Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
RALEIGH, NC – With a 4-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes, the Carolina Hurricanes (10-6-4) reached the twenty-game mark of the 2022-2023 season on Wednesday.
While Pyotr Kochetkov’s 23-save performance in front of a crowd of 18,775 at PNC Arena was filled with numerous spectacular stops, the Hurricanes offense couldn’t beat Arizona netminder Karel Vejmelka, as his 36 saves earned him his second shutout of the season and ended the Coyotes recent four-game winless streak.
With the loss, the Hurricanes currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division, and tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
How far have we come?
Last season, Carolina posted a 15-4-1 (31 points) record by the 20-game mark, with a +23 goal differential.
They sat just two points behind the Washington Capitals, Metro division leaders at the time, and tied for third (with Florida) in the Eastern Conference behind the Caps and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Though Carolina’s special teams are struggling, by recent years’ standards, when taking a wide-lens view, this team is sitting slightly lower than its relative position to where it was last season.
However, it’s the change in the rest of the league’s performance that has more drastically changed.
Who? What? Okay then
Up to this point in the season, instead of the Capitals leading the division, it’s the red hot New Jersey Devils, winners of 13 of their last 14 games.
Yes, the New Jersey Devils are just two points back of the Boston Bruins who lead the Eastern Conference, and the NHL overall.
And, just ahead of the Hurricanes in the Metro, right there with the Rangers are the other Empire State club, the New York Islanders.
Yes, that is correct as well – the Isles are just ahead of the Hurricanes with a 13-8 record after 21 games.
From the conference viewpoint, only the Leafs are in similar position to where they were along with the Hurricanes after 20 games last season.
So what’s the problem?
For those who feel like the sky is falling with this team at this point, maybe a five win difference is time to panic, but in terms of results – specifically a seven-point difference – maybe a little pause is all that’s needed.
Sure, a negligible difference in wins and points, a short win streak evens that up, but the key indicator for concern here is this season’s lower goal differential, currently even at zero (0).
It’s a legitimate cause for major concern this early into it.
You can’t win many games if you’re not outscoring the opposition, right?
Playing too close to the margins, and squeezing out unexpected points over 82 games is unsustainable.
As only one of 11 teams in the league with 70+ power play opportunities after 20 games, Carolina sits last among them, sporting a 10-of-74 (13.5%) ledger, and sitting 30th out of 32 teams overall.
It’s not the kill, it’s lack of thrill of the chase
If you think the penalty kill is a problem, it really isn’t compared to the rest of the league.
The Hurricanes are not overly penalized compared to the 12 teams currently ahead of them in that category.
They’re drawing penalties, but obviously haven’t taken enough advantage of the man-advantage opportunities they’ve earned.
That has increased the fan base’s rising tension related to offensive production, one that resulted in boos bellowing through the arena during the loss to Arizona.
The bright spots are that Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Martin Necas are leading the team in goals, (13, 9, and 9), respectively.
After that, four others sit at three or more goals – Jordan Staal (4), Jordan Martinook (4), Seth Jarvis, Brent Burns (3).
However, without an injured Teuvo Teravainen, the void still isn’t being filled by underperforming offensive results from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jaccob Slavin.
Dent the mesh already
Aside from the Big 3, the climb to reach double-digit totals in individual goal production for the players mentioned will only get steeper.
Up to this point, the Big 3 have claimed most of the power play goals, seven of all 10 to be exact.
Also understand that the current extra-man production has come against teams ranking 16-32 in penalty kill efficiency.
So, it’s expected that they should be converting opportunities against those opponents – a 6-2 record as a result of scoring on the power play makes sense.
Unfortunately, the timeliness and overall consistency of power play scoring is this group’s kryptonite after 20 games.
This is particularly evident when the Hurricanes are tip-toeing the margins with only one win in five overtime sessions with no power play goals to show in any of those contests.
Focus on you
Will an anemic power play result in more losses?
Yes, more than the team and fans would like.
As a result, due to this team’s experience and ability to play as close to a full-60 as possible night in and night out, this will produce more grinding one and two-goal margins to chase and overcome.
They won’t give up, but it will be harder to pull out wins, and likely more gut-wrenching losses will result.
The longer the limited scoring production continues, the more interesting the outlook for playoff positioning for this team will be throughout the remainder of the season.
What was an expected pre-season prediction to finish holding a lofty division lead or runner-up position in the conference by April may eventually turn into a bloody battle for a Wild Card spot.
The margins are that close.
There is lots of runway left, but it will disappear quickly along with high expectations if this team’s offense doesn’t take off soon.
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