Svechnikov making huge impact for Hurricanes

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For the better part of the past decade there have always been two things consistently holding the Carolina Hurricanes back.

The obvious one that always got the most attention was the fact they could never get their goaltending situation quite right.

Cam Ward never recaptured the magic he had during his rookie season Stanley Cup run, and there always seemed to be a revolving door of potential replacements that just could not fill that role.

The other big factor, one that always seemed to get overlooked in an endless barrage of “why can’t this team ever find a goalie,” was the fact that for all of their dominance as a puck possession team on the shot chart, they never really had any forwards that were great finishers. Jeff Skinner was really good for a few years, but he was always the only one and he could never do it all on his own.

The emergence of Sebastian Aho as a bonafide star, as well as the in-season trade for Nino Niederreiter, have helped address that issue in the short-term. But there is another player on the roster that might make an even bigger impact in that area in the future, and he is starting to make his presence felt as the Hurricanes enter the stretch run of the regular season and look to secure their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season.

That player: No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.

When the Hurricanes picked Svechnikov at the top of the 2018 draft there was obviously a great deal of hope that he could become a superstar player for the organization, and maybe the type of elite goal-scorer every contending team needs to win.

His performance as a rookie should give Hurricanes fans — and the team itself — a lot of hope that he can blossom into that type of player.

Perhaps sooner rather than later.

He is not going to win the Calder Trophy because Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson seems to already have that award locked up (while goalies Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart are making pretty strong runs of their own), but we should not overlook just how good his rookie season has been. Because it has been outstanding, and probably better than you realize.

His overtime goal on Sunday night, lifting the Hurricanes to another come-from-behind win where they turned what looked to be a frustrating loss into an improbable victory, was his 20th of the season, a mark that is good enough for third on the team behind only Aho and team captain Justin Williams.

That alone is impressive for a rookie, but also consider the fact that he is still only 18 years old.

Hitting the 20-goal mark at this stage of his development puts him in some pretty exclusive company.

First, he is just the 22nd player to ever score at least 20 goals in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Eleven of those previous instances took place between 1980 and 1993 when goal-scoring in the NHL was at its peak. He is one of just eight players to do it since 1994, a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine.

Not impressive enough?

Consider that his shooting percentage of 11.6 is the second lowest of any of the previous 18-year-olds to top the 20-goal mark, which should really be seen as a positive sign for the future as it indicates that he isn’t really benefitting from a strong run of good luck, or that any of this early success is a fluke. He is generating more than 2.30 shots per game, which is the fourth most of any rookie in the NHL this season regardless of age even though he is only averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game.

When you take his ice-time into account his ability to generate shots and chances (and goals) looks even better.

Of the 150 forwards that have played at least 900 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Svechnikov ranks 33rd in total shot attempts per 60 minutes, and 22nd in shots on goal per 60 minutes. The biggest part of scoring goals is actually putting yourself in a position to take shots and having the ability to get them on net. At 18, he is already showing that he has the ability to do that at a top-line level. 

Over Carolina’s past seven games, he has five goals, including Sunday’s game-winner and two in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche where he had a hand in every goal the Hurricanes scored (he scored two of them himself).

The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams for three months now and have an exciting young core of players in place.

Out of their top-12 scorers this season, only four of them (Justin Williams at 37, Michael Ferland, Nino Niederreiter, and Jordan Martinook all at 26) are over the age of 25.

Six of them are age 24 or younger, including the 21-year-old Aho and still 18-year-old Svechnikov.

Together, those two are looking they could be one of the league’s most exciting duos for years to come and be the foundation of a team that might finally put hockey in Carolina back on the NHL’s map.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Power Rankings: Golden Knights emerging as West’s best

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The only thing crazier than an expansion team reaching the Stanley Cup Final in its first year of existence would be that same team showing that it wasn’t a fluke and doing it again in year two.

The Vegas Golden Knights still have a long way to go before they do that, but they are not only starting to look perfectly capable of going on such a run, they are starting to look like they might be the team to beat in the Western Conference.

Overall, their record is not going to be the best one in the West, and they are probably going to win fewer games than they did a year ago. That should not overshadow the fact this team is looking outstanding at the right time of year, and especially after adding Mark Stone at the trade deadline.

Just look at what they have done over their past 20 games dating back to early February.

  • Their 12-6-2 record during that stretch is the second best in the West, trailing only the St. Louis Blues.
  • Their underlying numbers are as good as any team in the NHL since then, currently sitting third in Corsi Percentage (53.7 percent), third in scoring chance percentage (54.1), and first in high-danger scoring chance percentage (57.6).
  • Their newly formed line of Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny has been dominant and gives them three scoring lines that are capable of beating any team on any night.

It is also not just about what they are doing that makes them such a strong contender. It is also about the rest of the teams around them because, honestly, who else is looking great right now in the West?

The San Jose Sharks should probably be the top contender, but their goaltending is a mess and might just be bad enough to sink a potential Cup team.

The Calgary Flames are the only team in the West that has underlying numbers that compare to Vegas’ over the past 20 games, but their playoff chances seem to be resting on the shoulders of a relatively unproven goalie in David Rittich. There is a risk there.

The Nashville Predators have not looked right for more than a month now.

Pretty much every other team in the playoff mix seems to have some sort of major question mark around them.

They may not have the best record, but with the way they are playing right now it is hard to find a team that looks tougher than the Golden Knights.

They reach the third spot in this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else sit this week?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Whether they end up winning the Stanley Cup or not they might be one of the best single season teams the NHL has ever seen, at least based on what they have done during the 2018-19 regular season.

2. Boston Bruins — It almost seems like their dominance this season has slid under the radar. They have been one of the best teams in the league despite being consistently crushed by injuries. Maybe their depth is better than we gave them credit for at the start of the season? Bruce Cassidy should be in the Jack Adams Award discussion.

3. Vegas Golden Knights — They have been dominant since the trade deadline. A lot of their success will simply depend on the health of Marc-Andre Fleury and how he plays in the playoffs.

4. Calgary Flames — Johnny Gaudreau should be a top-five vote-getter in the MVP race and Mark Giordano might be the Norris Trophy winner. Those two are a big reason why the Flames are on their way to winning just their second division title over the past two decades.

5. Winnipeg Jets — Maybe starting to play their best hockey at the right time of year. Getting Dustin Byfuglien back would be a huge lift, as would a goal scoring binge from Patrik Laine.

6. Washington Capitals — They have looked like a championship caliber team since the trade deadline. Losing Michal Kempny will hurt, but the additions of Carl Hagelin and Nick Jensen have really helped their overall defensive play.

[Related: Carl Hagelin is just what the Capitals needed]

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — If Matt Murray keeps playing the way he has been since mid-December this is going to be a very difficult team to beat, especially once Evgeni Malkin returns to the lineup.

8. Carolina Hurricanes — They are 25-9-2 since Dec. 31. The addition of Nino Niederreiter has been significant, but now No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov is starting to emerge as a big-time goal-scoring threat.

9. St. Louis Blues — Don’t look now but they have a really good chance of snagging home-ice advantage in the first-round of the playoffs. Who saw that happening after the way they started the season?

10. San Jose Sharks — When it comes to their forwards and defense they might be the best team in the Western Conference, especially when Erik Karlsson is healthy. They should be the runaway favorite to win the West given their roster and the way they are capable of playing. But they have lost five in a row and there is no way you can trust their goaltending right now against anybody.

[Related: Sharks’ goaltending is historically bad for Stanley Cup contender]

11. Toronto Maple Leafs — There seems to be a real “sky is falling” mentality around this team  as of late, only further showing how much pressure this team is going to be under to win. Another first-round exit in the playoffs, no matter who they have to play, will not be viewed as acceptable.

12. New York Islanders — They are still in contention for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division but have only been a .500 team for more than a month. That said, if the goaltending holds up they will have a chance to win every night.

13. Nashville Predators — The Predators have not looked right for a while now, and that 5-0 loss to Winnipeg with what was probably their best shot at the Central Division title on the line was concerning. Also concerning: What in the world has happened to Kyle Turris this season?

14. Colorado Avalanche — The Gabriel Landeskog injury seemed like it might be the end of their playoff chances, but Nathan MacKinnon just wanted to remind everyone that he is one of the league’s best players and can carry a team.

15. Montreal Canadiens — Here is a nightmare situation for the Lightning: You dominate the entire regular season and your reward is a potential first-round matchup against a goalie in Carey Price that could easily ruin a season in seven games if he gets hot. Not saying it will happen, not even saying it might happen. But it could happen.

16. Dallas Stars — The more this season goes on, the more ridiculous team CEO Jim Lites’ comments about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn seem. The Stars only have three forwards with more than 27 points this season — Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov. That trio, along with the play of goalies Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, are going to carry this team to the playoffs.

17. Minnesota Wild — They looked like they were going to show some surprising fight to make the playoffs after some big trades that no doubt made them worse in the short-term, but they have since gone in the tank with only three wins in their past 11 games. They are still, somehow, only two points out of a Wild Card spot as of Monday.

18. Chicago Blackhawks –– The win on Sunday against Colorado kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but they are a real long shot at this point.

19. Columbus Blue Jackets — If they had lost to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night their season might already be over. The fact it has reached that point after all of the moves they made at the trade deadline is stunning. If they do not make the playoffs it is going to be fascinating to see what happens to the general manager (who is apparently not happy with how the team is playing) and the coach, and how future teams in a similar situation handle the trade deadline.

20. Arizona Coyotes — The offense has failed them at the worst possible time. They have lost five games in a row, scoring only six goals during that stretch. They have wasted some great goaltending from Darcy Kuemper.

21. Florida Panthers — Honestly, they might only be a goalie away. I just don’t know if the goalie they seem willing to throw the bank at this summer (Sergei Bobrovsky) is the right goalie to get them there at this stage of his career.

22. Philadelphia Flyers — Carter Hart looks legit, and their overall record under Scott Gordon is very good, but I think that record is a mirage. They can not think everything is fine just because they have won some games in the second half of the season. The process behind the results matters, too, and the process is not good enough.

23. Anaheim Ducks — Some discouraging news as it relates to Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves this week. In less discouraging news, John Gibson has been outstanding lately in net.

24. Vancouver Canucks — Excluding the Golden Knights, who have only played two seasons in the NHL, no team in the league has won fewer games over the past four years than the Canucks, and they once again will still not be bad enough to have a great shot at the No. 1 overall pick. It is truly an incredible accomplishment to be that consistently bad but not quite be bad enough to get yourself a position to get the top pick. If any fan base deserves some lottery ball luck this year, it is this one.

25. Edmonton Oilers — There is no other team in the NHL that could have had a situation like the Tobias Rieder-Bob Nicholson one. Sure, there was another team’s CEO that threw a handful of players under the bus this season and blamed them for the team’s struggles, but blaming a fourth-liner? Total insanity.

[Related: Rieder responds to CEO criticism]

26. New York Rangers — In a season like this you have to look for the small victories anywhere you can get them. Beating the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend was one. Pavel Buchnevich maybe reaching the 20-goal mark while missing nearly 20 games would be another.

27. Los Angeles Kings — Jonathan Quick‘s .891 save percentage is one of the absolute worst in the NHL this season. Jack Campbell and Calvin Petersen in 31 games between them, playing behind the same team, both have a save percentage of .923 or better. What is most shocking about that is those two are still only 12-17-2 on the season even with their great play in net, a strong indication that the team is just badly flawed all over the roster. Also their big free agent acquisition does not seem to fit with the current coach.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Bringing back Jimmy Howard for another season is not the worst decision in the world, but at some point they are going to have to find a long-term solution in goal. That player does not yet seem to be anywhere in the organization.

29. New Jersey Devils — There was reason to be skeptical of this team being as good as it was a year ago, but the injury situation has absolutely not helped. Just a tough year all around.

30. Ottawa Senators — They still have the worst record in the league, they will still likely finish there, and there is a very real chance their draft pick, which now belongs to the Avalanche, will be the No. 1 overall pick which will be another level of embarrassment on what is already a difficult rebuild for Senators fans. That said, the players that are still there are playing hard and it has produced a couple of impressive wins over the past week, shutting out the Blues and a four-goal win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

31. Buffalo Sabres — On November 27 the Sabres won their 10th game in a row and had the best record in the NHL. Since then they are 14-28-7 and that is the NHL’s worst record during that stretch. That is how you have one of the league’s longest winning streaks of the season and still find yourself 17 points out of a playoff spot in late March. That is deserving of the bottom spot this week.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Hurricanes fish for another win celebration

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Three Stars

1. Robin Lehner

Both the Islanders and Coyotes had incentive to win on Sunday, but only the Isles could score any goals, as Lehner continues his fantastic season.

Lehner earned his fifth shutout of 2018-19 by stopping all 31 shots by Arizona. He’s pushed his excellent save percentage to .928 on the season, improving to a 22-12-5 record. On a day full of strong goalie performances – even by those who lost, such as Philipp Grubauer – Lehner stood out as the brightest of the bright.

It’s truly remarkable to see the goaltending the Isles have enjoyed from Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

2. Josh Anderson

It’s tempting to run with the goaltending theme, as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s up-and-down season persisted with another very “up” moment: a shutout, his seventh of 2018-19. Yet, Bob only needed to make 21 saves against the lowly Canucks to do so.

Of the Blue Jackets who contributed to an absolutely crucial win, Anderson had the best game, scoring two goals and one assist.

The first of Anderson’s two goals ended up being the game-winner, while he enjoyed a +4 rating, fired three SOG, and delivered one hit. He was also reasonably close to a hat trick, but just missed on that attempt.

It turns out the Blue Jackets can be pretty dangerous when they get at least a few bounces.

3. Braden Holtby

The Capitals maintained their lead on the Metro Division title despite Lehner pitching a shutout because Holtby was his steady self.

Holtby stopped 35 out of 36 shots in this win, only allowing a power-play goal on Sunday. After losing despite only allowing two goals in his last appearance against the Wild, Holtby improved to 28-19-5 record on the season. With two more victories, Holtby will generate his fifth consecutive 30+ win season.

How did the Hurricanes celebrate their latest win?

Carolina went fishing. Goofy-fun:

Highlights of the Night

Duncan Keith already impressed in containing Nathan MacKinnon during an overtime one-on-one chance, and that outdid himself with a tremendous game-winner:

[More on that game here.]

Lehner’s been a revelation for the Islanders this season, and he could do worse than showing this clip when it comes time for contract negotiations:

Factoids

Scores

WSH 3 – PHI 1
NYI 2 – ARI 0
CAR 2 – MTL 1 (OT)
CHI 2 – COL 1 (OT)
CBJ 5 – VAN 0

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.

PHT Power Rankings: NHL’s best coaching jobs this season

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There is not a single aspect of the NHL that is more difficult to evaluate and analyze than coaching.

Want to know how difficult it is and how bad we tend to be at it?

Just look at the past, oh let’s say, 10 Jack Adams Award winners and see how many of them are still with the team they won it with, or how many of them were fired within a year or two of winning it. It is stunning how many of them are gone within two years.

Either they forgot how to coach in that time since winning, or we picked the wrong winners.

The coach of the year usually goes to a coach whose team exceeded expectations and snuck into the playoffs, likely on the back of a superhuman performance by a goalie that carried the team. Pick a Coach of the Year winner and then take a look at how the starting goalie performed throughout the season. There is going to be a fairly strong correlation.

This season the coach of the year award has seemingly been a one-horse race involving New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz, only lately getting a little bit of pressure from Rick Tocchet in Arizona.

Given the circumstances around those two teams it is understandable.

But have those two coaches actually been the best coaches in the league this year and done the best job? Maybe, but maybe not.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the eight best coaching jobs in the NHL this season, and there are a couple of names at the top you might not be thinking of at the moment. We are not looking for the coach that has benefitted the most from a goalie, or a coach whose teams marginally exceeded expectations.

We are looking for the coaches that have done the best job in the NHL.

You probably will not like it, but hear us out.

1. Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues. When the Blues fired Mike Yeo in mid-November they looked like a team that was going nowhere. They had been shutout in three of their previous four games, had only won seven of their first 19, and just had absolutely nothing going for them. They were completely mediocre across the board, and in some cases, completely stunk. Offensively, defensively, goaltending. All of it. It was a dreadful looking team that seemed doomed to a forgettable, wasted season.

Enter Berube and new starting goalie Jordan Binnington.

The easy thing here is to assume that Binnington’s play is key factor driving the Blues’ turnaround, and to a point, he is. He has helped fix what was a black hole in net and is putting together an incredible rookie season. But it’s not just him, and this can not be emphasized enough.

There is real improvement within the rest of the team since the coaching change.

First, some numbers looking at Mike Yeo’s final 53 games behind the Blues’ bench and Berube’s first 53 games.

The overall possession numbers are better. The shot attempt numbers dropped significantly. Their ability to control scoring chances improved. All of that together, plus a solidified goaltending position, has dramatically improved the record.

If you look at the numbers in the context of this season alone the numbers are even more striking.

That is real, team-wide improvement that isn’t just related to the goaltending change.

Keep in mind that Berube also did not have Alex Pietrangelo for 10 games in December and spent two months without David Perron, one of the team’s leading scorers, from mid-January until mid-March. He is also coaching without Vladimir Tarasenko at the moment.

They are simply a totally different team under Berube, and not be a small amount, either.

2. Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins. This is not the NHL’s deepest roster, and we already know this. We already know this because we have been saying “what about their depth?” for two seasons now.

Keep that in mind and then consider how many games some of their top players — the players that have to carry the most weight for this team because they do not have a ton of depth — have missed this season.

Patrice Bergeron has missed 15 games.
David Pastrnak has missed 15 games.
Charlie McAvoy has missed 26 games.
Jake DeBrusk has missed 13 games.
Zdeno Chara is 41 years old and has missed 18 games.
Torey Krug has missed 12 games.

There are more, but these are the big ones.

It would stand to reason that a team that was already thin on depth, and playing in a division with two of the best teams in the league, might struggle a bit.

Not even close. Entering Monday the Bruins have the NHL’s third best record, are a top-five possession team, and probably already giving Toronto Maple Leafs fans nightmares about their inevitable first-round playoff matchup. Cassidy is not getting enough credit for the job he has done this season. Not by a long shot.

3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning. Cooper is the coach that simply can not win the coach of the year award because his team is too good, which is just plain dumb. As if it’s easy to just win 55 of your first 72 games no matter how much talent you have at your disposal.

He didn’t have his starting goalie for a month and went 12-3-0 with Louis Domingue playing every game (and not playing all that well, I might add) during that stretch. Insane.

We have tried to turn the MVP into an award that a player can’t win if their team is too good (they don’t need you!) or not good enough (they lost with you they can lose without you!) and only seems to go to the best player on a mediocre team that sneaks into the playoffs as first-round cannon fodder for a Stanley Cup contender.

The Jack Adams Award has become the exact same thing. We only give it to the coach of a team that was bad the year before and then barely made the playoffs, whether it was the coaching that got them there or not.

Here is a secret: Great teams can have great coaches, too. The Lightning are a great team with a great coach.

4. Pete DeBoer, San Jose Sharks. Like Cooper, another coach that probably won’t get enough credit because of the talent on his team.

Here is the argument for him: The Sharks have the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL at .893. That is an appallingly abysmal number. It is such a fantastically bad performance by the duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell that this team has no business being anywhere near the top of its division and the top of the Western Conference standings.

They are the only team in the NHL that currently occupies a playoff spot and sits lower than 20th in team save percentage.

Here is where the other teams ranked 20th or lower (in order) sit in the league-wide standings.

19th
21st
26th
29th
30th
31st
17th
23rd
22nd
28th
4th (this is the Sharks)
20th

Goaltending this bad is supposed to be impossible to win with. I know the Sharks have a lot of talent, but they’re not the only team in this tier with a talent on their roster, and goaltending has sunk all of them.

Oh, and the Sharks have also been without Erik Karlsson for a significant chunk of the season. And they are still steamrolling teams and one point back of the top spot in the Western Conference … with no goaltending to speak of.

DeBoer is like … the bizarro Jack Adams winner. Instead of being a coach whose team has climbed to the top of the standings on the back of his goalie he has climbed to the top in spite of his goalies.

5. Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes. If I were a betting man I would say that if the Coyotes make the playoffs that Tocchet is going to win the coach of the year award, and probably by a wide margin. This is what Jack Adams Award votes live for. The Coyotes were the worst team in the Western Conference a year ago, have missed the playoffs six years in a row, and have been absolutely decimated by injuries all season, crippling what was already a thin roster. Heck, even losing just starting goalie Antti Raanta could have been enough to ruin their season, even without all of the others.

But here they are, holding a playoff position in mid-March and seemingly in the driver’s seat to take a Wild Card spot. Darcy Kuemper deserves the bulk of the credit for that, but the injury situation has definitely been a huge hurdle, and it would have been really easy for this team to just pack it in and self destruct. They haven’t, and the coaching staff deserves credit for that.

[Related: Coyotes’ GM on dealing with injuries, Tocchet’s influence]

6. Barry Trotz, New York Islanders. Trotz deserves a ton of credit for taking over what looked to be a sinking ship of a franchise at the start of the season and, quite frankly, not allowing it to completely sink.

They missed the playoffs a year ago, lost their best player to free agency, entered the season with three of their top-four returning forwards in contract years, and there really wasn’t any reason for anyone to believe in this team. So far, they have proved a lot of people wrong and made a pretty stunning turn around to go from one of the worst defensive teams of the modern era to what is, currently, the best defensive team in the league when it comes to preventing goals.

That is worth a lot.

But this goes back to what we talked about up at the top. How much of that is the coaching of Trotz, and how much of that is the result of the Islanders’ two goalies producing the league’s best save percentage? And if that is the result of coaching, how much of that is Trotz and how much of it is the work of goalie coaches Piero Greco and Mitch Korn? I am not saying that Trotz hasn’t had a positive influence on the team, because he almost certainly has. He is a great coach and his resume in the league speaks to that. I just don’t know that he or the Islanders would be having this kind of season without stunning play of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

They are the true difference-makers this season.

7. Bill Peters, Calgary Flames. In most years Peters would be the type of coach that would be a slam-dunk Jack Adams winner. A first-year coach, taking over a non-playoff team a year ago, and driving them to the top of the Conference standings. But with teams like the Islanders and Coyotes exceeding expectations, Berube helping to turn around the Blues, the Hurricanes becoming relevant again, he just seems like he is going to be lost in the shuffle. It is unfortunate because his team has been legitimately good, and I almost wonder if this is what the Hurricanes would have looked like the past few years with a couple of more finishers and some decent goaltending on their roster.

8. Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes. There is definitely a different vibe around this team, and not just because of the storm surge celebrations that are driving some people mad.

It just finally feels like everything is starting to click for a team that always had promising young talent but could never really put it together.

The thing about the Hurricanes’ climb up the standings is there’s not really much difference in their actual performance from an analytics standpoint.

They have always been one of the best possession teams in the league, and they still are.

They have always been one of the best shot suppression teams in the league, and they still are.

The two things that always sunk them were goaltending and not enough forwards that could actually finish. The big change this season is that Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney came out of nowhere to give them competent goaltending they needed to actually look like the good defensive team they have always been, and they found a couple of forwards with real finishing ability in prized rookie Andrei Svechnikov and Nino Neiderreiter, who they stole from the Minnesota Wild.

Brind’Amour has done a great job, but even with all of the losing in recent years there was still a strong foundation in place. They just needed the right move or two to bring it all together.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: NHL addresses slur; Tough night for bubble teams

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NHL addresses outburst from Maple Leafs – Lightning game

The Lightning throttled the Maple Leafs 6-2 on Monday, to the point that the Toronto crowd was booing. But that might not have been the ugliest moment of that loss.

It’s unclear who was responsible for the outburst, but Twitter account @TheLeafsIMO pointed out (warning: NSFW language) that a homophobic slur was picked up by a live mic late in the second period of the game.

The NHL released a brief statement on the matter, so we’ll see if anything else comes from this.

The Leafs also commented:

Bubble blunders

Out East, the Blue Jackets were blanked by the Islanders, while the Hurricanes took care of business. The Wild couldn’t muster a goal against the Sharks, which ended up being easier to stomach because the Coyotes and Avalanche didn’t fare much better. In a lot of cases, the bubble teams that didn’t play had the best experiences on Monday.

 Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek

There were three shutouts on Monday, and two of them were good enough to earn spots in the top three (sorry, Martin Jones, but yours wasn’t quite as impressive at 24 saves).

Mrazek continues to be red-hot for the Hurricanes, as he stopped a whopping 38 shots on goal to blank the Avalanche in a matchup between two teams that are fighting for berths in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in their respective conferences.

Mrazek’s now on a six-game winning streak that includes two shutouts. While his full season stats aren’t all that impressive, he’s putting together the sort of stretch run that should keep him on the radars of NHL teams — probably including his current one in Carolina.

This save could be high on his “resume.”

2. Brendan Perlini

OK, I’ll admit that, in a vacuum, Leon Draisaitl had the more impressive three-point night. Edmonton needed all three of his points (one goal, two assists) to win in overtime, including his OTGWG. There’s also an argument for Andrei Svechnikov, who was part of all three of Carolina’s goals (two goals, one assist) with one of those points being an empty-net goal.

Perlini gets the edge because of context.

For one thing, it’s sweet enough to score against your former team after they traded you, but to make it a hat trick? That’s downright saucy.

It also greatly increases the Coyotes’ chances of missing the playoffs. Gotta respect that level of spite.

3. Thomas Greiss

You may prefer Svechnikov, Draisaitl, or a few other players in this spot, but Greiss generated a 31-save shutout against a desperate Blue Jackets team that – despite recent scoring struggles – boasts quite an arsenal of scorers.

Greiss and Robin Lehner continue to give the Islanders absolutely fantastic goaltending, keeping the door open for a possible division title, or at least a round of home-ice advantage.

Highlight of the Night

As bad as things were for Toronto, this Auston Matthews goal was nifty:

Factoids

  • To give you an idea of how long it’s been since the Hurricanes’ franchise earned a regulation road win against the Avalanche’s franchise, realize that when it happened in 1994, it was the Hartford Whalers beating the Quebec Nordiques. Yeah.
  • The Lightning keep piling up impressive accolades. The latest is that they became just the seventh team in NHL history to reach 110 standings points in 70 games or fewer. They’re also the first to do so since the Red Wings managed 110 in 69 games in 1995-96.
  • The Islanders have nine shutouts this season, one goose egg shy of tying the franchise record of 10 from 1975-76.

Scores

TBL 6 – TOR 2
NYI 2 – CBJ 0
PHI 3 – OTT 2
SJS 3 – MIN 0
CHI 7 – ARI 1
CAR 3 – COL 0
EDM 3 – NYR 2 (OT)

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.