Tuesday night in Detroit was by no means perfect.
The Hurricanes gave up as many shots as they took (27), took 3 penalties to Detroit’s 2, and were dominated by the Red Wings for long stretches, including the majority of the second period. It would’ve been easy for Carolina to roll over when Detroit pushed and cite the strenuous travel schedule, or the absence of Sebastian Aho. It would’ve been easy to point at a strong record over the road trip and return home. But that’s not what championship contenders do, and the Hurricanes are a championship contender. Lately, they’ve looked as much like the Stanley Cup contender they were projected to be as they have all season.
The Hurricanes, now 11-1-3 when scoring the first goal, tallied early on a Brady Skjei goal-his 3rd in 4 games. He’s up to 11 points on the year, meaning the Canes have two defenseman with at least 10 points, Brent Burns being the leader with 20. The goal came on a brilliant spinning setup by Seth Jarvis, who with 6 points in his last 8 games is also starting to heat up. At the beginning of the year, I wrote that in order to have success, young players like Jarvis needed to take a step forward. Another player I specifically pointed out was Martin Necas, who is the team leader with 28 points in 28 games (admittedly, Aho sits right behind Necas with 27 points in just 26 games). However, the stars seem to be aligning as needed in order for Carolina to truly contend.
If the Canes got the better of the first, Detroit should have gotten the better of the second. Pyotr Kochetkov had other ideas. The young goaltender’s confidence is clear and translates to a calm and collected presence in the crease, even as he launches himself in front of flurries of offensive chances. This was exemplified during the second, as Detroit’s domination of the second period culminated in a series of scoring chances which were stymied by the young goaltender. Fresh off of a four-year extension that could become incredibly team-friendly in the future, Kochetkov tallied his second straight shutout after blanking the New York Islanders the previous game. At the other end of the ice, Ville Husso stopped 26 shots, but Kochetkov stopped 27, giving his team the edge in a hard-fought victory.
The Hurricanes bent but didn’t break in the third, mostly controlling play but surrendering a few opportunities. The rebound from the lackluster second was also indicative of a team showing a sense of desperation, even in a game where they didn’t need to. In this game, the difference was the goaltender giving the team a chance to win. Coming into the season, we all assumed that would be Frederik Andersen’s role, but Kochetkov has been more than just a pleasant surprise. The team believes the same, thus the extension.
The impressive play lately will continue to put the rest of the league on notice. Teuvo Teravainen just returned from a lengthy absence while dealing with an injury. Still without key contributors Aho, Andersen, and Max Pacioretty, the Hurricanes have climbed to fifth in the league in terms of points percentage, trailing only Boston, Vegas, Toronto, and divison rival New Jersey. Carolina, who at the beginning of their road trip battled Pittsburgh for third place in the Metro division, now sits 6 points behind the Devils with a game in hand. The Devils, once winners of 13 consecutive games, have since cooled off by posting a 5-3-2 record in their last ten games. Winning the Metro division is certainly not out of the question and will soon feel inevitable if the strong play continues. The Hurricanes are beginning to reach their full potential, and the sky is the limit for this young and talented roster.