It comes from a place of heartbreak. It’s hard to not become smitten with the Carolina Hurricanes. They play fast. They have a rabid fanbase. They have a lot of players that are easy to like. They have a coach in Rod Brind’amour who’s happy to explain things to fans and isn’t a complete meatball (he also looks like this in his mid-goddamn-50s). They’re the underdog simply because of their market. Were they to win a second Cup, it would send Canada into an uproar that even Dave Grohl couldn’t approve of (topical!). They have Teuvo Teräväinen, the one who got away from me. I get it.
And here they go again. Since the turn of the year, they’re 11-4-2. They didn’t lose in regulation in all of December. They’ve got within touching distance of the Boston Bruins for top seed overall, and the Bruins are going “Rampage!” over the rest of the league. We’ve seen this all before, and it’s certainly alluring if you didn’t know better. It’s a fuckin siren song.
They’re doing it the same way as always too, spreading the wealth and hurting teams from basically every line. Eight guys have 10 goals or more; 11 have 20 points or more; and none of them in either category is Max Pacioretty, who was counted on to be the extra dose of frontline scoring the Canes have needed but only played five games before blowing out his Achilles again. It’s the lovable, faceless crew that it always is.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t skill here, because there’s plenty, it’s just that Carolina just doesn’t get the spotlight as other places. Sebastian Aho might not be a lead guitarist for a team, but he might be the best rhythm guitarist in the league. Andrei Svechnikov is one of the league’s best snipers. They’ll tell you they’ve resurrected the career of Brent Burns, as he has 38 points in 53 games. You just watch though, as in the playoffs Burns will turn back into the overdressed and over-bearded turnstile he’s always been.
Carolina is atop the division this time around and isn’t even getting goaltending. Neither Frederik Andersen nor Antti Raanta has been able to crack a .902 save percentage so far this season. The team’s best goalie is probably Pyotr Kochetkov, whom they currently have stashed in the AHL. They can go into the playoffs trusting Andersen, and then they’ll better understand the raft of sad-boy songs produced by Toronto bands over the past few years (Freddie killed Neil Peart! Yeah I said it!).
‘Try hard’ works in the winter but not the spring
So why the doubt? Because the Canes play a style that will catch teams cold in the middle of the winter when the season has become an interminable slog, but looks like what everyone else is doing when the playoffs start. There’s always an NBA team that shoots through the standings in January and February because they’re still willing to guard or close out hard when the real-ass teams are getting their breather in. The Warriors know they don’t have to roll to the hoop that hard or rush out to the three-point line on Valentine’s Day as long as they do come Tax Day.
That’s the Canes. Last season, they went 17-5-3 between Dec. 1 and this point in the calendar. Credit needs to go to Brind’amour, who keeps his charges rolling through the dregs of the season. But it doesn’t make the Canes special at the time when they need to be.
More to the point, the Canes play a heavy dump and chase/chip and charge game with the puck. And because they work so hard, and have a lot of speed, they can regain a lot of pucks. They win those races consistently in the winter. But it’s a simple game. They get the puck, they cycle it to the point, the d-men shoots, and the Canes try to create a ruckus around the net. Look at this map of their shots this season:
Pretty basic stuff. But come April and May, opponents and their d-men are a little more determined to get back to the puck and move it. That first forward back is more willing to help out his d-men and be available for a quick breakout. In January, he might be cheating to the red line simply because it’s easier.
The Canes make it easy for themselves to get goalie’d in the playoffs, because so many shots come from the point. And good goalies all the way tuned in during the playoffs suck those up and don’t leave the rebounds the Canes thrive on. Last year, when they ate it to the Rangers without winning a road game in either the first or second round, Igor Shesterkin had a .949 save percentage over the seven games. They scored 13 goals in total. The previous year, when the Lightning kicked their ass pillar to post, Andrei Vasilevskiy had a .956 save percentage over five games. In 2019, Tuukka Rask managed the same number in a four-game sweep.
Come this spring, the Canes very well might have to go through Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy again. Or maybe Shesterkin and Linus Ullmark, the current clubhouse leader for the Vezina.
Defensively, it’s kind of the same story. The Canes are the most man-to-man team in their own zone, and they can be because all their d-men can really move along with their previously mentioned speedy forwards. They’re the team most capable of harassing players all over the d-zone. But when that extra effort kicks in for the opponents come the playoffs, the Canes don’t have an extra gear to kick to. They’ve already been playing it for seven months. And they lose just enough of those races or get beat just enough to lose.
The Canes aren’t short of talent, and they’ll probably club whoever they get in the first round. But are they really set up to beat a beefed-up Rangers team this time around (I’m shorting the Devils, I know, but they’re at the beginning of their arc and have a lot to prove, especially with an ouchy Jack Hughes)? They could really use a prime-era Patrick Kane to give them one player who can just conjure something outside of their agricultural ways. Sadly, the Patrick Kane on offer this season is not the prime one. Timo Meier is kind of the idealized version of a winger they already have, scores out of straight lines and such.
Enjoy the wins, Caniacs. We’ve seen it all before.
If you’d like more odes to Teuvo, follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate
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