Despite a slow start to the season, everything is still pointing in the right direction for the Hurricanes.
If breaking out in the NHL was about convincing people you’re ready to break out, the Carolina Hurricanes would’ve done it a year ago. They’ve been on the cusp, on the brink, for long enough that it’s starting to get old. This is a team that needs to take the leap from young and fun to actually winning games.
Five weeks into the 2017-18 season, it hasn’t quite happened yet. The Hurricanes are tied for last in the Metropolitan Division with 18 points. Yes, they’re only a couple wins from being near the top of the crowded standings, but they remain a team of hope more than anything else. It hasn’t done much to pump up a fan base that’s again dead last in attendance.
Now there are even suggestions that coach Bill Peters could be on the hot seat. Bleacher Report recently wrote an article saying he should be on it, and ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski noted that Peters could be “the scapegoat for a lack of postseason appearances.”
So it’s fair to say the pressure is rising, and the Hurricanes need to make the playoffs to avoid major changes. But there’s still a lot to like about this team, and where it’s heading if everyone stays patient. Here’s why.
This is a very good 5-on-5 team
No matter where you look, Carolina rates well during 5-on-5 play. The team leads the league in Corsi at 55.9 percent, and it’s eighth in goal differential at 54.8 percent. Even if you’re not crazy about shot attempt statistics, it’s hard to find any area where the Hurricanes struggle.
They’re sixth in expected goals differential, third in penalty differential, and 10th in Corsica’s K rating. They’re performing at an above-average level during the most important minutes of each game without any indication that they’re due for major regression. An elite defense is a big part of that.
The defense is exceptional
The hype is real around Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin. It’s arguably the best top four in the league and all four players are 25 years old or younger. The Hurricanes are tied for third in goals allowed despite being just 17th in save percentage.
There are two big reasons for that: they don’t give up many shots, and they almost never commit penalties. The Hurricanes are first in shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes, and they’re by far the least penalized team in the league. Seriously, it’s not even close:
That’s a testament to how disciplined and well-coached this team is in certain areas. It also helps soften the blow of the team’s issues on special teams.
The offense should be better
The Hurricanes’ biggest issue has been scoring, but there are reasons for optimism there. Teuvo Teravainen broke out with his first career hat trick and Sebastian Aho scored his first goal of the season Monday. They’re not an offensive juggernaut, but they can be better than 22nd in goals per game.
The fourth line will never score much with the likes of Marcus Kruger, Joakim Nordstrom, and Josh Jooris, but those guys can eat minutes against tough competition. Kruger used to play some of the toughest minutes of any fourth-liner in the league with the Blackhawks.
Peters hasn’t been quite that aggressive with Kruger this season, but one way the Hurricanes could find easier assignments for scorers like Teravainen, Aho, and Jeff Skinner is to allow that fourth line to take on even tougher minutes. Kruger is a unique kind of player whose impact can go beyond the box score.
Scott Darling is trending in the right direction
The Hurricanes’ biggest issue over the past couple years has been goaltending, which is why the team acquired Darling during the offseason. He was very good as the Blackhawks’ backup and the team had high hopes for his transition to starting this season.
There were some hiccups early on, including a stretch where he gave up three or more goals in four straight games, but he’s rebounded with a .937 save percentage in his last four appearances. He’s 15th in Goals Saved Above Average among 28 goalies to play 500-plus minutes, so he’s been roughly average, all things considered.
That’s better than last season for the Hurricanes, and there’s room for improvement from here.
Trust the process
It’s become a saying around Philadelphia because of the 76ers’ lengthy rebuild, but the same goes here for the Hurricanes. They’ve assembled an impressive group of talent that’s doing a lot of good things on the ice. Four of their nine losses have come after regulation. They’re not far off from having a better record and a lot more positive buzz.
It may be tiring to say the Hurricanes on the cusp, yet again, given how how many times we’ve heard the pitch. But this time, really, they’re almost there.
All statistics provided by Corsica Hockey.
Source: Sports Feed