As measured by points per game which adjusts for the differences in games played because of the COVID cancellation randomness, the Carolina Hurricanes are second in the entire NHL barely behind the Florida Panthers and on pace for an impressive 122 points in the standings. So just continuing at the current pace would be perfectly acceptable and would net home ice advantage in any playoff series except a possible Eastern Conference Finals match up against the Panthers.
Despite the Canes’ success approaching the midway point of the season, there is still room for improvement. That is the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe.
Even in shooting for the moon, I am not sure one could really ask for more from the team’s netminders. Frederik Andersen would be a mid-season Vezina candidate second only to Igor Shesterkin in goals against average and fourth in save percentage. In addition to top line statistics, he has shown a knack for making big saves when needed and holding the fort when the team has struggled. Antti Raanta has been a competent #2 goalie, and Alex Lyon has a 1-0-1 mark that suggests he can be counted on as an NHL-capable #3 if needed. Even with the aim of seeking improvement despite great results, I really do not think one could ask for more from the goalies.
The strength of the Hurricanes forward group has been its ability to score in bursts with different sources on many nights. If it carries into the playoffs, that bodes well for being able to muster enough sources of offense to win on the road against good teams. But there is room for improvement here mostly in the form of gaining a bit more and a bit more consistent scoring from the wings.
Svechnikov is tracking at a higher scoring pace than 2020-21 and in total is having a good year, but he has yet to hit his ceiling. I think the small gap that exists is becoming more consistent such that even during down stretches he finds a way to be a difference-maker and score. He has logged goal-less streaks of 11 games and 5 games which if timed poorly could be bad news for a playoff series.
Like Svechnikov, Necas is having a decent 2021-22 campaign thus far but has not really taken a step up from the previous season. Also like Svechnikov, Necas has been streaky logging goal-less stretches of 7 games twice and also 6 games. Peak Hurricanes hockey for 2021-22 would include both of these young guns finding a higher gear offensively that includes a bit more consistency.
Kotkaniemi’s ultimate role is still being sorted out. Initial expectations were that he could be a finisher at wing on one of the top two scoring lines. That did not materialize early in the season. He seemed to find his footing, produce and build some confidence when moved back to center. More recently, he has moved back to wing on Staal’s line and slotted as a fourth line center. Ideal would be if he could push his way back up the lineup and fill the finishing role that he initially auditioned for.
The third line
Jordan Staal paired with Jesper Fast (and mostly Steven Lorentz) has been a steady checking line as expected. Fast burst out of the starting gate with six goals in the first 10 games, but since then goal scoring has been hard to come by for the third line. Fast has only two goals in 25 games since his hot start, and Staal has only two goals total in 33 games. That level of production makes the Canes a two-line team offensively. Against good teams and especially on the road, scoring depth throughout the lineup is critical in the playoffs. The Hurricanes become a much better team if Staal can regain some of his scoring touch from 2020-21 and make the third line a going concern offensively.
Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce have grown to become a solid top 4 pairing. Skjei’s goal-scoring outburst is just icing on the cake. Jaccob Slavin continues to be a top of the NHL defender. With those three as the foundation, the Canes just need a fourth to round out the top 2 pairings. Ethan Bear started the season in that fourth slot, but more recently Tony DeAngelo has been a regular in the top 4. Each player has pros and cons for this role. Stylistically, Bear can be the steady type who will not kill you which is not a bad option for a #4 defenseman, but he has had games here and there where he struggled. DeAngelo’s aggressive, leaning forward style is generally a match for how Brind’Amour wants his defenseman to play, but DeAngelo is prone to more errors than Pesce or Slavin in terms of misreading situations sometimes. When the Hurricanes again have the full set of defenseman available, there is room for improvement solidifying Slavin’s pairing.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with my suggested areas for possible improvement despite success so far in the 2021-22 NHL season?
2) What areas for improvement would you add to this list?