The 2021-22 NHL season is winding down, and while the Eastern Conference playoff picture is all but set in stone, the Western Conference still sees spots up for grabs. We’ll be discussing a team from each conference this week. Despite one team clinching a playoff berth, they haven’t been playing well of late. The other team we’ll look at is in a full-court press to make the postseason.
Before we start, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge a few other teams that are worthy of recognition this week as honorable mentions. Our “Lost” ones include the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes. The Sharks are winless, while the Blackhawks have only one win in their past 10 games, and finally, the Coyotes have lost six straight.
Our “Found” honorable mentions are the Florida Panthers, who’ve won 10 straight, as well as the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, who have not lost in regulation in their respective past 10 games, each riding a nine-game win streak. Now, without further ado, let’s dive in.
Lost: Struggling Carolina Hurricanes Add Injuries to List of Woes
Despite clinching their playoff berth a while back, and having been a top team the whole season, the Carolina Hurricanes have fallen into a rut as of late. They’re 4-5-1 over their past 10 games and have dropped games to both playoff teams and non-playoff teams alike. They went 2-2 this past week, which includes getting shut out by the Detroit Red Wings and allowing seven goals to the Avalanche.
One of their biggest problems is that they’re playing below their season averages in several team-statistical categories. On the season, they’re a top team in goals-against, and average 2.43 goals-against per game (GA/GP) and score 3.29 goals-for per game (GF/GP), but they’ve allowed 30 goals and scored 29 over their past 10 games. On top of that, they’ve scored just two power-play goals over that stretch for a 7.7 percent conversion rate, far below their 22.5 percent season average. Penalty killing has been an issue as well going 78.1 percent over those 10, also far below their 88 percent season average.
Another problem arose in their April 16 loss to the Avalanche as captain Jordan Staal, who has scored six goals in his past six games, left with an injury. In addition, starting goaltender Frederik Andersen needed to be helped off the ice. Andersen has won three of his past seven starts, having allowed 20 goals and holding a .890 save percentage (SV%) with a shutout. He’s been great for the Hurricanes this season and has been mentioned in the Vezina conversation; he’s won 35 games with a 2.17 goals-against average (GAA) and .922 SV% with four shutouts.
They’re still seeing strong offensive contributions from some of their top players. Sebastian Aho has six goals and 11 points over his past 10 games, and Andrei Svechnikov has five goals and nine points over that same span. Seth Jarvis, taken 13th overall in the 2020 Draft, has been a bright spot this season and has eight points in his past 10 games, despite playing just under 15 minutes per game.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Hurricanes respond to losing both their captain and their starting goaltender. They have recalled goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov, March’s American Hockey League (AHL) Rookie of the Month. In 15 AHL games this season, the 22-year-old is 13-1-1 with a 2.09 GAA and .921 SV%. While NHL veteran Antti Raanta is likely to take the reins, Kochetkov isn’t the worst guy to have backing him up.
Related: Hurricanes’ Potential 2022 Playoff Matchups Ranked
The Hurricanes are securely in the playoffs, so the rest of this season now goes towards seeding and getting healthy. They’ll play four teams this week; two on the outside of the playoff picture, all but eliminated, and two already out. As such, they need to have a strong week to find their mojo.
Found: J.T. Miller and Thatcher Demko Fuel Vancouver Canucks’ Playoff Hopes
Only three Western Conference teams have clinched a playoff berth and just one in the Pacific Division. Sitting at 84 points, while the closest wild card team is at 91, the Vancouver Canucks have a chance. Now, they need a lot to go right, including some things simply out of their control, but there is hope. Even more so because they’re riding a five-game winning streak, having earned points in eight of their last 10 games.
The team’s offense has been buzzing as well. They’ve scored 38 goals with a 40 percent power-play conversion rate over their past 10 games. It helps that they’ve been strong at winning faceoffs, specifically at 55.2 percent, which is above their 51.8 percent season average. They average 2.95 GF/GP this season, so they’re playing above average when it counts the most.
J.T. Miller has far and away been their best player this year. He’s dished out 11 assists and 14 points in his past 10 games, which includes a five-assist game on April 14, while playing over 21 minutes per game. His 29 goals are second on the team, while his 62 assists and 91 points lead them. Those are career-highs across the board, and those 91 points are 31 more than the next-highest total.
The Canucks’ defense has been strong too, especially when it comes to the penalty kill. They’ve allowed 24 goals and succeeded on 89.3 percent of them in their past 10 games. That’s below their 2.77 GA/GP average and dismal 73.9 percent penalty kill on the year. Their goaltending has played a pivotal role too, with Thatcher Demko leading the way.
Demko is 5-1-2 in his past eight games and has been the team’s backbone all season long, winning 32 of 60 games played. Over those eight games, he has allowed 19 goals and held a .928 SV%. That’s exactly what you need from your starter at crunch time. Now on his sixth NHL team, 36-year-old backup Jaroslav Halak is still kicking. He went 1-1 in two games, but allowed just four goals with a .929 SV%; well above his season averages of a 3.01 GAA and .899 SV%.
The Canucks are definitely making things interesting as the season winds down. Some teams ahead of them have been dealing with injury troubles. They’ll be seeing five conference opponents, including four from the Pacific Division, in their final seven games. The other two teams are non-playoff teams that the Canucks absolutely need to capitalize on in the Ottawa Senators and Seattle Kraken.
Related: 3 Takeaways From the Canucks’ 5-Game Winning Streak
How about these teams making things interesting as the season is in its final legs? The Hurricanes will have to find ways to get back on track with neither their starting goaltender nor their captain for a currently unspecified amount of time. Meanwhile, despite not having life through a good chunk of the season, the Canucks have hope now. For coverage on those teams, the rapidly approaching NHL Entry Draft and more, stick with The Hockey Writers.