Undeniable success so far
Through four games, the Carolina Hurricanes are 3-0-1. By virtue of that strong start, the Hurricanes are one of only four teams that have not lost yet. The team is also tied for second in the entire NHL with seven points in the standings. And most significantly, though it is early, the early trend is that the team will not enter the end of year holiday season having already dug a hole.
In terms of establishing a new attitude, culture or whatever you want to call it, the start is also meaningful. This team has yet to lose with Rod Brind’Amour in the head coaching role. Sure, six of the game were preseason affairs, but when trying to build new habits everything counts, so an 8-0-2 mark should go a long way toward making winning the new normal.
With a win or overtime loss on Friday, the Hurricanes will have a five-game point streak which is something the ‘one step forward two steps back’ 2017-18 team did only once through the entire season.
More succinctly, the team has done incredibly well in terms of collecting points which in the end is how playoff berths get decided.
A strength and style of play have been established and yielded positive results
From the opening puck drop in preseason, the identity of this team has been an ears pinned back, attacking style from the forwards. The forecheck and three zone puck hounding has very often overwhelmed the opponent and tilted the ice into the offensive zone. And even when it has broken down, the Hurricanes have been able to find a good combination of using the same pace and aggressiveness to recover quickly or otherwise quickly make it up by posting another goal.
Brind’Amour has said that he is willing to trade some structure for tenacity at least earl on. When considering the team’s lineup, strengths and weaknesses, the style makes a ton of sense. With two goalies (now three with Curtis McElhinney now in the mix) coming off rough 2017-18 campaigns, playing to win 2-1 seems fraught with risk. Further, a lineup with five rookie forwards is a long shot to play the kind of error free hockey that makes low scoring a preference. Instead, Brind’Amour’s style looks to capitalize on the players’ young legs and increasing volume of skill in the lineup. And thus far it has worked perfectly.
But with some holes
One might think that based on the 3-0-1 record that the Carolina Hurricanes have been firing on all cylinders out of the gate. I actually think that is far from the truth.
The team has ridden a positive ‘find a way’ attitude and a bunch of scoring to wins, but a deeper assessment of the Canes level of play yields multiple underlying issues.
First, the team has benefited significantly from the generosity of opposing netminding. I am on record as more or less calling the 8-5 win over the Rangers a mess with minimal redeeming qualities other than a fun home win. Alexandar Georgiev was a sieve in net which played a significant role in the Hurricanes win that overcame a good amount of sloppiness from the Canes too. The 5-3 win over the Canucks on Tuesday was maybe not as extreme, but that game also featured generous netminding from the opponent that helped in overcoming more defensive break downs.
Second, the team’s strong special teams play from preseason has not yet carried over to the regular season. The Hurricanes are essentially scoreless on the power play with their 1 goal in 10 tries being an empty-netter. Further, the team has successfully killed off only 10 of 14 penalties for a minus 3 goal differential for special teams.
Finally, it is not clear that the Hurricanes have found a long path forward in terms of goaltending. Petr Mrazek has been ‘meh’ at best in his two regular season starts. After a hamstring injury, Scott Darling faces the tough task of parachuting into the 2018-19 season probably 10 to 15 games into it. And the current mail carrier in net, Curtis McElhinney, is a journeyman backup who has averaged 14 starts per season over the past three years, which makes it unlikely that he is the answer for the bulk of the work load in 2018-19.
In short, I think the Hurricanes success thus far has been more opportunistic than solid and more fortuitous than a repeatable formula.
Which is it?
Has Rod Brind’Amour devised a winning formula that while a bit uneven and imperfect is actually repeatable because the team’s aggressive forecheck and puck hounding are just so difficult for opposing teams to play against? Or have the Hurricanes just benefited from the perfect storm of lesser competition, opponents without a ton of strength in terms of the puck and porous goaltenders?
The upcoming test could be a good indication
I think the upcoming test of three road games could answer that question. The Hurricanes next take to the road to play the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning. The run features three good teams, especially in Winnipeg and Tampa Bay who should be considered among the likely Cup contenders based on 2017-18 play.
The run features three challenges that seem to directly attack some of the holes that I identified above. All three teams have decent or better goaltending. All three teams have a blue line capable of moving the puck to get behind an aggressive forecheck and in position to attack with numbers.
Finally, the run features three good teams that can both score and stop scoring. So if the Hurricanes are sloppy and have too many break downs, the chances are good that the opponents will both capitalize on what is given to them and also be able to tighten things up if they get a lead.
My two cents
It pains me to say it, and I will be thrilled to be proven wrong, but I think the Hurricanes will struggle through large chunks of the next three games.
My thinking is that the caliber of team that the Hurricanes are facing in the next three games will make the Canes pay dearly for miscues especially in transition and will be better able to move the puck through the forward-leaning forecheck and then attack with speed through the middle of the ice. Vancouver managed to get quickly behind the forecheck and attack. The Hurricanes tend to get two deep quickly on the forecheck which is what yields the aggressive style that has caused much of the early season success. But the early iteration of Brind’Amour’s system and style of play also has a tendency to have all three forwards hounding the puck deep with more triage than structure defending the neutral zone behind the forecheck when it does not yield a turnover or at least slow the opponent coming out of its own end. Against three teams that can move the puck from the back end and with a decent amount of game film to find the holes and paths to the neutral zone, I think the Hurricanes will be alternating more between causing duress and facing it. Finally, on the road and without the last change, the team could see its younger players face more challenging match ups.
I would not go so far as to predict a three-game losing streak. There is legitimacy to the Hurricanes early season success. But I will go out on a limb and say that the Hurricanes will get lit up in one of the three upcoming games and return to earth a bit as good teams figure out how to get behind the forward-leaning forecheck.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do my concerns about underlying issues with the four games to date and the caliber of opponent coming up next represent paranoid fear based on past failures? Or do you think there could be some element of truth to the upcoming games proving challenging?
2) Who wants to take the 100 percent positive side and say that the pace and intensity will continue to outweigh and overcome any mistakes?
3) What do you predict for results for the next three games?
There will no doubt be growing pains and ups and downs though the year. Yet to dismiss the canes early success on competition is not considering the full story.
Columbus, the teams one road game, is 3-1.
The Islanders are 2-1.
Vancouver is 2-2 and beat the Lightning last night.
Rangers are not very good.
Carolina handled Columbus, the best team of the four, in a solid game with a score of 3-1.
The Islanders and Canucks are better than some would give them credit.
The next three games are against good teams on the road so a true test. Yet Carolina has not gotten to 3-0-1 by playing only bottom feeders.
I’d be happy with a 1,1,1 split, beating the Wild and gaining a point vs. either the Jets or the Lightning.
The Columbus game was the team’s best so far and hopefully they can adjust to the opponent and pull it off again.
I definitely don’t want to see a repeat of the last Minnesota game, I think it was a score of 7 to 1 or something, remember Eric Staal actually laughing after taking advantage of a terrible defensive breakdown and putting the puck in the net.
The Wild have been struggling a bit so far, they look like a beatable team on paper.
1. I absolutely agree with you on this one, Matt. Our scoring surges came against the Rangers and the Canucks – predicted to be two of the worst teams in the league this season. And those two teams averaged 4 goals/game against us largely because of D-zone breakdowns and positional whoopsies. We got away with it because we punished their respective defensives, which were equally weak to ours, and lousy goaltending – exactly as you say.
The is not a winning model. CBJ was the best game – but we shouldn’t read too much into the Isles’ game. Trotz is doing what Peters did in his first year or two here – using structure/system to compensate for a weak roster. Our crew struggled with the close-checking play.
I won’t predict we will do poorly but the Jets and the Bolts are teams that could eat us up – i.e., score high (as the Rangers and Canucks did) hwile shutting down our attack. We will know more about the team at the end of the road trip.
2. I am pretty positive about what I wrote in (1) – does that count?? 😀
3. Lots of hoopla right now on the Canes fan sites (“InRodWeTrust”???) on a very, very small sample size. If the Canes do well – great! If we trip (or get tripped!) then watch the hand-wringing. That said this team needs to face and overcome adversity. This could be the time.
I agree with Breezy a 1-1-1 would be great. 4-1-2? I’ll take 10 points through 7 games.
I am more interested to see the growth of the team after this extended off time. What did we focus on? Special teams hopefully. Does the team come out cold because of the break or are we playing sharper?
1) I would say Matt’s fears are tinged with paranoia. The start has been better than anyone could have hoped. Ironically, the perhaps the best performance, game 1, is the only loss. There are two legitimate concerns. A–The first defensive pairing. Almost all of the opponents’ high danger shots have come against Slavin/Hamilton (I am looking at HockeyViz’s heat charts). In their defense, they have also driven more offensive chances. Still the hope/hype was that this pairing would dominate the opposition in the defensive zone. Thus far it is not happening. B–The power play. I am not particularly concerned about this. The scoring talent is obviously there. I would like to see Svechnikov on the first unit and RBA use four forwards on both units. I would imagine that will happen as the staff tries to improve the results.
2) I will be 100% positive. Think about it this way: the pace and intensity are not going to disappear; the things that have been troublesome can be improved; ergo, the good things should remain good while the flaws should become fewer. (This is a little too optimistic I admit. Any flaws are likely to end up being exploited much more by Winnipeg and Tampa. So I think the prediction “the Hurricanes will get lit up in one of the three upcoming games” is highly likely to be true.)
3) I am with the consensus. 1-1-1.
I will play devil’s advocate. You think the pace and intensity won’t just disappear? I agree that it won’t just disappear like the players FORGOT. However this is a VERY young team and the comment that seems to be made about a lot of talented young teams in the league is that they tend to FADE as the season goes on.
So I’ll counter argue that the pace and intensity the Canes are playing with this month will be met with a future month of absolute gassed bodies trying to play at that pace but failing to do so.
It’s a tough 3 game road trip, regardless of the team making it. (3 games in 4 nights with a border crossing in the B2B.) Any team in the league would be happy to come home with 3 points from the 3 games. We should hope for no less. It will be interesting to see whether McElhinney or Mrazek gets tonights start. (My pick is McE.) The other gets Winnipeg tomorrow with the start in Tampa likely going to the one who puts in the best showing in the B2B.
1-1-1 is fine with me and the normal benchmark for a 3-game road-trip, but my measuring stick is different: play all three games the in the same attacking style we’ve seen all season and let the chips fall where they may.
We obviously have some work to do to improve our special teams and I think this is a serious issue that I’m sure we’re addressing. Until teams prove to us on the ice that our formula for winning doesn’t work, I wouldn’t change anything.
[I had a longer comment that I completely lost when I tried to post it and was told I wasn’t logged in. Very frustrating. Matt, move the comments to Disqus or something similar. Easy to do. It’s time to move some basic site features forward.]
Sorry you lost your post.
We looked in detail at Disqus and other public/plug in type comment systems both when the site was launched and again this summer.
Making the community ‘somewhat closed’ with at least a small firewall to get in is critical to keeping the community authentic. We get 10-15 spam registrations and growing as the site grows per week. Without that firewall, the comments here would be polluted with off topic spam and easy access for trolls. In today’s internet world, that is unfortunately the trade off.
1. I’ve watched numerous games by other teams and the pattern of play in all of them has been the same as the Canes games to date. Lots of offensive attacking the blue paint and numerous defensive breakdowns. Everyone is playing the same style no different than what the Canes are doing. You must score to win. On an off night you are going to suffer a lopsided loss most likely.
2. It better as that is how everyone is playing the game. Defensemen are playing around the offensive blue paint everywhere.
3. My “guess” is 2 wins and a loss.
Matt, I’ve been the “victim” of having a post-dropped, before and I have no idea how that happens? Is it a timeout after inaction, or what? Maybe the best way to avoid losing a long post, IS…keep them short?
…so I decided to take my advice, and break it up!
Now back to the ACTION… I think it’s such a small sample of games we’re talking about, that making any assumptions about the future…is a big gamble!
But, what the hell, I’ll play, IF the team gets more than two points on the road trip I’ll be a happy camper!
One question more, of the folks who saw Roy, and Kuokkanen in preseason…what do you think about Necas getting a few games “in Charlotte”, to work on his GAME, and bringing up one of those two guys to temporarily replace him?
I am high on Kuokkanen. I think he has the hockey sense and all-around play to be plug and play in an NHL lineup and be serviceable at a minimum. As I think I said somewhere else though (yesterday maybe?), for whatever reason the team seems to see him as a wing not a center, so that does not make for a replacement for Necas.
I am not sure what to think about Roy to be honest. His game is mature and well-rounded, but I just have yet to see him as more than a player on a path to being a decent depth center. But as much as other player, he just seems to make steady progress and therefore I hope proves me wrong. His hot start is interesting in that maybe you give me a couple games and see where it goes.
Most of the guys in Charlotte know Foegele and most are probably inspired and have seen how his style of play is a ticket to an NHL team coached by RBA. I would actually like to see a player like Kuokk called up and put on Necas’ line before consideration is given to sending him down to Charlotte. I just don’t think we have the pieces in place right now to give Necas a path to succeed.
I am hopeful that Necas is the healthy scratch in at least one game in the B2B. For some reason I think a night to watch will help him sort things out more instinctively in the following games.
There were a lot of internet issues yesterday due to the storm.
If you lose your internet connection even for a couple of minutes, while you are writing a post and you lose internet connection in the meantime your browser needs to re authenticate with the server, so if you try to post at that time you lose the post.
Same happens e.g. with GMail.
Copy long posts into a text or word editor before trying to post, that way you can log in, copy and paste and resubmit if the initial posting action fails.