This week, the Carolina Hurricanes remain one of the best, and hottest, teams in the league. After a rough game against the Philadelphia Flyers, where the Hurricanes crumbled in the third period, allowing two unanswered goals to fall by a score of 2-1, the team bounced back the next night at PNC Arena with an impressive win over the St. Louis Blues. Now, the team heads west, where they have historically not been great; a phenomenon we’ll surely talk about as the week rolls on.
In today’s News & Rumors, we’ll chat about a player who’s had a somewhat weird season, a teenager who is beginning to look like he’s with the big club for the long haul, and some injury news that could hand the team a big lift out on the Pacific coast. Let’s get into it.
Hurricanes Get Mostly Healthy in Vegas
Losing Nino Niederreiter was a tough blow for Carolina. He is often overlooked because of the star power atop the Hurricanes’ lineup like Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov, but Niederreiter’s scoring ability on the team’s third line has been a crucial part of the Hurricanes’ success over the last couple seasons. He definitely fits the mold of how head coach Rod Brind’Amour wants his team to play, as a forechecking, hard-nosed player that works the dirty area and causes problems for the lower-pairing defensemen he often gets matched up against.
So, it’s no wonder the Hurricanes have struggled a bit to put the puck in the net during his absence. In the last four games, the team has scored just eight goals — an average of two per game for the math whizzes out there. That average is less than half of what they had produced in the first nine games, when they scored 37, or an average of over four per game.
Niederreiter isn’t the only culprit here, though. Martin Necas was out with an illness, and Brett Pesce — who has done a nice job stepping onto the second power-play unit and helping replace some of the offense that left with Dougie Hamilton — has missed four games after a scary fall into the end boards against the Chicago Blackhawks. Luckily for the Hurricanes, all three of those players practiced ahead of the Vegas game, along with goaltender Antti Raanta.
Needless to say, getting back to full strength for this tough western conference swing is going to go a long way for this team. Brett Pesce remains out for now, but the forward group and backup goaltender, Raanta, are back in action as of Tuesday night. The Finnish netminder made 21 dazzling saves on 23 shots against Vegas to earn his second win with the Hurricanes, and was better than the stat line suggests, considering how many high-danger chances he had to turn away.
The team went right back to that four-goal average in the offense’s first game back healthy, with Necas registering two assists, Niederreiter looking like his normal self as a forechecking and puck possession menace, and Brind’Amour rolling four lines the entire game with players back in their typical roles further down the lineup. It was a pretty complete effort for the team.
That depth has been a key to the Hurricanes’ success all season long, but it was really put to the test with four key players missing time over the last few weeks. The team will surely be glad to have something resembling “health” moving forward on the road trip.
Jarvis Here to Stay?
In an interview with Sara Civian of The Athletic, the topic of rookie Seth Jarvis‘ 10-game deadline came up to Hurricanes’ general manager Don Waddell. Waddell mentioned the 19-year-old’s seamless transition into the professional game, looking like he belongs in his first six NHL appearances: “…with the way he’s playing, he certainly doesn’t look out of place at all — that’s for sure. And, you know, it’s a long year. We are going to have some injuries. So, having that sort of skill set available to us would be valuable, because once we send him back, we can’t call him back up. That’s why you try to wait it out for as long as you can before you make a decision about it” (from “Don Waddell Q&A: Hurricanes GM on the team’s Cup chances, whether they’ll return Seth Jarvis to junior and more”, The Athletic, Nov. 11, 2021).
That isn’t necessarily a surefire hint at the Hurricanes’ plan one way or another, but he brings up a great point about the sort of depth Jarvis provides. If you were to simply scout via the box score, a goal and an assist in six games certainly doesn’t jump off the page, but just about everything this kid does on the ice has been impressive. The speed and skill are obvious, but what will go even further with Brind’Amour has been his defensive-zone play and three-zone work ethic. He’s made a lot of winning hockey plays, be it a smart, safe read when nothing is there to push offensively, or breaking up a dangerous chance on the backcheck, or simply getting a puck deep when the team has needed it. For a high-skill player, his aversion to mistakes and risky plays has been impressive.
Oh, and let’s not forget the two disallowed goals on consecutive nights, one after an offsides review, and one that was blown dead on a delayed penalty call against St. Louis that… well, in my opinion, shouldn’t have been. The Blues’ Marco Scandella never really seemed to touch it at all, much less gain possession.
On Tuesday night in Vegas, Jarvis made it three games in a row he found a twine, only this goal wasn’t called back. Instead, his third period marker stood as the game-winner in the Hurricanes 4-2 win over the Golden Knights. He also had two power moves where he kept much bigger defenders on his hip, shielded the puck, and cut to the Vegas net for great scoring chances on Vegas goalie Robin Lehner. For a smaller kid with questions about how he would hold up against NHL defenders, he sure seems to be checking off that box and many others just about every game.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Brind’Amour utilizes Jarvis over this upcoming stretch. If he continues to get ice time in the top six – as it seems he will, if game one of the trip with a healthy forward group was any indication – he truly seems primed to tear up the scoresheet in the very near future. And I won’t speak in absolutes, but we’re at the point where I find it very hard to believe Jarvis is leaving the Carolina Hurricanes lineup this season. The kid has arrived.
Trocheck Coming Through
In the shortened 2020-21 season, if you took a poll of who the Hurricanes’ MVP was, a large faction of Hurricanes fans and media members would probably vote for Vincent Trocheck. Well, the brave few that didn’t vote for Jordan Staal, anyway – sometimes it’s easy to forget how ridiculous the captain was last year.
Trocheck’s first season in Carolina was dominant at times. 17 goals and 43 points in 47 games, he was elite in the faceoff circle, and only a late-season injury and subsequent mini-slump dragged him below a point-per-game pace.
Fast-forward to this season, and Trocheck just seemed a touch off. The points seemed to come just about every time he made a good pass, but his decision-making was shaky at times, leading to more turnovers and missed opportunities than we saw from him last year. However, then Tuesday night happened: a goal, an assist, a whopping seven hits, and 13 faceoff wins in 21 tries (62%). Trocheck and his linemates were dominant in Vegas, with a Corsi For (CF) of 17, per Natural Stat Trick… and Corsi Against (CA) of 1. In layman’s terms, that means the shot attempts when Trocheck, Necas, and Teravainen were on the ice were 17 to 1. Jeez.
If the Trocheck we got to begin the year still scored at just under a point-per-game pace with the impressive, improved depth the team has in the forward ranks, and he reaches another gear here moving forward? Look out. The 28-year-old center is up for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, but conversations about pricing himself out of Carolina can wait. For now, simply look for him to be a key piece to the team’s quest to bring a Stanley Cup back to Raleigh.
This tricky six-game trip continues Thursday at the Honda Center in Anaheim to face the red-hot Ducks, winners of eight in a row. The Hurricanes will then stay in California take on another surprising team in the Los Angeles Kings, following showdowns with the San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, and a stop in Philadelphia next week before finally heading home. It’s a tough trip with a lot of travel, but the Hurricanes should still be looking to bank as many points as possible over teams they should probably beat at this point.
With the Hurricanes hoping to soon be back at full strength, they should also be looking to re-assert themselves as one of the very best teams in hockey. Losing two out of five games was hardly a poor stretch, but the process aspect has been lacking at times as well recently — especially considering the team has blown multi-goal leads in two of the last three games. Brind’Amour will be looking for more complete, 60-minute efforts while continuing to try to figure out the best way to utilize the tremendous talent throughout the roster. We should learn a lot about how this team is going to look long-term over the next couple of weeks.