Risk Factors: Carolina Hurricanes edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,”PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,”i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Carolina Hurricanes

Who will fill in for Jordan Staal?

We say fill-in because lets face it, no one currently on the Carolina Hurricanes roster is going to altogether replace Staal, who is expected to miss 3-4 months after undergoing surgery on his broken leg.

With the No. 2 center position vacant, the Canes appear to be heading into the 2014-15 season with Riley Nash pencilled in for Staal. Nash, originally a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (21st overall in 2007) has 110 career games under his belt predominantly in bottom six role.

“It’s a lot of minutes that just went down with that injury,” Nash recently told the Charlotte Observer. “There’s quite a few guys in here who are looking for that opportunity to fill a void and take on new roles they didn’t necessarily have last year.”

Nash set career highs with 10 goals, 24 points and 73 games played last season while averaging 12:40 in TOI. If he is the solution as Staal’s fill in, he’ll get a significant bump up in ice time. Being the second line center could also see his career highs take another spike in 2014-15 as well as he is likely to play between Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm.

Behind Nash is 21-year-old rookie Victor Rask, who has 86 games of professional experience under his belt all with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. Rask along with free agent signing Jay McClement, who spent last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, will also see an increased role without Staal.
“It’s going to trickle down through the lineup,” new head coach Bill Peters said.

The schedule makers aren’t doing the Canes any favors either. Carolina opens the season at home Oct. 10 against the Islanders, but six of their first eight games are on the road.

Rookie GM Ron Francis tasked with guiding the franchise in the right direction 

Ron Francis may be a hall of famer as a player, but as a general manager, he’s a fresh faced rookie and he’s been handed the daunting task of turning the franchise, which has qualified for the playoffs just once in the past eight seasons in the right direction.

Francis’ welcome moment may have come this summer when he tried, unsuccessfully, to deal goaltender Cam Ward and his  summer. Lets call the Ward situation Problem 2 after Staal complicated things at center for Francis.

Francis addressed the notion that the team needed a fresh start after he fired Kirk Muller in the offseason, but a quick look at the team’s projected lines for the upcoming season and the only thing that looks remotely fresh is the team’s fourth line. Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry only played 10 games each with the big club last season while McClemment was with the Leafs.

“I don’t foresee a major makeover,” Francis said in May. “We’ve got some pretty good pieces in place. I know it’s been frustrating that we haven’t made the playoffs in five years. … We believe we have a pretty good group here that can compete and win.”

A team which hasn’t qualified for the playoffs for five years needs to make some changes. Francis will be in charge of doing that.

According to CapGeek, the Hurricanes have over $5 million to work with and that’s before Staal goes on long-term injured reserve, which he will likely do this week.

There’s also the matter of owner Peter Karmanos Jr. listening to offers in an effort to sell the franchise.

It’s alot easier to sell a team when the product on the ice is heading in the right direction.

Peters behind the bench

The only thing fresh about the Hurricanes this season is behind the bench as rookie coach Bill Peters looks to swing the hammer and get the franchise back into the playoffs. Petters vows to use ice time as a motivator to get his team moving in the right direction.

The 49-year-old may be a rookie in the NHL, but he’s had success elsewhere.

He led the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup in 2008. Peters then coached the Rockford IceHogs from 2008-10 and was responsible for as many as eight players joining the Chicago Blackhawks and winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 or 2013.

Peters has spent the past three seasons on Mike Babcock’s staff in Detroit where he was responsible for the team’s defense and penalty killing.

So his answer, when asked about his coaching style, should come as no surprise.

“I want to have the puck. … If you’re not good defensively in the National Hockey League and you don’t know how to play in your own end, you know what end you play in,” he said. “You never get out of your own end. And it’s that ‘here they come again’ feeling. … In order to be a good hockey team, you’ve got to be good in the defensive zone, you’ve got to be efficient, you’ve got to be able to get through the neutral zone, and go have fun in the offensive zone.”

Peters is saying all the right things, but like Francis, Peters is in the first year as the lead man in his position. It’s a lot different when you’re an assistant compared to the head honcho.

It’s going to be interesting to see if Peters can lead the Hurricanes, who finished 22nd in goals for (2.50) and 19th in goals against (2.76) per game last season in the right direction this season.

Carolina finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season 10 points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the second and final wild card spot.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.