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How Hurricanes have quietly been one of NHL’s best teams once again

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The Hurricanes quietly go about their business and invariably end up at the top of the NHL standings.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
The Hurricanes quietly go about their business and invariably end up at the top of the NHL standings. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

*All statistics are current to games played on January 6, 2023.

Amidst a sea of ​​elite rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes are not for the faint of heart.

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Of course, there are more sexual teams. Colorado won last year’s Stanley Cup thanks in large part to their fast pace. It’s a formula the New Jersey Devils have been trying to replicate this year. Tampa Bay built its modern dynasty on an unrivaled combination of roster flexibility, elite players in every position, and superb goaltending performance.

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The Hurricanes are not a team to recommend to the average fan, but their success is undeniable. During their recent 11-game winning streak, they choked opponents, all the while painting a portrait of an attacking juggernaut, even if few people associated them with a team of highlights.

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We don’t want to bore you with too much math, but here’s how Hurricanes are ranked analytically according to the Natural Stat Trick.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, good. Carolina is an elite at sustaining offensive moves and creating shots, but more tellingly, she is equally adept at strangling an opponent. Perhaps it’s because the Hurricanes have adopted the traits of their best defenseman, Jacob Slavin.

Slavin is not a bright striker. If you read his stats of tallying two goals and 11 points, you’ll be tempted to mistake him for a mid-range defender sitting at home. Slavin is, along with New York’s Adam Fox, the best defensive player in the league. He’s a better player at stopping two-on-ones, that’s his best trait, and the Hurricanes can afford to take a little more risk in the offensive zone knowing they have a magic eraser on the blue line.

It’s a stretch to call Slavin underrated as he made the All-Star team and won the Lady Byng award in 2021, but he certainly deserves a wider audience. It’s really great that he can’t stay off the field when asked to crush odds at the elite level.

Dimitri Filipović of PDOCast gave one prime example of Slavin’s influence during Carolina’s recent winning streak. Florida’s Sam Bennett appears to be racing unhindered in this game, hoping to either close a backhand into the corner or switch to a righthander to take the goaltender down. Slavin swoops down and deflects the puck in one fell swoop. It’s the game he usually makes, and it’s the Hurricanes’ attention to detail when it comes to suppressing chances.

After losing standout defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the New Jersey Devils in 2021, Carolina’s transition game has been stabilized by veteran Brent Burns, who is having another stellar all-around season. Burns may have been dumped by the Sharks last July, but he’s still one of the best hitters in the game.

“I think what’s most impressive is that he’s 37 and he’s like a 20-year-old – he wants to learn,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Burns. Corey Lavalette of The Athletic November 23rd. “He knows he’s in the new system, he knows it. And he’s like, “Just give it to me. How can I learn to catch up?”

Burns and Slavin played third of all defense pairings in a 5-on-5 game and they are crushing the opposition. They own 62.17% of Corsi and 60% of expected goals. Notably, this unit can deliver elite ball possession performance when faced with massive volume.

The Carolinas’ second pair of defenses, consisting of Brady Skjei and Brett Pesche, scored the fourth most minutes in a 5-on-5 game and scored 27 goals on the ice to 18 against. Carolina’s top-four continuity cannot be underestimated and is the main reason the Hurricanes are on pole position in the Capital Division.

In the modern NHL, it is impossible to succeed without a great goaltender, and Petr Kochetkov has become one of the most pleasant surprises in the league. We first got to know Kochetkov last summer when he dared to fight Boston star Brad Marchand during the playoffs, where Marchand ended up falling back. Kochetkov was once considered nothing more than a stunt or third tier goaltender playing above his true level of talent, but earned the No. 1 title and was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.

Kochetkov posted a stellar 2.2 goals against average with a .919 shooting percentage and three shutouts. More impressively, Kochetkov ranks 12th in above-average batting per capita. MoneyPack, a cumulative indicator that takes into account how many goals the goalkeeper saved relative to the place of the shot. On its own, this statistic might not stand out, but considering it’s a cumulative figure, the only goaltender with fewer starts in the top 12 is Philip Gustavsson of Minnesota.

This year Andrey Svechnikov was selected as an All-Star Team member, although that honor could well have gone to Slavin or Martin Nekas. Svechnikov leads the Hurricanes with 19 goals, Nekas leads with 38 points, and Slavin was their top scorer.

Svechnikov is a well-known figure at the moment. The 22-year-old can shoot without looking back, he’s a creative magician in the offensive zone, he can sustain an attacking play, and the Hurricanes have excellent shooting and expected goal difference when he’s on the ice — as was the case with Necas. Both players were inseparable and emphasized each other’s strengths. They are both good at hitting the highest scoring spots. Svechnikov has a laser release and Necas also proves to be more than adept at picking angles.

Here is just one of several examples: it is worth noting that here you can swap Svechnikov and Nekas and get the same result.

Max Pacioretti has also returned to the roster, adding another true top-six hitter to a team that leads the league’s shooting parade. Pacioretti, along with Burns and captain Jordan Staal, must provide veteran resolve and leadership to a team that has been eliminated from the second round for several years in a row. This group has the talent and drive to wear teams down, they get a lot of goaltending, and the top two defensive pairings can stop the opposition.

The Hurricanes are not the most interesting team. And while they dominate the possession charts, they’re not necessarily going to turn out the lights. They built a brand of two-way responsibility by being one of the hardest strikeouts in the league. They are well trained and they have made key acquisitions that can help the core group overcome the proverbial hump.

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