After falling behind 2-0 for the second time in as many games, the Carolina Hurricanes, once again, turned on the jets and stormed back to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. It may not be the best process at this juncture of the season to keep seeing themselves fall behind in multi-goal holes, but the team keeps on finding ways to bank wins anyway. In their matinee with the New Jersey Devils Saturday, the depth that we’ve talked about all season continued to play a big part in the offense when the top players get held in check, and one of the most anticipated debuts in recent memory ended in a 3-2 win.
Kochetkov Wins Debut
If we’re being honest, no matter what the outcome had been, a 50-save shutout, a seven-goals-allowed nightmare, or anything in between, it really wouldn’t have mattered in the grand scheme of things. The thought process entering this game was this: Pyotr Kochetkov is 22-years-old, making his NHL debut in the midst of a heated race for first in the Metropolitan Division, after being in North America for just two months. Nerves could have gotten to him or he could have been on fire, and it wouldn’t have meant much for his long-term career, obviously. However, we saw what those who have tracked him have come to expect: size, athleticism, competitiveness, and a chance for his team to win every time he’s between the pipes. Heck, the win makes him 14-1-1 when you combine it with his American Hockey League (AHL) time. All he does is win, apparently.
Still, Kochetkov is extremely talented and fans are dreaming of what he could be someday. Called up after the injury to starter Frederik Andersen, to say the hype around him coming in was immense would be an understatement. This was only added to by veteran goaltender Antti Raanta’s recent comments (although, in fairness, I think he meant stylistically more than he did straight up ability):
No pressure, indeed, just live up to two of the top Russian goaltenders of all time. Kochetkov was, ultimately, quite good in his first start. In a game where he barely saw any action for the first 40 minutes, he had no chance on the first goal, which was heavily screened and also deflected from just in front of the net into the high-glove corner. He probably didn’t love the second goal, as New Jersey captain Nico Hischier beat him from a distance, although it too was likely partially screened by a Carolina defenseman. It was also just a great shot, as Hischier dragged the puck towards his feet to change the shooting angle, and went far-side post and in to make it 2-0 early in the third.
Still, Kochetkov didn’t seem to waver. Former Hurricane Dougie Hamilton made a perfect stretch pass to Jesper Boqvist shortly after that second goal for a breakaway, and Kochetkov calmly tracked his deke and kept his big shoulders square to deflect the shot over the crossbar. That, along with a beautiful, side-to-side glove save on Yegor Sharangovich on a late New Jersey power play probably ended up being the saves of the game in retrospect. A goal and 3-0 lead on either one likely would have been too much to overcome, and they gave the Hurricanes a chance to mount their comeback.
So, this was an exciting day for the Hurricanes. Kochetkov faced just 19 shots but was able to turn away 17 of them and get his feet wet with a win in the NHL. He may not see the crease again this year, except perhaps in the season finale, but this was a brief glimpse into what many think is the future of the Hurricanes in net. He’ll be back with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves whenever Andersen returns from injury, where he’ll play a key role as one of that league’s best teams makes a run for the Calder Cup. Kochetkov will be back soon enough, regardless, and when the time comes should return with confidence knowing he’s capable of competing at the sport’s highest level.
Niederreiter, Skjei, and Others Continue to be Catalysts
When Teuvo Teravainen scored against Winnipeg in the last game, he became the fifth Hurricane to hit the 20-goal mark on the season. Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho both have hit 30 goals already. They have some star power at the top of the lineup with those guys and others, obviously, but, as we’ve said numerous times this season, the depth of this team has become one of the biggest factors in their continued winning ways. Svechnikov and Aho had their chances in this one but largely were kept quiet. So, it was other guys, including one who isn’t really seen as an offensive difference-maker (well, wasn’t, until this season anyway), that led the Hurricanes back for a riveting overtime win Saturday afternoon.
Sometimes, all you need is a bounce, but you make your own luck. After Nino Niederreiter (more on him momentarily) nearly scored off a beautiful set faceoff play, the puck came around the boards to Brady Skjei. The veteran defenseman continued his excellent offensive season, throwing one at the net that bounced off towering Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl and between goaltender Jon Gillies‘ legs. The goal was Skjei’s ninth, a career-high. With under five minutes to play, the Hurricanes had finally gotten one behind the New Jersey goalie, and they were within striking distance.
Since the calendar turned to 2022 especially, Skjei has been on a roll offensively, with eight of his goals and 29 points in 49 games since New Years’. I’m not backing this up with any stats right now, but it sure feels like a lot of those have come in big spots too; he’s turned into a key piece of the Hurricanes’ offense, in addition to being half of their best shutdown pairing alongside partner Brett Pesce.
Then, it was Nino Time. After a few largely-uneventful minutes went by, Tony DeAngelo did a great job of getting a shot through heavy traffic. Gillies made the initial stop, but Niederreiter was there – in the dirty areas, paying the price like he always does – to bang home the rebound and knot the game with just under two minutes remaining. It was his 24th of the season, and, combined with everything else he does as a grinding, defensively responsible forward, has been one of Carolina’s most important – and definitely under-appreciated – players. The pending unrestricted free agent would be very, very high on the to-do list if I were in the front office.
Finally, Seth Jarvis put a bow on this one in overtime, catching a fantastic pass from DeAngelo and beating a sprawling Gillies to complete the comeback. It was the rookie’s 16th of the year, and he has been coming on very strong for quite some time now, as it’s fair to say his rookie wall is a thing of the past. With 37 points in 65 games for the 20-year-old, along with being one of the most natural finishers on the team, and his high-compete nature that far outweighs his lack of stature, it’s going to be really fun to see him in postseason hockey. The kid doesn’t back down from anyone, and his production is sure to be key for the Hurricanes. If the team continues to get these types of contributions from their young guys and depth players, they’ll be a tough out come playoff time.
Power Play Showing Progress
On paper, the ninth-ranked power play looks pretty good. However, the Hurricanes have certainly had their share of struggles with the man advantage in the last month or so, but things look to be trending in the right direction over the last couple of games. The team ran a beautiful set play during P.K. Subban’s second-period penalty that ended in Teravainen hitting Svechnikov with a seam pass, who beat Gillies but was denied by the post. Generally, the puck movement looked a bit more crisp and quick on Saturday. This also came on the heels of recent power play success, as Teravainen’s man-advantage marker against Winnipeg proved to be the jumping-off point for four straight goals. The second power play wasn’t as clean as the second, but the second unit actually put together some good chances late, which is another good sign.
While it overall has been better, the Carolina power play is still not great. The Hurricanes should probably look to implement more of the set plays like the one that got Svechnikov loose on the backside of the play, because at times the off-puck movement gets way too stagnant. That’s been my biggest gripe with their man advantage for a couple of years now. The way to stress a four-man penalty kill box is to create movement, both from your own team and the opposing four killers. That’s how you open up passing lanes, especially of the cross-seam variety, thus leading to more higher-danger chances than simply passing around the perimeter and hoping you beat the goalie with a screened or tipped point shot.
I bring this up because, as we inch closer and closer to the postseason, this is something that will come into focus for Carolina. Tampa Bay’s power play was one of the biggest differences in their five-game series win in the 2021 Playoffs, and with top-10 power plays lurking in the Eastern Conference such as Florida, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and the New York Rangers (not to mention the Washington Capitals, who, after being ranked near last place league-wide on the power play early in the year, have turned it on and returned to their Alex Ovechkin-led selves now that they’re healthy), if the Hurricanes can’t match their power play success and take advantage of their opponents’ lack of discipline, it could easily tilt an upcoming series against them.
Hurricanes Look Good With 3 to Play
The Hurricanes moved to 51-20-8 on the season with the win, a whopping 110 points, and need just two more to match the 112 secured by the 2005-06, Stanley Cup-winning team (their records could end up identical, which is interesting; that team was 52-22-8).
As far as the division goes, the Bruins helped the Hurricanes out on Saturday, beating the second-place Rangers 3-1 (from “Rangers get reality check as loss to Bruins snaps four-game winning streak“, The New York Post, April 23, 2022). Carolina has the inside track towards the Metropolitan’s number-one seed, with three games remaining for each team and a two-point lead. If they win two of their last three games or beat the Rangers in regulation in New York on Tuesday, the team will clinch that spot, as they own the tiebreaker right now.
As many ups and downs as the Hurricanes have had this year (which pretty much all teams go through), they look to be turning the corner yet again as they prepare for their playoff run. The talent and depth of this team mean expectations are very high, and it’ll be fun to see if this team is up to the task in a loaded Eastern Conference.
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Brandon Stanley covers the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings here at THW. Born and raised in Raleigh, NC, in addition to writing about the Hurricanes for about five years now, he played hockey in NC for about 15 years. Many of those in the Carolina Junior Canes program, and hockey has always been his biggest passion. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Brandon also co-hosts and edits a podcast with two other writers (one of which, Alex Ohari, is also a writer here at THW) called Tracking the Storm. The pod covers everything Carolina Hurricanes, from prospects, to game recaps, and everything in between. Always available to chat anything hockey related, don’t hesitate to shoot him a tweet or DM anytime on Twitter @bwstanley26!