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?
1) Blue line scoring. Going into the season the blue line was the team’s biggest projected strength. The scoring hasn’t been there and the Slavin/Hamilton pairing has not been great. They have dominated possession (Corsi) but much like the previous Canes the advantage has not resulted in goals for and, while limited, has given up too many excellent scoring chances against. If the blue line starts living up to their salaries, then the Canes will have more offense and the goalies won’t need to make “wow” saves as often.
2) The “kids.” Svechnikov is looking more comfortable each game. I think it is reasonable to believe he has Aho-like production (24g) for his rookie year. Zykov is also looking ready to contribute regularly. The pass he made on the power play displayed why he is such a threat. While his physical presence causes problems, it is actually his hand-eye coordination that makes him special. He will become the force on the power play everyone saw in the preseason.
3) McGinn will have a series of games where he scores something like 4 goals in 5 games. Teravainen’s and Williams’ shot % will end the year around 10% as opposed to the current 5% and 3.8%
Most important? Without question improved goal tending.
Most Likely? Special teams will improve, simply because they have been irrationally bad. That improvement will spill over into blue line improvement. As likely, “the kids” benefitting from OJT they are getting and becoming more effective which will in hand improve special teams.
Other areas? Although the timing will likely be later than sooner, the return of Rask. A healthy Rask would be a great asset for this team.
In the hope springs eternal category, Darling was effective last night in Charlotte stopping 25 shots in a 3-1 Checkers victory. https://twitter.com/nickski15/status/1055269428366053376
I have AHL Live so I watched most of last night’s game.
Darling was solid. Though he didn’t have to do much as the Checkers were controlling from the start.
Fleury looked outstanding. In fact the Charlotte D was excellent across the board. Both Fleury and Cajkovsky looked like NHLers.
Bishop is flying all over the ice. In fact he blew by a defender to score on a breakaway only to crash into the boards and hurt his shoulder/ arm.
Charlotte is going to have an impressive season.
I watched about half the game as well and was equally impressed with Darling. He was confident, quick, effective – he didn’t see a lot of shots, particularly early, but there was a high percentage of medium- and high-danger shots and he shut them down.
I don’t think Bishop was happy being sent back down, and he played like he was highly motivated by his brief time here.
FWIW. According to the Checkers website Cajkovsky was a healthy scratch last night.
Vellucci rotates a lot of D-men and forwards in and out of the game roster. Some of it is performance based (Maenalenum for the weekend games) and some of it is not (Robertson last night). I really haven’t tracked how Cajkovsky has been doing, or Vellucci’s view on him (Vellucci is very good with talking about the good and bad of players).
I read Velluci’s comments about Maenalenum this past weekend and cringed. Sounded like a junior coach. So glad he isn’t the Canes HC. Calling players out in public should be a last resort. Sure, fans love it, but it’s bad for the room. Velluci may get away with it because he has control over these guy’s careers. In the NHL the players make more than the coach. The only way that stuff flies is if the whole team is pissed at someone.
I see what you were doing! I had missed ct’s remark about Cajkovsky in last night’s game. You are right, Caj didn’t play. The D were Bean, McKeown, Didier, Carrick, Fleury, and Renouf.
Most important improvement is goaltending. We’ve seen a couple good games in a row from Mrazek. They need to keep coming. Hopefully Darling will step in and look good. A team with sub .900 save percentage is going nowhere.
The blueline scoring and improvement of the younger players will happen. Things go in waves in hockey. Svechnikov will start finding the back of the net. Pucks will go in for Hamilton and Faulk. The PP and kill will improve if only because they have been so bad.
I’m all for a fourth line that can chip in some scoring, but it doesn’t look like the Canes have that skill level, yet. At this point the Canes will have to settle for a line that can eat some minutes and not give up chance after chance. Hopefully Roy is ready to step up, but in truth he is likely a placeholder until Rask is ready. That’s OK. It’s valuable experience for Roy and maybe he will surprise people.
1. Most important: Goaltending. Even a season of average goaltending would get us into the playoffs.
2.Improved special teams. No way the PP be this bad all year(we’re already up to 28th in the League after Monday)
3. Svetch and Aho getting better as the year progresses.
1. So far, at least, goaltending is not costing us games so I cannot rank that high. What has cost us games is special teams and what needs to improve (or even happen) is blueline scoring. Those two things are the difference between 5-3-1 and 7-1-1 (and doesn’t that last W-L-O record look impressive???).
2. My crystal ball is a bit foggy so I won’t make a guess here.
3. In a few of the games, RBA has relied heavily on the Staal and Aho lines. TOI for the forwards has to be more balanced – i.e., RBA has to feel he can trust each line going over the boards. I think that will happen.
Apologize for being unclear. I have watched parts of all the Checkers games. Fleury last night and Cajkovsky in several games have looked ready for NHL.
Thanks for the clarification – I was wondering if you might have meant Carrick.
I tend to agree with raleightj that goaltending hasn’t cost us as many points as it’s won us so far but it has room to improve from here if Darling’s form from last night and the preseason carry over.
There is a league-wide trend towards top-heavy scoring – look at TOR, BOS, COL, TBY, CGY – so I’m not worried about having a high-scoring top line – in fact, isn’t that what we’ve all been clamoring for the last few years? We are scoring more; I really don’t care where it comes from. I think we’d all be concerned about Aho at center if more of his line’s points were scored by the other lines.
Special teams must and will improve from here. That’s been the real reason we haven’t captured more points. I think they will improve now that the ice has been broken in Detroit.
I also think our depth scoring will improve when Rask returns. We may think he’s overpaid, but he is certainly a stable and known entity in the middle that will upgrade our team from here. I’ve often wondered whether having Rask on Necas’s wing would have helped Necas adjust.
I have never appreciated Victor Rask as much as I do now.
I don’t understand the love for Rask? How many goals has he scored? When do we expect him back? I’m sure he will have the chance to play when he returns, but I’M NOT BETTING ON BIG PRODUCTION from him!
Finger tendon repair surgery usually takes about 12 weeks for return to full strength. Full range of motion will take longer. Since it was his ring and pinkie fingers he should be able to to handle a hockey stick normally around January 1st. Over 4 seasons he averages .5 points per game. Last season was his worst, playing with an unstable shoulder that required surgery with 10 games left in the season. The extra time for his shoulder to heal caused by his finger tendon repair should be beneficial. Rask is not the 1C we covet, but is a quality 3rd line center by NHL standards. He is a good fit for the depth needs on this team.
Special teams improvement could give us the biggest boost. With so many new players it is not surprising that the PK and PP have struggled.
It’s certainly possible Roy will seize the opportunity and quickly develop chemistry with some line-mates. A dynamic fourth line would be a huge boost. I’ve always thought that Roy’s game translates very well to the NHL level. I hope he gets some decent ice time and more than two games.
blinkman. I agree about Roy. He isn’t a great skater, but he uses his size to impact plays in both ends. He is also effective on special teams in Charlotte. If that translates to the NHL he will be a big plus. I still like the idea of Roy on the RW with Foegele and Staal at some point in the next few seasons–once the second scoring line is clicking. Opposing teams would have fits with Foegele’s speed, Staal’s all-around game and Roy’s length.
In Rask’s last healthy season he had 21 goals and 48 pts. Last season, with a bad shoulder, he finished at even +/- on a team that was mostly minus. For example Jeff Skinner at -27.
Like the rest of the returning canes, though, I believe he was handcuffed by BPs suffocating offensive system. Turn RBA loose on him – and healthy – he could be a defensively reliable, productive middle six center. In my opinion.