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Twenty games into the Carolina Hurricanes’ season, what do we know?
The Canes, in Rod Brind’Amour’s first year as head coach, are 9-8-3. They’re not in playoff position with Thanksgiving two days away. Scoring remains problematic. The goaltending situation still is unsettled.
The good news: parity reigns in the NHL. Listen to any coach or general manager and they’ll mention how evenly matched the league is and the standings bear that out. In the Eastern Conference, 13 teams had 20 or more points after Monday’s games.
Brind’Amour has called the Canes a “work in progress.” The work continues. Progress remains incremental.
Remember, the Canes were 9-7-4 and had 22 points after 20 games last season and had played one more road game.
Here’s what we know:
Can anyone score goals?
Sebastian Aho had the early season tear — four goals in his first five games — and then went 12 games without one. The assists were there for Aho and some records set, but not goals.
Micheal Ferland has a team-high 10 goals, then it drops off quickly to Aho’s six and five for Jordan Staal. The defensemen have nine goals, total. The Canes have scored two or fewer goals in 10 games.
Canes general manager Don Waddell said the team is looking for scoring help. They traded away a proven scorer in Jeff Skinner, who now has 14 goals for the Buffalo Sabres.
Quantity but enough quality?
Much has been made of the Canes’ proliferation of shots — an NHL-best 40.3 a game. They have big leads in the analytical measurables: scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, Corsi, Fenwick. They’re also fourth in missed shots (297) and tied for second in posts hit (18).
“There aren’t too many games where it didn’t feel like we created enough offense,” Brind’Amour said. “The numbers back that up. They show us the high-danger chances and the Grade-A chances. We don’t really look at shot totals. We’re look at ones we give up. We don’t care if we give up 30 shots if they’re not high-quality. If they’re high-quality that’s a problem and vice versa on the offensive end. We’re looking for the high-quality ones.”
Natural Stat Trick, an analytics website, has the Canes first in the NHL by big margins in scoring chances and high-danger chances but outscored in both. That has to change for the Canes.
Special teams moving up
Remember when the Canes were last in the power play and penalty killing? No longer..
The Canes, showing better puck movement and decision-making, recently had power-play goals in four straight games — scoring five times — and have moved to 25th in the NHL at 15.5 percent. They’ve killed off 18 of the last 20 penalties and are 28th at 73.8 percent. That’s progress, yes?
“Every team in this league, once they get in their (power-play) set, are going to get opportunities and you want to limit those opportunities as much as possible,” Brind’Amour said.
The Hurricanes expected a lot out of Andrei Svechnikov this season as the No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. They expected the Russian forward to have an immediate impact, even at 18.
After 20 games, Svechnikov has four goals and four assists and a minus-4 rating. His talent is evident. His line, with center Lucas Wallmark and winger Jordan Martinook, has been the steadiest. But the Canes need more from him and Brind’Amour might soon look for another line fit.
Who’s in net?
First Scott Darling was injured. Now, Petr Mrazek. So much for establishing a goaltender rotation.
Curtis McElhinney, making his second start since Oct. 20, had 33 saves Sunday in beating the New Jersey Devils 2-1. The team that waived him this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are at PNC Arena on Wednesday and it would seem logical to give him a shot against them. But …
The Canes want and need Darling to be a No. 1 goalie. Mrazek’s return remains uncertain. The quandary continues.
The Nylander thing won’t go away
With William Nylander still unsigned by the Maple Leafs and a Dec. 1 deadline approaching, the guessing continues. Will Nylander be traded — you know, to someone like the Hurricanes? Will the forward sit out a season? Or will the two sides grudgingly decide on a salary number and term they can both accept?
The Leafs will be in town and general manager Kyle Dubas could be with them. Dubas already has made one visit to PNC Arena to scout (and snack on Gummy Bears on the fifth level.) Chances are, he could be talking to Waddell, again.
The whole thing has the feel and smell of typical posturing between team and agent/player when contract talks turn contentious. It’s hard to imagine the Leafs losing Nylander. But we’ll see.