The Carolina Hurricanes started the 2019-2020 season with five consecutive wins over the Capitals, Lightning, Panthers, and Islanders. Firing on all cylinders, the Hurricanes looked like a team ready to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup. However, the next five games brought the Canes crashing down to earth with two losses to the lowly Blue Jackets, and two to the struggling Ducks and Sharks. Suddenly, the Hurricanes did not look as invincible.
They went on to win three in a row after that, then lose four consecutively, then win four in a row, and then lose three out of four a little later. The Hurricanes have been as streaky as a team can be this season. Now, with 29 games played, the question in Raleigh is: which Hurricanes team is the real one—the winners of four straight or the losers of four straight?
The reasonable answer to this question is that the true Hurricanes team is neither good enough to never lose nor bad enough to never win. Still, there is plenty to learn from these streaks. First, the Canes win when their best players put points on the board. This may seem obvious, but the Hurricanes seem to get the spark they need to win when Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov tally points. The Hurricanes have won 15 of the 19 games this season in which Svechnikov has recorded a goal or an assist, while they are 2-7-1 when he doesn’t score. When Hamilton lights the lamp or notches an assist, the Hurricanes are 13-6-1. When either of these two plays well in the offensive zone, the Hurricanes have a good chance to win.
It is a little scary to rely so much on two stars, but I don’t think it is a big reason to worry. There is plenty of talent on this roster behind Hamilton, Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin and more, but the team especially thrives when Hamilton and Svechnikov play well. Also, there is no reason to believe that Hamilton or Svechnikov are going to slow down more than any other player does as the season continues.
While the performance of Dougie and Svech in victories is encouraging, there are less reassuring takeaways from the losing streaks. One of the worst habits for a hockey team to have is coming out flat in the first period. Allowing the opponent to build an early lead, even if it is just one goal, forces teams to play outside of their game plan. In eight of the Hurricanes’ twelve losses this season, they have allowed the opposing team to score the first goal of the game in the first period. In five of those games, they have allowed 2 or more goals in the first period.
The Hurricanes have a lot of talent, but not enough to consistently dig themselves out of multi-goal deficits in the first period. The team needs to figure out how to start games strong so they can force their opponents to play Hurricanes’ hockey. There aren’t many teams who can keep up with the Hurricanes’ style of hockey—aggressive forechecking, relentless shooting, and strong puck possession. But again, the Hurricanes don’t get to dictate the game when they give up multiple goals in the first period and have to play from behind for most of the game.
So, in the remaining 53 games of the season, will the Hurricanes be more like the winning team led by Svechnikov and Hamilton, or the team that gave up three first period goals to the Ottawa Senators? This team has too many exceptional players to lose consistently, and I think Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour will mostly fix the first period problems. Even if Hamilton and Svechnikov cool off, Teravainen and Aho should have no trouble picking up the scoring slack. I see the Hurricanes making the playoffs as one of the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division, but I’ll hold off on making a prediction for the playoffs because so much can happen between now and then. However, the Hurricanes have plenty to work on if they want to raise the Stanley Cup in June.