Go West, and North, Young Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes band of young NHL players hit the road to escape the parking lot that would become the highways surrounding the PNC Arena. The North Carolina State Fair is in town and the Hurricanes always leave town in early October as a result.

Past Performance Thankfully Not Repeating

Heading west has not been a friendly trip for the team in recent Octobers, but this trip has been different. The Hurricanes have been winning. To put it in perspective, after five games last season, the Hurricanes had won one game and lost four. They were 1-2-2, with a whopping four points on the board. Ouch.

After five games this season, the team is 3-1-1 with seven points on the board, nearly double where they were a year ago. It’s obviously very early in the season, but their start this year is light years better than what we’ve seen recently. For this group of young, talented players, the results are encouraging.

Currently sixth place in the Metropolitan Division, the Hurricanes have played the fewest games of any team in the Eastern Conference. They will catch up over time, but their low points might be primarily a result of having played fewer games.

Skinner Still Rolling

Hurricanes forward, Jeff Skinner is still rolling, picking up where he left off last season. He leads the team with three goals and one assist. This puts him second on the team in points with four, behind Justin Williams who has one goal and four assists. The total seems low, and it is compared to some others who have started the season scoring more prolifically, such as Alexander Ovechkin with 10 goals or Nikita Kucherov with eight.

But, if not for Skinner lighting the lamp when he has, the Hurricanes would be looking at different results. What I am seeing is the Skinner of last season come to life; fiercely competitive and determined to get the puck in the net. It’s an attitude that Skinner has more than anyone else on the team right now, save for Williams who seems equally determined.

If you have followed along with my coverage of the ‘Canes for the past year or so, you know that Skinner has gone through a lot of mental challenges stemming from his concussions. He came back from the last one obviously tentative about going to the net. But, last season he seemed to have shaken that tentativeness and was the Skinner of old. He displayed his freakish skating skills and put the team on his back, nearly getting them to the playoffs.

Related: New Season, New Start for Hurricanes

Last July, I speculated who might be the next captain of the Hurricanes. In Hurricanes’ “C” Likely to be a “J” I included Skinner along with Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk as a potential choice to wear the “C.” I characterized Skinner then, and it is still accurate here in the early going of the 2017-18 season:

While the Hurricanes did not make the playoffs, there was a clear change in attitude that, I believe, is the seed of a culture change. Losing had been part of the culture for so long, it seemed almost ingrained into the team. Under Skinner’s determined, aggressive play, the culture began to change, and expecting to win is becoming the new normal for the Hurricanes.

In short, Skinner is playing with the “it” that is so often a part of elite players. The challenge facing head coach Bill Peters is getting his other young guns to start scoring as well.

A Cause for Concern

The one area that is a cause for concern at this early juncture is the Canes’ overall lack of scoring. Their offense has done enough to win some games but their vaunted defense has been a large part of their success. A look at the Eastern Conference standings reveals that the Hurricanes have the lowest goals-for total with 14, only the Montreal Canadiens’ total is lower at 13.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho hopes to catch fire soon. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Every team ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division have over 20 and the division-leading New Jersey Devils have 31. Every team in the Atlantic Division has 20 or more except the Habs. One thing is certain, the Hurricanes must score more goals if they want to enhance their chances of making the playoffs.

Sebastian Aho took a while to get going last season, and the team is hopeful he can catch fire soon and play up to his talent. Faulk has yet to light the lamp and when he gets going it will definitely help.

Justin Faulk (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Hurricanes have started better than they have in a long time. That is without question. If they can add some offensive production to the mix on a consistent basis, the team will very likely be in the running for a spot in the playoffs.