Carolina Hurricanes’ October: More Tricks or Treats?

Historically, October has not been a kind month to the Carolina Hurricanes. Since the 2009-10 season, only once have the Hurricanes posted an October record above .500. That happened last season, and not so coincidentally, it was also the only season in that span in which the Hurricanes made the playoffs.

Carolina’s 8-3-1 record through 12 games has positioned them in second place in the Metropolitan Division, four points back of the Washington Capitals, and with two games in hand. If you’re a believer in history, you might want to take notes – the last time the Hurricanes had eight wins in October was the 2005-06 season – the year they won the Stanley Cup.

This season, the Hurricanes stormed out of the gate, securing five straight victories. The wheels started to fall off in the midst of the California road trip mid-October where they went 1-3-1, but pulled it back together with two solid wins on home ice Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks and Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.

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Following Tuesday’s Halloween-inspired storm surge, the Hurricanes can be happy they’ve collected plenty more treats than tricks this Halloween, as all aspects of their game are on the rise.

Treat: Confidence

Team confidence is soaring, especially for sophomore forward Andrei Svechnikov. The 19-year-old Russian is still seeking consistency, but he’s becoming more leaned-upon this season for his big presence and offensive acumen. He started the season with eight points in Carolina’s first five games, but was silenced as the Hurricanes dropped four of the next five.

Since returning home, however, he’s scored four goals in two games to help Carolina secure two important wins. If you need any more proof that Svechnikov’s confidence is at an all-time high, just feast your eyes on this ghastly goal from Tuesday that left fans, and his teammates, in awe.

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The lacrosse-style goal has never been scored in the NHL before, despite several unsuccessful attempts. But that’s exactly the kind of move you can expect from Svechnikov when he’s brimming with confidence, and that confidence has become infectious.

Goaltending has been an issue in Carolina the past several seasons, but Petr Mrazek has been given the keys to the crease this season, and he’s been looking more and more comfortable with every game. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour alternated between Mrazek and backup James Reimer for the first eight games, but has since bestowed faith in Mrazek with four consecutive starts.

Even after Mrazek was hung out to dry and got pulled in the 4-2 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 18, Brind’Amour went right back with the Czech netminder the next three games. Mrazek has noticeably calmed some of his more erratic tendencies in net, and his commitment to win every night has allowed him to string together an incredible 14-game winning streak on home ice.

In front of Mrazek, defenseman Dougie Hamilton has caught the confidence fever as well. Hamilton leads the Hurricanes with 13 points in 12 games, and is second among all NHL defensemen in goals with six. His play has elevated in his second season with Carolina, and he’s been able to not only fit in seamlessly, but become one of the Hurricanes’ most dynamic players.

Trick: Erik Haula

The third line of Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas was carrying the Hurricanes for quite some time in the early stages of the season. The center on that line, Haula, was leading the way while Carolina’s stars struggled to find their game. It seemed like he was scoring every night – and he almost was. He tallied seven goals in his first nine games as a Hurricane after coming over in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights over the summer.

Haula’s hot streak was doused Oct. 18 in Anaheim when he left the game due to an upper-body injury, but with six days off between games, he was able to recover and dress for Carolina’s next game. Haula’s ice time has fluctuated drastically since his return, logging 20:22, 12:46, and 14:11 in the past three games, in which he only recorded one assist.

Carolina Hurricanes Erik Haula Tampa Bay Lightning Curtis McElhinney
Carolina Hurricanes’ Erik Haula scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

If he’s still not fully recovered, that may be why his ice time and offense has dried up, but beyond that, there are some other contributing factors. Haula is converting at a 23.3 percent shooting percentage this season, which is well above his career average of 13.1 percent. His power play unit has also seen more ice time, but with Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter slowly starting to find their games, that could soon change. His linemates have also struggled recently – Necas has just one assist in his last five games, and Dzingel has one assist in his last four.

Nevertheless, Haula is an important player for the Hurricanes, and his presence gives them three solid scoring lines. His inevitable regression isn’t going to kill the ‘Canes – he’s still capable of 50 to 60 points, even in a third-line role. The real trick is thinking Haula can carry Carolina’s offense all season. Aho and Niederreiter need to contribute more to the pot.

Treat: Special Teams

The power play has finally risen from the dead. It’s haunted the Hurricanes for the past several years, especially in last season’s playoffs, but with all the talent they’ve compiled up front, things are finally coming together. Right off the bat, the Hurricanes were dismantling the opposition, scoring five power-play goals in their first four games.

Unfortunately, the power play poltergeist returned mid-October. Their lack of discipline halted any momentum they were able to build, and when they did get opportunities with the man-advantage, they weren’t able to convert. Overly complicated zone entries were easily broken up and ticked precious seconds off the clock. And when they did get set up, they were getting too cute with their passing plays.

When the Hurricanes got back to their more hardened shooting style, they had more success. And in the past four games, they’ve disembodied goaltenders with four power-play goals on only 11 opportunities – two by the red-hot Svechnikov.

Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

It’s a similar story for the penalty kill, which has been perfect the past four games as well. The Hurricanes were the most penalized team in the NHL two weeks ago, but they’ve drastically reduced the number of minor penalties taken during games, and with that, their penalty kill has looked more structured.

Trick: The Haydn Fleury Predicament

Through no fault of his own, Haydn Fleury has once again found himself nailed to the press box. Now that Brian Gibbons has been recalled and the Hurricanes don’t need to dress seven defensemen, Fleury is back to his familiar spot of watching from the stands.

He’s played well for the Hurricanes this season, in which was supposed to be a “show me” year. He even finally scored his first goal in his 96th NHL game. The fringe defenseman looked like he was going to be a mainstay in the lineup, but then the club signed Jake Gardiner, and Trevor van Riemsdyk came back from injury. Now, with Jordan Martinook ready to return in the coming weeks and Fleury’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, his future with the Hurricanes is up in the air.

Haydn Fleury Hurricanes
Haydn Fleury, Carolina Hurricanes, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It doesn’t do the 23-year-old any good to sit for the season, and it doesn’t benefit the Hurricanes either. Even when Brind’Amour was dressing seven defensemen, Fleury was spending majority of the game glued to the bench. Fleury is a capable bottom-pairing defenseman with upside, and unless he’s able to crack the lineup because of an injury, his talent and potential are just being wasted.

Treat: November Schedule

The Hurricanes will be busy with 15 games in the month of November, but the good news is they have an opportunity to rocket up the standings, with a slew of beatable teams coming down the chute. Of the 15 games to be played in November, only three are against teams currently in a playoff position – the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators.

The Hurricanes will have two meetings each with the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. They also only have three games against Western Conference opponents. They’ll play the Minnesota Wild, Blackhawks and Predators – three cities with short travel distance, as far as Western Conference opponents go.

These juicy games against lowly Eastern Conference teams will be a huge opportunity to stockpile points and climb the ladder in their division. Their only two back-to-backs next month are at the beginning (Nov. 1, Nov. 2) and end of the month (Nov. 29, Nov. 30). The Hurricanes are also one of the healthiest teams in the league. Their only injured player, Jordan Martinook, is expected to return in a couple of weeks. If there’s ever a time for the Hurricanes to brew up some points and take advantage of a favorable schedule, it’s now.

There are always going to be rough patches during a season, and luckily for the Hurricanes, they were able to climb out of the grave quick enough and return to their style of play. That’s not to say there won’t be more difficult times ahead, but for the foreseeable future, almost all aspects of their game are trending upward. It’s been a rarity in Raleigh, but this October was a basket of treats for Hurricanes fans.