Following a franchise-best 5-0-0 start to their 2019-20 campaign, the Carolina Hurricanes finally lost a sloppy game at home to a struggling, at the time, Columbus Blue Jackets team, 3-2. The Hurricanes then hit the road for a three-game west coast road trip that always seems to be their Achilles’ heel and, once again, the west coast got the better of them.
The Hurricanes started their California trip with a stellar performance in Los Angeles vs. the Kings. They won 2-0 with goals from rookie Martin Necas and Sebastian Aho, who has been struggling so far despite signing a significant contract during the offseason. Petr Mrazek earned the first star of the night with his phenomenal outing, saving all 31 shots he faced. However, this game was the only bright spot of the trip.
The ‘Canes had a tough schedule with back-to-back games in different time zones, and this could have affected their play. They had an embarrassing performance against the San Jose Sharks, allowing Evander Kane to record a hat trick in the first period alone. Coming back from such a poor start is tough, and they lost for the second time this season, by a score of 5-2. Barclay Goodrow and Tomas Hertl added goals for the Sharks and Dougie Hamilton and Erik Haula scored a goal each for the Hurricanes.
Carolina then traveled back south towards LA and faced off against the extremely talented Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks got off to an impeccable start, up 4-0 before the middle of the second period. Hayden Fleury was able to score his first goal of his NHL career in his 96th NHL game. Haula added another goal to push his season total to seven. The final score was Ducks 4, Hurricanes 2.
What happened to the almost flawless Hurricanes from the beginning of season?
Reasons for Recent Struggles
Penalties and the Penalty Kill
In the loss to the Sharks, the Hurricanes and Sharks were whistled for four penalties each. However, the Sharks took advantage of their opportunities. They scored two power-play goals while the Hurricanes were 0-4. The ‘Canes were then given three power-play opportunities vs. the Ducks and capitalized on one of them. However, they gave up a shorthanded goal which is tough to bounce back from, especially when that goal makes it 4-0. This underwhelming stretch has lowered the team’s power-play conversion to 19.4%, ranked 17th in the league.
In their six victories this season, the Hurricanes have had six special-team goals: five on the power play and one shorthanded, but in their three losses, they have only scored one power-play goal while giving up three special teams goals. Staying out of the box will help as penalties have been hurting them recently. Head coach Brind’Amour has to get on them about it and they should have learned their lesson during last year’s Eastern Conference Final when the Boston Bruins took it to them with the man advantage.
Aho’s Continued Absence
Through nine games this season, Aho only has three points: two goals and one assist. He was expected to lead this team and take the reigns from Justin Williams, or “Mr. Game 7”, however, he has not done that yet. Luckily, second-year player Andrei Svechnikov and free-agent signee Erik Haula have been playing lights out.
Aho is playing smart, unlike most of his counterparts, with only one penalty in the first nine games. He could teach the rest of the team to stay out of the box. He has also stayed aggressive with the puck, recording 30 shots on goal already, so it’s only a matter of time before he has a breakout game.
After an offseason, when he was a highly touted restricted free-agent, Aho has yet to find his groove. The Montreal Canadiens offered him a contract, but the Hurricanes matched it easily and signed Ago to a five-year, $42.27-million contract. He has yet to prove that the hefty contract was warranted.
Another player who has been quiet is Nino Niederreiter. He has three points, like Aho, all assists, and he’s a minus-two. Niederreiter has also been penalized six times, the most on the team. Six penalties in nine games for an experienced player is not a good example to set for the younger ones and he is hurting the team.
In six victories, the Hurricanes have scored the first goal in five games. To succeed, like many teams, they have to hit their opponent early. In all three of their losses, they have given up the first goal of the game, and on the West Coast trip, they faced a two-goal deficit in the first period in each of those losses.
They need to get back on track in the first period to prevent this skid from becoming a nightmare that taints their historic start. We can hope that these sluggish starts were due to the time change and the competition rather than a habit they might be forming.
In order to get back to their strong first-period play from the beginning of the season, Carolina has to stay out of the box, especially on the road. The first goal on the road is tough to come back from and they cannot make it easier on their opponents by playing a man down.
The young Hurricanes at full strength can compete with any team in the league. They cannot give away free opportunities like they did against the Bruins last season. If Aho and Niederreiter can get back to the Aho and the El Nino that Canes’ fans know and love, the team will look much more dangerous.
The ‘Canes take on the Blue Jackets at the Nationwide Arena in a Metropolitan Division matchup on Thursday. A slow start should not be the issue as the Hurricanes are coming off of a five-day rest. Fans shouldn’t worry too much, but tonight is a big opportunity for the team to get back on track vs. a rising Blue Jacket team.