By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – It was the start to the NHL season many expected of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Maybe, even better, sitting at 15-6-1 following an impressive undefeated month of October (8-0), that helped fuel a six-game road stint in November that raked in nine of a possible 12 points.
A dominating 6-3 win on Nov. 26 in Philadelphia brought the Canes back home feeling good about their all-around play.
Scoring pipeline flow slows
While averaging four-plus goals per game in each of those road wins, a 2-1 overtime loss in San Jose eventually initiated a trend in scoring under two goals a night that has resulted in four losses in the team’s last five games played.
The offensive pipeline that Carolina drew from during the opening sprint to the top of the league standings flowed endlessly and resulted in 10 players posting four or more goals to the ledger so far.
However, that flow has slowed.
It’s gonna come
Coupled with exceptional opposing goaltending efforts and anemic results on the power play, head coach Brind’Amour is just waiting for the next big outpouring of goals to come.
As usual with this team, a lack of effort is not the reason for pucks not going in – they’ve outshot each of their recent triumphant opponents (Seattle 36-22; Washington 32-25; Dallas 40-17; Ottawa 49-20).
After a 0-for-17 drought on the power play, Teuvo Teravainen’s 100th career goal against the Senators on Thursday hopefully will reignite that critical component to success in upcoming games.
With Buffalo in town on Saturday, getting pace of puck movement, positioning and confidence back with successful results with the man-advantage will not just help to end a losing streak, but prep the Hurricanes for their upcoming grueling five-game road trip through Western Canada and Minnesota.
Shutting it down
Goaltender Frederik Andersen has been the workhorse for this team, and the major reason for the productive start to the season.
Currently in the top-five in wins among NHL goalies, holding an 11-5 record, Andersen’s backup, Antti Raanta, has done his part with a 3-1-1 record.
Even AHL starter Alex Lyon posted a win to keep Carolina on track and showed that he’s capable of stepping in for Raanta or Andersen, if needed.
All three have been more than up to the task of playing the positional and dynamic style needed to fit into Brind’Amour’s up-tempo style of play in all zones.
Very little elbow room
So as the Hurricanes begin their second 20-game stretch of the season, it is evident that as hard as they’ve played and collected points to start the season, so have quite a few others.
They are eighth overall, only four points behind league-leading Florida, while sitting third in the Metropolitan and Eastern Division wildcard behind Washington and the New York Rangers.
That seems like a comfortable spot, but there is very little room to suffer a major setback, even at this still early point of the year.
Covid a real threat to lineup insecurity
While they’ve taken some lumps lately in suffering losses, league Covid-19 protocol rules have kept much-needed defensemen Ethan Bear, Brett Pesce, and Tony DeAngelo out of the lineup.
Those issues arose in the middle of the Canes’ first extended road trip out West, and the road ahead up North will be an equally challenging one.
Boarding the plane shortly after playing the Sabres, Carolina will travel to face Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Minnesota, respectively.
Matchups against the physically punishing and talented Jets (11-8-4) and Canucks (8-14-2) will bookend the Canadian leg.
There will be little room for error when facing the Flames (15-4-5), Oilers (16-6-0), and Wild (16-6-1), all currently playing exceptionally well and sitting higher in the standings.
Passport, Vax card and swab please
Traveling from Manitoba out to British Columbia and then back through the Land of 10,000 Lakes will only make it tougher and grueling to follow even stricter Covid-19 protocols to ensure no further positive tests are confirmed.
Who knows what the status of Bear, Pesce, and DeAngelo will be due to recent positive test results and following Covid-19 protocol compliance.
Concerns regarding border crossing issues entering Canada and re-entering the U.S. with the recent Omicron variant have only heightened attention, and probably will not make travel on this trip easy at all.
What if other players test positive and have to remain in Canada?
What a mess that would create.
General manager Don Waddell’s speed-dial to Chicago may get worn out if that were to happen.
To avoid thinking about such possibilities would be unrealistic.
Barely past the quarter point of the season, and it already seems like so much has happened, and with so much more to come.
Next turn coming soon.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport