Look, we don’t want to go getting ahead of ourselves. After all, as of Wednesday, we're only officially one week into the 2019-20 campaign. As such, it’s difficult to draw much of a conclusion about anything given what we’ve seen thus far. Small sample sizes skew statistics, some teams have played far fewer contests than others and it’s generally not a great idea to make bold proclamations about the state of one team or another until at least a few weeks into the season.
With that said, we can safely say the Carolina Hurricanes are about to embark the NHL’s first perfect season, followed by a 16-game sweep of the post-season en route to the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Of that we can be certain after seven days of NHL action. Yep. Might as well end the season now and crown ‘em.
We jest, of course, but it’s not hard to understand the tongue-in-cheek prognostication of Carolina’s future. After four games, the Hurricanes hype train isn’t simply rolling or speeding along. No, the darn thing is clipping at such a rate that it’s threatening to fly off the tracks. And not at all without reason. Simply put, Carolina has been spectacular.
On opening night, the Hurricanes constructed a come-from-behind shootout victory over the Montreal Canadiens. In their first road outing of the season, Carolina again clawed back from a deficit to defeat the Washington Capitals in overtime. This past Sunday, coach Rod Brind’Amour’s group put on a stunning display to stun the Tampa Bay Lightning in an extra frame. And faced with a supposed-to-be up-and-coming Florida Panthers squad Tuesday, the Hurricanes thoroughly dismantled the Cats, scoring early and often to pick up a 6-3 victory and remain perfect after Week 1.
Granted, the Hurricanes’ success isn’t altogether surprising. Following an inspiring run to the post-season and a run all the way to the Eastern Conference final, the perception of Carolina entering the campaign was that they would be a contender in the Metropolitan Division. In The Hockey News’ Yearbook, the Hurricanes were projected to finish second in the division and we gave Carolina 25/1 odds to stand atop the league as Stanley Cup champions, which was the 12th-highest probability of any club. We weren’t alone in being bullish on the Hurricanes, however. Take a look at any pundit’s predictions and you’re likely to find Carolina high on the list in the Eastern Conference. Even oddsmakers had high hopes for the Hurricanes.
But maybe what is surprising, even this early, is just how good Carolina has looked. While true that they’ve had some semblance of luck on their side – three consecutive comeback victories isn’t exactly how they would have drawn it up if you would have told the Hurricanes they’d be 4-0 after the opening week of the season – the Hurricanes have looked equal parts fast, possession heavy, offensively dangerous and defensively sound. The numbers, albeit early, back that up, too. In terms of percentages at five-a-side, Carolina ranks ninth in Corsi (53.2), seventh in shots (53.8), fourth in scoring chances (56.3), fourth in high-danger chances (60) and tied for third in expected goals (57.5).
And while we should maybe hesitate to focus too much on one or two outings, the Hurricanes’ performances in their two most recent outings, specifically, have been something to behold. Against the mighty Lightning, expected by many to again win the Presidents’ Trophy, Carolina managed to hold Tampa Bay to two shots – two! – across the final 40-plus minutes of the contest. That’s a lineup that contains some of the top offensive talents in the world, including Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, yet they were rendered almost completely ineffective through the final two periods and the entirety of overtime. And against the Panthers on Wednesday, the Hurricanes showcased the kind of killer offensive instinct that gives them legitimate potential to stand apart from the pack this season. Carolina leapt out to a 5-0 lead before Florida began to show any signs of life.
It’s in that regard that the Hurricanes have been better than expected, too. Offensively, it sure seems as though the summer spent fine-tuning has paid dividends. Again, four games and all that, but off-season acquisition Erik Haula already has three goals. Ryan Dzingel scored twice Tuesday to net his third and fourth points of the season. And Jake Gardiner, a late addition to an already arguably league-best blueline, has two points in two games. The result? An attack that has netted four goals per game. That’s tied (with the Toronto Maple Leafs, no less) for the fifth-highest rate among the handful of teams that have played at least three games, for what it’s worth.
What’s promising, as well, is that a good chunk of the Hurricanes’ offense has come on what appears to be a much-improved power play. After a mere 17.8 success rate with the man advantage last season, Carolina has struck five times on 15 power play opportunities through four games. And underlying numbers through four games suggest the success could be sustainable. Yes, small sample, but the Hurricanes’ shots on goal rate is equivalent to 71.7 per 60 minutes of power play ice time. That’s sure to regress, but even if it dips by 10 or so shots per hour spent on the man advantage, it would still put Carolina among the class of the league by season’s end.
If there is one area to be cautious when it comes to the Hurricanes, it’s in goal. Petr Mrazek has been mediocre in his two outings, outplayed by a wide margin thus far by James Reimer, who was tabbed as the 1B of the two-goaltender system Carolina appeared set to run this season. Right now, though, it hardly feels as though goaltending has the potential to be the Achilles heel it has been in the past for the Hurricanes. Because by all accounts, this Carolina team is good, and they might be even better than anyone expected.
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