Petr Mrazek

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Thoughts on surging Hurricanes’ OT win vs. Lightning

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Early on in the 2019-20 season, it’s proven difficult to protect leads against the Carolina Hurricanes. Probably because they always have the puck.

Sunday’s eventual 4-3 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning began in a way that feels fitting to a Hurricanes team that’s been haunted by a good news/bad news situation for a while now. The good news is, again, Carolina hogs the biscuit with overflowing greed. The bad news is that their goalies maybe fall asleep a bit as a result. When Sunday’s game was 1-1, the Hurricanes had fired seven shots on goal, while Tyler Johnson beat Petr Mrazek for Tampa Bay’s goal on what was, to that point, the Bolts’ first SOG.

Speaking of shots on goal, the Lightning couldn’t muster a single one during the second period. Overall, Carolina generated 44-13 SOG advantage on Sunday.

Maybe you shouldn’t sit on leads against Carolina?

The difference between the 2018-19 Hurricanes (plus, so far, the 2019-20 version) and the teams that suffered through an interminable playoff drought is that the latest, Rod Brind’Amour-led rendition “finds ways to win games.”

One wouldn’t fault the Hurricanes if they were a little frustrated after the first period of Sunday’s game. Despite generating a 17-11 SOG advantage (and more than doubling Tampa Bay in stats like Corsi For at 35-17) during the first period, the Lightning finished the first 20 minutes with a 3-1 lead.

Carolina kept at it, though, getting a power-play goal in each of the second period (via Erik Haula) and third (Dougie Hamilton) before Jaccob Slavin fired home the overtime game-winner:

The Hurricanes are now 3-0-0 despite falling behind in all of their first three games …

  • Again, Carolina was down 3-1 in the first period, only to roar back against Tampa Bay to win 4-3 in OT on Sunday.
  • The Hurricanes entered the third period of Saturday’s game against the Capitals down 2-0, yet Carolina ended up winning 3-2 in overtime thanks to Jake Gardiner‘s game-winner.
  • During Thursday’s season-opener, Carolina saw a 2-0 lead devolve into a 3-2 deficit against the Habs through the first 40 minutes. A Haula goal sent that contest to overtime, and then Dougie Hamilton potted the shootout-winner.

Much like in that opener, the Hurricanes broke out the “Storm Surge.” At this pace, they might need to pay Justin Williams to be a consultant on celebrations, because they can only lean on the classic cele for so long …

That defense is getting it done

Defensemen have scored the decisive goals in Carolina’s three wins so far: Hamilton for the shootout victory, Gardiner’s sneaky OT goal on Saturday, and Slavin on Sunday night.

That production extends beyond the most clutch moments, too. Hamilton is tied with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen for the team lead with four points. Slavin has scored two goals so far in this young season, while Hamilton, Gardiner, and Brett Pesce all have one apiece.

Naturally, they’re doing great work in suppressing chances against, as they’ve doubled opponents in the high-danger scoring chances category at even-strength so far at 38-19 (according to Natural Stat Trick).

A great Haula

Gardiner isn’t the only Hurricanes addition who is paying early dividends.

Haula has three goals in as many games, and big ones at that. Ryan Dzingel got his first assist of the season on Sunday. If James Reimer finds his game this season the way Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney did in the nurturing cocoon that is the Hurricanes’ system, then that would make for another shrewd move. Considering how unrelenting Carolina can be at times, would anyone be that surprised if Reimer ends up rejuvenated?

Hogging that puck

Even Jackson Pollock might think that the Hurricanes are heavy on the paint:

via Natural Stat Trick

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better after an impressive offseason.

Getting to match what’s basically a team-friendly offer sheet for Sebastian Aho was a nice start, but the dirt-cheap Jake Gardiner signing capped quite a run of savvy moves. While Gardiner makes them even richer on defense, they have a more varied offense after adding Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel to the mix.

Strengths: If the Hurricanes don’t have the best defense in the NHL, they’re absolutely in the top five, and their group might be the deepest. It’s possible that Gardiner may help them boost a middling power play, and all of that defensive depth could allow management to make a trade down the line.

Their offense is looking considerably more impressive on paper, especially if they acknowledge the obvious and truly unleash Andrei Svechnikov next season.

Carolina figures to be a five-on-five beast once again.

Weaknesses: Petr Mrazek put together a strong finish to last season, but goaltending remains an issue. It’s unclear what James Reimer has left to offer, although he was once an analytics darling.

It’s plausible that the power play may remain hit-or-miss, as the Hurricanes might lack at least a tiny bit in that true superstar finishing ability.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It seemed like Rod Brind’Amour was a pretty nifty fit in Carolina in his first season as a head coach, keeping an even keel through some early season bumps, and allowing his team to loosen up with the “Storm Surge.” This franchise doesn’t want to go right back to missing the playoffs after breaking their last drought, but even in that situation, “Rod the Bod” seems fairly safe. Let’s put him at a two.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Mrazek, Martin Necas, Justin Faulk

Mrazek breathed life into his NHL career by playing well enough down the stretch to convince Carolina to stick with him via a new contract. He still has quite a bit to prove. If you cannot succeed behind this defense, then you don’t have a lot of excuses.

Necas seems like he’s on the verge of a full-time leap to the NHL, yet the Hurricanes don’t necessarily have a ton of room to carry a player if it’s evident that he can’t hang at this level in 2019-20. Getting another burst of high-end skill could really move the needle for Carolina, though.

Will Faulk stick with the Hurricanes through this season (and maybe even beyond), being that he’s entering a contract year? Could he even be traded before the upcoming campaign begins? It sounds like it was close to happening before, and should be a situation to watch until we get some resolution.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Metropolitan Division is a bit of a mystery, what with the Blue Jackets suffering huge losses while the Devils and Rangers made big strides forward. It sure seems like there’s a lane for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs pretty comfortably, and their superior depth might just put them in a cozy position to win the division.

MORE:

• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Plenty of Hurricanes are under pressure in 2019-20

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

Last season, the Hurricanes became a “bunch of jerks.” In 2019-20, they’re now a bunch of people under heightened pressure.

Rather than going with one single person, here are a few of the Hurricanes who must wrestle with heightened expectations next season.

Sebastian Aho: For those who follow how much players get paid, particularly ones who are potential faces of franchises entering the mere beginning of their primes, Aho is a ludicrous steal at $8.454 million per year.

But then, there are those sharks who circle any sports situation that might loosely be termed a “disappointment.” When those sharks smell blood, they usually also seek out the richest targets, even if those players aren’t really at fault for a team’s letdowns. (See: basically Phil Kessel‘s entire stay in Toronto.)

If the Hurricanes falter, don’t be surprised if their newly minted most expensive player ends up being the scapegoat, whether that ends up being fair or not.

… On the other hand, hey, at least Aho’s already got paid.

Justin Faulk: Faulk, on the other hand, enters a contract year with a lot of money that could be earned or lost.

At least, potentially he does. The Hurricanes could also decide to sign the 27-year-old to a contract extension, something that was at least hinted at somewhat recently.

If Faulk enters 2018-19 with his situation unsettled, he’ll enter a year with a lot on the line, though. The free agent market rarely sees quality right-handed defensemen become available before they’re 30, and sometimes teams go the extra 26.2 miles and overpay guys like Tyler Myers. At the same time, injuries can cool the market for a UFA blueliner, as we’ve seemingly seen with the perplexing Jake Gardiner situation.

You don’t even need to look at defensemen to see how much a season can swing how teams view a UFA. Faulk merely needs to look at his former Hurricanes teammate Jeff Skinner, a forward who was traded for precious little in the summer of 2018, only to have such a strong season that he was handed a lengthy contract with a $9M AAV one summer later.

[MORE: Three Questions | 2018-19 in review | X-factor: Hurricanes owner]

Petr Mrazek: Honestly, Mrazek’s under less personal pressure this season than he was in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, years where he was merely trying to prove that he was worthy of maintaining an NHL career, at least one beyond a backup or even third goalie role. Getting two years at a $3.125M AAV represents more stability than Mrazek’s experienced in quite some time.

Still, if the Hurricanes fail this season, don’t be shocked if it’s because the goaltending that finally worked out in 2018-19 reverts back to the problem that kept Carolina out of the playoffs for a decade. A lot of Carolina’s hopes still hinge on Mrazek, and James Reimer, who comes in with a higher cap hit but lower expectations.

Rod Brind’Amour: During his first season behind the bench, the Hurricanes made the playoffs. That’s great, but it also sets a new bar in the eyes of fans and owner Tom Dundon, so a big drop-off might inspire critics to be a bunch of jerks to Brind’Amour.

Whoever is the GM: If too many of the above situations don’t work out, a GM might be tasked with finding fixes — and if Dundon isn’t interested in spending much money to make those fixes, it could require some serious creativity.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Mrazek’s workload, Williams’ return among questions facing Hurricanes

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.

Let’s ponder three questions for the Hurricanes heading into the 2019-20 season…

1. Can Petr Mrazek handle a full-time workload as the starter? 

Which starting Mrazek will the Hurricanes get this season? The .921 save percentage one in 49 starts in 2015-15 or the .901 save percentage version in 44 starts from the following year?

There’s no Curtis McElhinney this year to share the load with. Instead, the Hurricanes have James Reimer and the jury is out on how well he can perform. Reimer hasn’t put up horrible numbers, per se, but he was far from an adequate backup last year in Florida, and he saw a bunch of time due to injuries to Roberto Luongo.

Both Alex Nedeljikovic and Anton Forsberg will also compete for that backup role, but Reimer has the experience if nothing else.

It’s important to note that Nedeljikovic was named the American Hockey League’s best goalie last season

Mrazek, meanwhile, put up an exceptional 10.03 goals-save above average and a healthy .931 save percentage at 5v5 in 2018-19.

The tools are there for him to be a bona fide starter. The question remains if he can pick the right ones for the job.

2. Will Justin Williams return to once again lead the team? 

Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup winner, remains an unrestricted free agent at the moment.

The 38-year-old defied Father Time last season, scoring 23 goals and reaching the 50-point mark. Moreso, his possession numbers have been nothing short of elite in recent years, including a 57.89 Corsi last year. Williams has never had a season below 50 percent in that category and on top of that, he’s durable having missed just three games in the past six seasons.

[MORE: X-factor: owner Tom Dundon | 2018-19 in review | Hurricanes under pressure]

Off the ice (and on it, of course) he’s the consummate leader and a mentor for guys like Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov.

Normally, teams wouldn’t be worried about losing an aging 38-year-old, but Williams is different, a guy you’d like to lock down on a one-year deal.

3. Can Carolina repeat it all over again? 

Getting there is one thing, staying is another challenge altogether, one the Hurricanes know all-too-well.

Since they moved from Hartford to Raleigh at the turn of the century, the Hurricanes have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons just once in those 21 seasons.

While their turnaround last season wasn’t the same as the one in St. Louis, it’s notable nonetheless. On Dec. 31, the Hurricanes were three points out of the basement in the Eastern Conference.

Their run-in from there included a 30-12-2 record, one of the best in that time frame as the Hurricanes found their identity, ‘bunch of jerks’ and otherwise.

The thing is, they play such a high-possession game that eventually it should turn into perennial success. Only one team (Montreal) in the top 10 best Corsi teams didn’t make the playoffs last year, and the ones who did were at or near the top of their respective divisions and conferences.

Carolina was the second-best team in terms of possession but only the 18th in goals-for at 5v5 despite the third most shots taken. Assuming they keep up that same style of play that’s become their trademark of sorts, they shouldn’t have much issue at least making it through the back door once again.

MORE:
ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Goalies sign: Islanders choose Varlamov; Mrazek sticks with Hurricanes

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Apparently, when the post-Sergei Bobrovsky goalie dominoes fall in free agency, they fall fast.

Along with the Chicago Blackhawks taking a one-year flier on Robin Lehner, we have two other significant decisions.

[More on Chicago adding Lehner]

The New York Islanders decided to hitch their future to Semyon Varlamov, whom they signed to a four-year, $20 million contract. The Islanders are rolling the dice with a 31-year-old who hasn’t enjoyed his strongest work lately. Clearly, the organization believes in his potential. This is a medium-sized gamble, if not a big one.

Varlamov started 49 games last season and saw his even strength save percentage dip from .923 to .916. Injuries opened the door for Phillip Grubauer to assume the No. 1 role and put an end to Varlamov’s eight-season tenure with the Avalanche.

The battle for the net on Long Island will be between Varlamov and Thomas Greiss after negotiations with Lehner failed to end with an agreement.

“It’s really tough to see Robin go,” said Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello. “We’re all disappointed it didn’t work out but we wish him nothing but the best in Chicago, he’ll do great there.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes brought back Petr Mrazek, the 27-year-old goalie who helped them break their playoff curse. It’s for $6.25 million over two years, which translates to a $3.125M cap hit in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Between Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, who inked a two-year deal with the Lightning, the pair helped solve an issue for the Hurricanes this past season and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in a decade. Mrazek boasted a .927 even strength save percentage in 40 starts.

“Petr took a chance on himself with the deal he agreed to here last summer, and we were all rewarded with the tremendous season he put together,” said Hurricanes GM Waddell said in a statement. “This solidifies our options at the goaltending position moving forward.”

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.