As we start to ramp up into the heart of the NHL season, only a handful of teams still carry a perfect record. The Carolina Hurricanes, whom have played the most games of any of the undefeated teams, currently sit at an NHL best 5-0-0.
Despite making it to the 2018-2019 Eastern Conference Finals, not too many people listed the Hurricanes as favourites in their division, nor a top team in the East, let alone improving on their impressive playoff run from last year.
However, here we are, with the Hurricanes presenting themselves as a legitimate threat, albeit early on, but a threat nonetheless.
5 games in, the Canes have knocked off some strong competition, in a fairly impressive way too, outshooting and out-possessing teams drastically.
A 4-3 shootout win over Montreal to open the campaign, a 3-2 overtime win over last year's first round matchup partner Washington, a 4-3 overtime win against Cup favourite Tampa, a 6-3 win over the highly anticipated Florida team, and a 5-2 victory over the second round matchup partner Islanders.
While 3 of these games went to extra time, the Hurricanes dominated stretches of each. Take the Tampa game for example. Tampa came out buzzing, with 3 goals in the 1st period. However, Carolina continually applied pressure, and only allowed 2 shots against after the 1st period. You read that right. 2 shots against in 40 minutes. Tampa finished with 13 shots in the game, while Carolina posted 44.
Taking a deeper dive into some advanced stats, the Hurricanes have been dominant. They have a 5-on-5 Corsi of 55.5% which is good for 3rd highest in the league, showing just how often they have the puck.
More importantly to me though, they are generating quality shots and chances at an incredible rate. Thus far, they have 59.1% of 5-on-5 scoring chances through their 5 games, meaning they are defending to the tune of 40.9% scoring chances against, which is dominant. Good enough for 2nd best in the league at the moment, behind Philadelphia who has only played 2 games.
On top of that, and even more impressively, they have a high danger scoring percentage of 64%. That is an absurd number, drastically higher than the 3rd highest team, and just behind the 1st place team Philadelphia, who again, has only played 2 games.
Mix these dominant puck possesion and scoring chance statistics with the fact that they have goalies playing at a combined .930 save percentage, and you have a solid all-around team.
The real question everyone is asking though, are they for real?
My answer, at this point, how can you say no?
The Hurricanes likely have the most well-rounded top 6 defensive core in all of hockey. They traded away top-4 right-hander Justin Faulk just prior to the season starting, have Trevor Van Riemsdyk currently sidelined with injury, have a high-end D-prospect in the AHL in Jake Bean, yet still manage to role out a top 6 of Slavin-Hamilton, Gardiner-Pesce, and Edmundson-Fleury.
Each one of those d-men, with the exception of likely Edmundson, is a top 4 puck mover. Fleury still has some developing to do on the defensive side of the puck, but that's okay, he's still young and only playing bottom pair, with a shut down guy.
Pesce is one of the more underrated d-men in the league, and while he doesn't put up whopping point totals, is consistent, calming, and well structured, while still being a strong skater.
Gardiner we all know about, high-risk high-reward. Despite the tough rap he got here in Toronto (mostly from Brant and TSN) I think he brings a lot to the table, and his puck-moving skills are undeniable.
Dougie Hamilton has been labelled as a bit of an odd-ball, and some have questioned his locker-room chemistry along the way. But you know what helps? Being 2nd in points by a d-men through 5 games, with 3 goals and 4 assists. Hamilton has been flourishing in Carolina, and really is given the opportunity to make things happen offensively under Head Coach Rob Brind'amour.
Lastly, Jaccob Slavin. A name that people pronounced as "Jak-ub" for the first few seasons, and somehow a rumour was started that he was Finnish, has soon turned into a legit top-pairing player from Colorado. Slavin is one of the NHL's best kept secrets, and is an elite defender in the league. He's off to a strong start himself with 4 points in 5 games, but it's his smart defensive play and skating that really separates him from the pack.
Upfront, they aren't loaded by any means, but they are deep and speedy, and really execute their system well.
Sebastian Aho, fresh off signing a bargain offer sheet contract with Montreal that Carolina matched in an instant, has had a tough start. Their top dog offensively, their 1st line centre, has just 1 goal and 0 assists through 5 games, and they are still somehow undefeated.
Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Neiderreiter, two easy names to spell, are his wingers, both of whom have had better starts, with 6 and 3 points respectively.
New pickups Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel, along with the 3rd member of their 3rd line Martin Necas, have been hot to start, with 4 goals 0 assists, 4 points, and 3 points, respectively. I may add, one of the best 3rd lines to watch in hockey, along with Toronto's and Tampa's.
Newly named Captain Jordan Staal has 4 points manning the middle of the 2nd line, while right winger Brock McGinn has 2 and left winger Andrei Svechnikov leads the team with 8.
Svechnikov is who I really wanted to talk about here, as the speedy Russian has clearly never heard of the Sophomore Slump. While he's best known for being KO'd in a fight by fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin in last year's playoffs, people should start remembering his name for other reasons.
The 6'2" 195 lbs 19 year old was the 2nd overall pick in 2018, and is living up to the hype thus far this year. A left-handed shot, he plays the off-wing, similar to his hero Ovechkin. While he has a lethal shot, he currently is tied for the league lead in assists, alongside Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine... decent players. Svechnikov has endless potential, and I'd love to see him get more chemistry with Aho moving forward, as he likely projects to be their 1st line winger for a long time.
Moving on from the forwards though, in net is the big question for me. While they've been good thus far, do you really trust a tandem of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer all year.
As much as I love Optimus-Reim, I'm not convinced these two can lead them to the promised land.
So here's what I'll end on; if the Hurricanes can play solid defensively, which they have proved they can under Rob Brind'amour, then they should be a near lock to make the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division. If their young forwards can progress, they could maybe take a run at the Division title against Washington. If their goalies split the time, and somehow finish with a cumulative save percentage of .915 or higher, they could be a legit Cup contender.
Let's hope this is the case, because after all, who doesn't love seeing what Storm Surge celebration they have in store after a big win?!
All Statistics Via Natural Stat Trick