The Carolina Hurricanes entered the 2023-24 season with high expectations, fueled by their exceptional performance during the 2022-23 NHL season. Despite a deep playoff run that included a historic four-overtime game against the Florida Panthers, the Hurricanes were ultimately swept in the series, leaving a bitter taste.
Analysts predicted the Hurricanes to be top contenders for the Stanley Cup in the current season. However, an unforeseen turn of events has disrupted the team's anticipated success, leading to a puzzling start that has left both fans and players searching for answers.
One of the primary concerns has been the team's defensive struggles, a departure from their traditional reputation for stifling defense.
The Hurricanes, historically known for their defensive prowess, currently rank last in the league in goals against and goals against per game. The goaltending trio of Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, and Pyotr Kochetkov has faced challenges in preventing quality chances. With Andersen placed on injured reserve due to blood-clotting issues, there's been an added layer of uncertainty.
Raanta, previously a standout netminder with a 19-3-3 record and a .910 save percentage last season, has faced criticism for a significant decrease in play. This season, he has played in several games that the Hurricanes have lost, and boasts only a .863 save percentage.
With his contract up at the end of the 2023-24 season, fans and commentators have begun to wonder if the 34-year-old netminder will get his contract renewed or not. Raanta signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on July 1.
Since Andersen was placed on LTIR, the team has since called up 24-year-old Pyotr Kochetkov from the American Hockey League (AHL). Kochetkov was drafted by the Hurricanes in 2019 and has played in a total of 38 NHL games. Although it is still early in Kochetkov's career, and he could benefit from more time in the AHL, he has shown his commitment to the Canes in several big games.
The defensive pairing of Orlov and DeAngelo has faced heightened scrutiny amidst the team's defensive struggles. Despite nuanced statistics, their on-ice performance has been marked by missed assignments and breakdowns, contributing to the team's overall defensive woes. Adjustments in defensive pairings and strategies may be on the horizon as the Hurricanes seek to remedy their issues.
Alongside goaltending, the Hurricanes have also faced an issue with scoring. There has been a particular setback with star forward Andrei Svechnikov, who only has one goal in 15 games played this season. Svechnikov faced a season-ending knee injury in March, and his offensive presence and physicality were definitely missed by the Canes during the playoffs.
The Hurricanes' struggles came to a head in a recent nightmarish 6-1 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers. Defensive misplays and a devastating 4-0 deficit by the end of the first period left both fans and coaching staff in disbelief.
Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour expressed his frustration during a mid-game TNT bench interview, stating, "We're on our way to losing 50-0 at this point. I've never seen our team play this brutal. We weren't ready to start, that was clear. Now we're just doing things... not the way we do it. This is what you get."
The team's inconsistency, a departure from their anticipated strength, has manifested in on-ice mishaps, turnovers, and lost battles. Carolina's offensive strategy, once effective, now appears predictable and luck-dependent, hindering rather than complementing the team's talent.
While the season is still in its early stages, the Hurricanes acknowledge the need for improvements to regain their usual form. The challenge lies in finding a cohesive balance between offensive prowess and defensive stability. Although panic is premature, the team is determined to address these issues and navigate the long season successfully.
"It's not going to be pretty every night," Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho said. "But the effort, the thought process, has to be there… It's not like we're not working hard. Every time we're out there, even if it doesn't look like it, everyone is working their tails off. I'm sure if we keep playing our game and our system, in the long run it will work in our favor."
The Hurricanes' journey through this unexpected twist will continue to unfold, and the hope is that the ship rights itself.
As the team strives for cohesion, there is an acknowledgment that improvements are necessary for sustained success in the grueling NHL season. In the face of adversity, the Hurricanes remain determined to navigate these uncharted waters and emerge stronger on the other side.