This round of NHL Predictions looks at the Carolina Hurricanes finishing a disappointing Western Canada trip in Vancouver. If you were to look through the lens of expectations vs results equals satisfaction level, these teams are on two opposite sides of the spectrum.

Vancouver entered the season following a tough season last year with fairly low expectations. Even though they may have cooled some from their hot start, they are still more than exceeding expectations as they currently sit third in the Pacific Divison with 35 points.

On the other side of the continent, the Carolina Hurricanes entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations. Many picked them as one of the favourites. And sure they are in the playoff mix, but their season has been anything but consistent. Looking at the season so far as a whole they are not in a major hole. But their last three game losing streak has fans, players and the coaches all wanting more. And frankly trying to figure out the issues.

NHL Predictions: Carolina Hurricanes vs Vancouver Canucks

Three Keys to Victory for the Hurricanes

Make a Save (the Broken Record Saga)

Raise your hand if you have heard this one before. The Carolina Hurricanes need goaltending. Not elite goaltending, just average would be helpful. In just the last two games, the combination of Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov have given up nine goals. This included two goals in the first minute against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. But it’s more than just the sheer number. When the team needs a save, they just haven’t been there. Now let’s call a spade a spade, the team hasn’t always been there for the goalies either. But the reality is the team plays off of confidence in the goalie and vice versa. So, a goalie on his A game can certainly steal a game, but it has deeper effects on the team over the stats.

Speaking of stats, the Hurricanes sit at the very bottom when it comes to most goalie metrics. But it specifically is bad looking at saves compared to shots more so than the sheer number of goals let in. Raanta is second worst* in SV% with .863 and Kochetkov is fourth worst with .873. They are not great in GAA but not as drastically bad. For advanced stats, both are in the bottom ten goalies in the league when it comes to goals saved above expected. Kochetkov at -7.3 and Raanta at -5.8. This is a large contributor to the team being in the bottom three of the league for goals saved above expected.

Again this is nothing new and seems to be a recurring key to victory for Carolina. But it is interesting. Has Raanta finally gone too far past his prime? Is Kochetkov not quite ready? Carolina still has no problem limiting chances and is why it it’s save percentage versus goals against or GAA that is so concerning. It can be hard for a goalie to watch most of the game from the other side of the ice and then be called on to make a grade A save. But that keeps killing the Hurricanes. While Carolina needs to limit the high danger chances, the goalies need to prevent anything easy. And maybe make some big saves too.

Silence Vancouver’s Stars

A big contributor to Vancouver’s success this season has been the stellar play of some of their stars. Notably, this includes forward Elias Pettersson and defenceman Quinn Hughes as well as a big resurgence of J.T. Miller. All of them are in the top ten in points in the NHL. Miller is second with 39 including 17 on the man advantage, Hughes is tied for fourth with 36 and Pettersson is tied for seventh with 34.  Then for goals Brock Boeser leads the league with 18, including a league leading eight on the power play, while J.T. Miller sits at ninth with 14. So, as it currently stands, Vancouver would have leaders in the Rocket Richard Trophy, Norris Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, and even the Ted Lindsay Trophy. Oh, and don’t forget Thatcher Demko in the top ten in GAA with 2.46 and SV% at .918.

While Vancouver as a whole has been good, their top guys are carrying a lot of the load. For Carolina, shutting them down will be key to winning this game. The habits of the last few games including turnovers at the blueline simply can’t happen with these guys on the ice. The man-to-man defence Carolina plays could work IF everyone works hard and communicates. If guys get slack and confused on coverage, breakdowns will occur. And we know what happens next. This is especially true when guys like Hughes and Boeser are on the ice to snipe. Carolina can’t take a breath on these guys.

No Passengers

The final key for Carolina is another one that has been evident for most of this young season. They need everyone on board. Unlike Vancouver, there are not really any players on Carolina leading the league in points, goals etc. While there are individuals who perform well in the advanced analytics realm, there has not been one guy sticking out to carry the team.

The team’s success lives and dies with executing the system. Limiting shots, an aggressive penalty kill, a heavy forecheck below the endline with constant pressure on the puck, and aggressively pinching defencemen require players that are willing to work and play a team game. No one can float or just cherry pick waiting for a breakout pass in this system. Ideally, players don’t lose their man in the defensive zone but if they do, others can cover and they adjust. There have been a few games where the team has exhibited this. Just not consistently.

But the team is only as strong as their weakest link. This issue has become more evident following the heartbreaking loss to the Calgary Flames. After giving up a two-goal lead in the third period, including the eventual game winning goal for Calgary coming shorthanded, head coach Rod Brind’Amour bluntly stated that many guys on the team aren’t pulling their weight.

Players Stefan Noesen and Jordan Martinook echoed this sentiment. Why this has become a theme for Carolina is both perplexing and frustrating. And who those “players not carrying their weight are” is an interesting question too. While the answers to those questions may be fairly unknown to the general public, having everyone on board will be a huge key to Carolina winning in British Columbia.

Prediction Time

With how inconsistent Carolina has been this season, making any prediction for them seems like one stop short of playing the lottery. Was the Calgary loss following the Edmont loss a wake up call? Seems like there have been many “wake up call” games this year that haven’t really changed much. The Hurricanes are currently in a funk and need to work out of it. In their last ten, Carolina is 5-4-1 while Vancouver is 5-5. Essentially they are the same. But Carolina’s last three (especially the last two) have been brutal while Vancouver is coming off of a shut out victory over the Minnesota Wild. It is not unreasonable to believe Carolina can turn it around if they stick to these keys to victory. But it also seems hard to count on it at this point.

Prediction: Vancouver wins 3-1

*Magnus Chrona is the worst but has only played in one game.

Main Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

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