There’s a very scientific term for what Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are doing in Carolina right now: en fuego. The two young Finns have been playing on the wings of big center Jordan Staal for eight games in a row, but the real magic has happened in the past five. Aho and Teravainen have combined for 21 points in that span and it really feels like the Hurricanes have a top line now.
This is pretty crucial, because Carolina certainly has a chance to end the longest playoff futility streak currently going in the NHL right now. You have to go back to 2009 to find an 83rd game on the Carolina calendar and with so much parity in the Eastern Conference, there’s no time like the present to snap that off.
Right now, the Hurricanes sit just outside the Wild Card – but they’ve also played fewer games than the Rangers, Capitals and Penguins, all of whom sit only slightly higher in the points department.
We’ve talked a lot about Carolina’s defense and how well-suited it is to win in the league these days. Some pundits put faith in Scott Darling to fill the role of No. 1 goaltender this year and that hasn’t gone so well (at least Cam Ward has a .922 save percentage?), but there’s time for him to round into form.
The structural question up front always had to do with the top center position. In a perfect world, Staal is your premier shutdown guy. But if his size and all-around game can unlock the magic of the smaller Aho and Teravainen (who are literally the same size as me), then how can you not keep them together? Despite Darling’s pedestrian numbers in net, the defense in front of him was keeping the damage to a minimum. With just a little more offense, the Canes would have a couple more wins – and it seems like the new top line could provide it.
The challenge for coach Bill Peters now is depth. Victor Rask has struggled so mightily this season that he’s been a healthy scratch lately. Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm have still been chipping in since the new top line was minted, so that’s a good sign. But Justin Williams has cooled off.
There are some options in AHL Charlotte, though no silver bullets. Lucas Wallmark, Valentin Zykov and Janne Kuokkanen are having nice campaigns, though I would expect that Kuokkanen will be heading off for Finland’s world junior camp in the not-too-distant future. And hey; I’m not even sure if the will is there for Carolina – I’m sure they’d rather get Rask back on track sooner than later.
But finding the right mix will be important. Teams are going to watch video on the Aho-Staal-Teravainen combo and things will get more difficult for them. If there’s more offensive threats to contend with, opponents will be forced to pick their poison and that’s naturally good for Carolina.
The Metropolitan Division has been a weird, weird mess this season and playoff spots are very much there for the taking. We still have a lot of games to play, but if the Hurricanes figure out the right recipe up front, that post-season drought could be toast.