Peter Koutroumpis (@pksport)
RALEIGH, NC – Starting the second half of the NHL regular season with a 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes are back in familiar territory.
Putting the finishing touch to their 42nd game of the season, defenseman Brett Pesce’s knuckleball wrister deceived Pens netminder Tristan Jarry enough to post another win to the team’s regular season ledger.
Fueled by Pesce’s two-goal finish, his second career multi-point performance, and reinforced by 38 saves from goalie Antti Raanta, the most in any game he’s played during his time with Carolina, the Hurricanes now sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division at 24-13-5, one point behind the New York Rangers (54 points).
Been here before
Looking back to last season, the Hurricanes are right where they were, and want and need to be.
A 25-9-7 record after 41 games in 2022-2023 was the pace to chase, and after significant trials and tribulations earlier in the season, Carolina is now not far off.
A few more losses, particularly, a four-game losing streak on the road in Western Canada back in early December had followers and the team reeling.
Holding at 14-12-1 at the time, many were panicked that a sixth consecutive playoff run, let alone a Stanley Cup run, was in jeopardy if the team’s play continued down that sub-borderline path.
Too early to tell, but a turnaround was necessary and thankfully, it surfaced quickly during the latter part of that road trip.
Second-half start in the black
Beating Pittsburgh at home in front of a 40th consecutive sellout since last Feb. 23, 2023, Carolina extended its season-long point streak to eight games.
The Hurricanes also improved to 10-1-4 over their last 15 contests (12/12-1/13), a run beginning with a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, and immediately after those seemingly devastating losses in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver.
A major catalyst for the turnaround has been the offensive production of leading scorer Sebastian Aho, along with forwards Seth Jarvis and Andrei Svechnikov.
Tallying an assist against the Pens, Aho has now posted 18 points (3g, 15a) over his last nine games, contributing to 48 points (15g, 33a) through 39 games overall this season.
Also claiming a helper against Pittsburgh, Svechnikov now has contributed nine goals and eight assists in his last 11 games.
Not to be overlooked, Jarvis also added an assist on Saturday, as his contribution of six goals and seven assists since Dec. 12th has been pivotal to the team’s turnaround.
Scorers gonna score, skaters gonna skate
No doubt the Hurricanes defense bore the brunt of criticism during the early part of the season, but offensive production was sorely needed.
Every aspect of the team’s performance had a bright light shone on it – lack of individual finish directly correlated to lack of collective production.
Following some publicly-voiced introspection, the Hurricanes’ resurgence hit on some numbers, particularly with the man-advantage.
Special teams production on the power play since that win over the Senators has connected at a phenomenal 42-percent conversion rate (21-50) in 15 games.
Svechnikov, Aho, and Jarvis have taken on their responsibilities, and as a result, have contributed four, three, and three goals, respectively, in that regard.
Setting others up with a combined 18 assists on the man-advantage, the trio are meeting expectations and responsibility in leading this squad into the second half of what is expected to be a tightly-contested slate of games for the remainder of the season.
Carolina has righted its course at this point in the race to the postseason, but faces a lot of choppy waves in the months to come.
Time to strap in, push forward, and hold on.
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