading into the game. Friday’s 3-0 loss ran that record to 1-6. The Hurricanes failed to launch at the opening face-off. Columbus had the upper hand early and hemmed the Canes in their own end for stretches. After two near misses, the Blue Jackets concerted effort to run almost a power play scheme at 5-on-5 parking a player with his heels at the top of the crease whenever they could get possession. The third shot through traffic was a charm as Adam McQuaid scored past a screened Petr Mrazek. Shortly thereafter, Columbus would add another from the other side when a defenseman shot through traffic. Columbus would continue to be the better team but emerge only with the two goals that they scored early for a 2-0 lead. The Hurricanes would rebound in a massive way in the second period. After being outplayed but ultimately drawing even at 14 shots each in the first period, the Hurricanes fired 22 shots on net to Columbus’ two in the second period. Early on, the Canes were pushed to the outside for low percentage shots, but as the period wore on the level of quality increased and the amount of chaos around the crease did as well. But Sergei Bobrovsky had an answer for each and every shot to bail out a Blue Jackets team that had a percent share pretty close to 0 percent for anything good other than goals scored. The Hurricanes exited the second period having righted the ship in terms...

‘What I’m watching’ — Gm70 @Clu: Canes set for huge 4-point game in Columbus

After a three-day layoff, the Canes are back in action on Friday with another game on Saturday for a quick run at four more points in the standings. The opponent on Friday is the Columbus Blue Jackets who are competing with the Hurricanes for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With a two-point cushion over Columbus and a game in hand, the game is by no means a must-win for the Hurricanes but with the four-point swing and only a dozen games to follow, the importance is clearly magnified. On the Hurricanes side, the team is coming off their last extended layoff of three days. Interestingly, the sample size is small, but the Carolina Hurricanes are an abysmal 1-5 in 2018-19 with three days rest (not counting coming out of the All-Star break/bye week). But many of those losses were when the team in general was struggling in general. On the Blue Jackets side, the team has been mostly treading water and at times seemed ready to sink since going all in at the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets are only 5-5 in their last 10 games but are coming off a big win over a good Bruins team on Tuesday. That Tuesday win relieved pressure a bit, but with a two-point deficit and minus a game in hand to the Hurricanes, the game is even more important for Columbus. The Hurricanes enter the game with a 2-1 record against Columbus this year with the loss being with Scott Darling in net. Curtis McElhinney was in net for both wins and would be the odds on...

Breaking down the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes scoring gains

After being near the bottom of the league in goal scoring early in the season and middle of the pack for goals allowed, the Hurricanes have not surprisingly risen up the rankings during the team’s 2019 winning run. The Canes are now averaging an even 3.00 goals scored per game which is good for a respectable 13th in the NHL and are averaging 2.74 goals against which is good for 6th in the NHL. Both are up significantly from the first half of the year and also from the 2017-18 season. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the goal scoring side to determine what is driving the improvement.   Top 6 forwards Who exactly is in the top 6 can vary a bit over the course of the season, but for this analysis I used Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams and Jordan Staal for both years. Then for 2017-18 I added in Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner, and for 2018-19 I added in Micheal Ferland and Nino Niederreiter. To adjust for games played and injuries, I will use goals per game as a metric. In 2017-18, the top 6 forwards averaged 21.5 goals per player per 82 games. In 2018-19, that total is 25.7 goals per player per 82 games. In total, the difference if all top 6 forwards played 82 games in each year would be a significant +25 goals.   Bottom 6 forwards Math for the bottom 6 forwards simply includes all other forward scoring. Again, this is imperfect but still a reasonable approximation of scoring for the rest of the roster. In 2017-18, the...

Key points on the path to here for the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes

Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at key points on the path to where the Hurricanes are right now which is in playoff position with only 13 games remaining.   The management/leadership shake up The start of building the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes actually started at almost exactly this time last year. With the local media mostly away for the ACC basketball tourney. the Hurricanes announced that Ron Francis had been relieved of his role as general manager of the team. The team eventually transitioned to Don Waddell and/or GM by committee. That decision played a huge role in shaping the current roster. Then shortly after the end of the 2017-18 season, the team played a game of chicken with Head Coach Bill Peters who ultimately left on his own. Shortly thereafter, Rod Brind’Amour was named the head coach. No doubt, Brind’Amour’s leadership has played a huge role in changing the attitude of the team. Finally and to no one’s surprise, the team named Justin Williams as the new captain. As a first lieutenant to Brind’Amour, Justin Williams has similarly played a key role in changing the culture and attitude of the team. The end result was that the vast majority of the group managing the team at all levels changed over.   The summer work building the roster Before the off-season was underway, the Hurricanes won the second pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and the right to select Andrei Svechnikov. Svechnikov gave the team another top 9 forward with scoring potential without giving anything up in trade. After hoping for but not yet realizing the emergence of a...

Carolina Hurricanes players playing for contracts

As the fortunes of the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes rise, so to do the fortunes of a number of players who will be up for new contracts next summer. The organization moved early to sign Teuvo Teravainen to a five-year contract at $5.4 million per year and Jordan Martinook to a two-year contract at $2 million per year. But that still leaves nine players on the current roster who will need to be re-signed or set free this summer. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes an early look at the group.   Sebastian Aho He will obviously be re-signed but increasingly the question is at what cost. Last summer, I suggested that the would (and should) act early to make a long-term commitment to Sebastian Aho. My best guess is that a fair contract would have been something in the $7-8 million range. Fast forward to today and Aho’s 90-point pace, and that number has most certainly risen. At this point I think a team-friendly deal would be $8-8.5 million per year. I think fair market value could now be $10 million. My wild guess is that Aho’s RFA status tamps down price a little, but that Aho’s next contract clocks in at $9-9.5 million.   Micheal Ferland The team seemed close to trading Ferland at one point, but then the term self-rental popped up referring to Ferland suggesting that he would stay. I am on record as not liking a long-term deal for Ferland because the shortness of his track record and to some degree his injury risk. Since being bumped off of Aho’s line, Ferland’s production as slowed...

Putting math to the Carolina Hurricanes turnaround

When 2018 ended, the Carolina Hurricanes were 16-17-5. The team had just wrapped up an abysmal 4-8-1 December and seemed to be racing rapidly for another early playoff contention exit. Then, starting with a win over the Flyers on New Year’s Eve, the Hurricanes seemed to suddenly do a 180. After first, the wins seemed like a bit of a hot streak, but now 10 weeks later it increasingly looks more simply like the Hurricanes are just a good hockey team. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick tour of some numbers since the rebound started. Road 180 Arguably the single greatest contributor to the turnaround is the team’s ability to turn things around on the road. Heading into January, the Hurricanes struggled to a 6-10-1 road record. Since the start of the new year, the Hurricanes are an astounding 14-3-2 on the road which is even better than the team’s 8-4-0 home record.   El Nino Since the addition of Nino Niederreiter in mid-January just before the streak started, the Hurricanes are 15-5-2 (119-point pace). Niederreiter has 11 goals and 21 points playing on a top line with Sebastian Aho.   “League average goaltending” …and then some Petr Mrazek keeps trending up. His record was a solid 4-2-1 in January, and his play was generally good. But his save percentage in January was .880. That increased to .932 in February and sits at .943 through three starts in March. Not to be outdone, Curtis McElhinney posted only a .879 save percentage in January but followed it up with a scintillating .950 in February. His March numbers are...

Gm69 @Clr: Canes pick up nice 3-0 win over Avs to build 4-point gap in playoff chase

With the Columbus Blue Jackets game ending with a Blue Jackets loss early into the Hurricanes game, the ball was on the tee for the Canes to build a four-point lead over both Montreal and Columbus for the two wild card slots. Looking up instead of down, the Hurricanes needed a win to pull even with the Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Early on, the game actually had a bit of the Winnipeg feel. The Hurricanes at least did a decent job of counterattacking, but the neutral zone was a free fly zone early for the Avalanche. The key differences were twofold. First, Petr Mrazek was sharp early and erased some of the issues. Second, at least when the Hurricanes forwards were beaten up ice they returned to defend secondary passes behind the play. Though I do think Colorado had the upper hand in the first period, the Hurricanes also had some chances in a wild first period that could best be described as fire wagon hockey despite somehow ending in a 0-0 tie. Along the way, the Hurricanes also killed off a couple of penalties. Arguably the Hurricanes best chance came when the puck ended up in the Colorado net but was quickly waived off for incidental contact with the goalie. Andrei Svechnikov carried the puck hard to the net which led to a rebound for Jordan Staal who finished. But with that waived off (correctly in my opinion), the period ended at 0-0. The front part of the second period continued to feature a high pace back and forth, but the Hurricanes started to...

‘What I’m watching’ — Gm69 @Clr: Canes playoff push continues against the Avalanche

After a hard-fought 1-1-1 record last week against three strong opponents, the Hurricanes kick off this week on the road against the Colorado Avalanche. The is the end of a short burst of three games in four days with two travel days and with three days off before the next game is clearly an ’empty the tank’ type of game. The Hurricanes enter the game sitting in the first of two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference and with the potential to jump back into a tie with the Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Needless to say, every game is critically important right now. The opponent is a Colorado Avalanche team that despite having nine fewer points than the Hurricanes is still very much in the playoff chase at only two points out of a wildcard spot. The Avs are only 2-3 in the team’s last five games and are now without Gabriel Landeskog. As such, the Avs should be a team desperate for a win much like the Canes and every other team still in playoff contention. On the Hurricanes side, the game is mostly about bringing the right level of effort and intensity. The team has generally been doing that for more than two months now, but received a stark reminder in Friday’s 8-1 loss of what can happen if the team does not dial up the intensity level. Saturday was a solid rebound and a win, so here is hoping that Friday was just a one-game blip. My watch points follow.   ‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Colorado...

Canes quick hitters

The Daily Cup of Joe features a series of quick hitters.   Dodging a bullet Ideally, the way a playoff chase works is that you just win consistently for a couple months, ride up the standings and decrease the amount of stretch day by day. The normal reality is significantly different. There are inevitably ups and downs even for the teams that eventually land on the good side of the cut line. Last week scheduled out to be a tough one for the Canes with three match ups against teams in the upper echelon of the NHL, and the on-ice version lived up to those expectations. The Hurricanes 1-1-1 mark was more treading water than climbing, but I think that is more positive than negative given the competition and the hiccup on Friday.   Wishing ill upon the enemy When I most recently handicapped the competition in the playoff chase, I hoped that the Blue Jackets would hit a rough patch and implode. Somewhat like the Canes, the Blue Jackets hung in by winning the second of two games against the Penguins to get a treading water-ish split. The schedule this week for the Blue Jackets offers another opportunity to fall down. Columbus has a back-to-back against the Islanders and Bruins starting Monday. Then they have a back-to-back against the Hurricanes and Bruins again starting on Friday. If the Hurricanes can do their part in a big four-point game on Friday, could the tough rest of the week sink the Blue Jackets? One can hope.   Watching for walls Suddenly 68 games into the 2018-19 season and with the...

Gm68 @Nas: Canes rebound and wrap up challenging week with 5-3 win over Predators

After a horrid 8-1 loss on home ice on Friday, the Hurricanes were right back in action without much time to think about it on Saturday night in Nashville. The Hurricanes have had only a handful of stinkers (the road loss versus the Rangers and the home loss against the Senators come to mind), so it seemed reasonable to just write it off as a bad day and move forward. But the writing off has to happen on the ice for it to matter which added a bit of extra drama to Saturday’s game.   Carolina Hurricanes game recap As one would have hoped, the Hurricanes started on time Saturday and looked no worse for wear after Friday’s drubbing. The Hurricanes controlled play, tilted the ice into the offensive zone and had the better of shot totals early. Even better, the Hurricanes picked up three power plays early with two overlapping to provide 1:36 of 5-on-3 time. The first power play was decent, but things went downhill from there with the 5-on-3 being disappointingly sluggish and without movement. After about seven minutes of play, the Hurricanes had an 11-2 shot advantage but with an 0 for 3 on the power play and 0-0 on the scoreboard, the game was set to swing quickly to bad if Nashville awoke and potted the first goal. Fortunately, Nino Niederreiter charted a different course. First, he sniped a laser into the far corner of the net to put the Hurricanes up 1-0. Then shortly thereafter he tipped a Teuvo Teravainen point shot on the power play down for skip up off the ice...

‘What I’m Watching’ — Gm68 @Nas: After lopsided loss, Canes seek quick rebound versus the Predators

After a brutal 8-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night in Raleigh, the Hurricanes will get right back on the horse on Saturday and face another best from the West in the Nashville Predators. With a Columbus loss on Thursday and Montreal losses on both Thursday and Friday, the Hurricanes are actually holding their place in the playoff standings despite an 0-1-1 mark so far this week. But the magnitude of Saturday’s game is greater coming off the kind of loss that Friday’s was. Unfortunately, the opponent is another tough one in the Nashville Predators who also are a potential Cup contender. The Predators are a solid hockey team with depth both at forward and on defense. On the Hurricanes side, the team needs to quickly either tighten up significantly on defense or refind the forecheck that minimizes the volume of time playing defense. And after an 8-1 loss on Friday, the team might also need to fight off some demons and self-doubt issues early on to play their way into this game. My watch points for the game follow.   ‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators 1) Angry determination? Or passive self-doubt? The key for the Hurricanes is mostly putting Friday’s debacle behind them and using whatever of it carries forward to put a bee in their bonnets for Saturday. If the Hurricanes spend half of a game fighting their way through self-doubt and look hesitant doing so, the game could be over when they arrive. Rod Brind’Amour, Justin Williams and the rest of the leadership has a bit of work...

Gm67 Vs. Wpg: Canes overwhelmed and trounced in 8-1 STINKER versus the Winnipeg Jets

On Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins, the Carolina Hurricanes matched up against one of about 8-10 teams who can legitimately make a case for winning the 2019 Stanley Cup Championship based on what they are doing during the regular season. In that measuring stick game, the Canes fared reasonably well. The Hurricanes shot themselves in the foot a bit with puck management issues, but the Canes did jump out to a 2-0 lead and ultimately pushed to overtime against a red hot team on the road. With that Eastern Conference measuring stick game out of the way, the weekend offered a back-to-back set to measure up against two of the Western Conference’s best in the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators. To put it simply, round 1 did not go well at all, as the Hurricanes were utterly trounced 8-1 at home against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night. The overarching theme early on when Winnipeg authoritatively took control of the game was the ineffectiveness of the Hurricanes usually strong forecheck and the Jets ability to convert that incredibly quickly to speed through the neutral zone and odd man rushes with pace at the offensive blue line. The steps were repeated throughout the first period. The Jets got possession of the puck in their own end and quickly made a first pass to a player, usually a forward, moving north-south with speed. That first pass happened quickly enough that usually the Canes F1 and F2 on the forecheck were very quickly behind the play. That put the third forward in a tough place trying to defend the neutral zone...
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