Playing Against The Hurricanes Sucks
1:03 PM EST on December 21, 2022
This is the face that just sent the New Jersey Devils spiraling into their toughest crisis of the year with a 37-save win for the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
OK, fine, that picture is from the 2019 draft. This child is a whole 23 years old now. But still! This damn Pyotr Kochetkov, who was thrust into the starting role in net for the Canes last month, has put up a 10-1-4 record for Carolina and is helping make them the absolute most frustrating team to face in the entire NHL.
Ever since emerging from a decade of irrelevancy with an exciting young core in 2018–19, head coach Rod Brind'Amour's guys have played fundamentally pristine hockey. They get a lot of chances for themselves, and they don't give up a lot of chances the other way. That straightforward math has continued into this year, where the Canes are allowing the fewest shots per game of any team in the league and creating the fourth most on offense. They're 20-6-6 as a result and sit at the top of a very tough Metro Division, but the story of how they've gotten there is a bit more complicated.
Carolina dealt with a lot of turnover this offseason, losing key contributors like Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, and last year's annoying comeback story Tony DeAngelo. And even the guys they've normally relied on these past several years aren't quite the go-tos at the moment. Sebastian Aho, a regular 30-goal scorer since he entered the league at a teen in 2016, has missed the last two weeks with a lower body injury, and Teuvo Teravainen, once the team's top playmaker, has struggled to stay healthy and hasn't produced all that much when he has been out on the ice.
And yet, the Canes have won six in a row, and 10 of their last 11, because a little bit of scoring from some other young forwards has gone a long way when backed by airtight defense. And, even when that fails, the unexpected brilliance of Kochetkov has given Carolina all they need to keep winning. Andrei Svechnikov Marty Necas, and Jordan Staal are stepping up to fill in the goal gap, and mainstay defenders like Brady Skjei, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce continue to be more than the sum of their parts, putting in extremely boring but effective work that turns out the lights on their end of the ice.
And there's one other name on the blue line I haven't mentioned, because I still can't quite believe it's happening: Brent Burns is back! Since the Sharks' beloved caveman was traded to the Canes this summer, the 37-year-old has found new life on a pairing with the workhorse Slavin that doesn't require him to overextend himself. And though it ultimately got called back, this fountain-of-youth move he pulled last night was pretty sweet:
Just two out of three pieces need to function properly for the Canes to get their pair of points. In a 1-0 suffocation of the Red Wings last week, it was the D-men dropping molasses into the neutral zone and Kochetkov gathering any puck that poked through. In a 3-2 victory over the Kraken last Thursday, the goalie was less than flawless but only had to make 15 saves to join the skaters in their celebration. And against New Jersey, the forwards finished their opportunities while Kochetkov made sure the Devils couldn't do the same. Whatever shape he needed to be to keep the puck from crossing the line, he bent himself into it.
It's infuriating, really, how a team can seemingly lose so much of what made them great and just ... still be great. They lost their best offensive defenseman last year in DeAngelo and a chunk of their forward depth, too. Top goalie Frederik Andersen, who finished fourth in the Vezina voting last year, is sidelined with an injury of his own. Aho isn't around. Teuvo might be on the road back but still mostly hasn't been himself. The nerve of these Canes to just shrug all this off! All the other competitive, mostly star-studded teams below them—the Caps, Penguins, Rangers, Devils—just have to feel the steam coming out their ears when they see these random Carolinians basking in the glow of their latest triumph.
Well, hm. It's hard to be mad at that, actually.
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