RALEIGH, N.C. – Just over a quarter of the season completed, Carolina Hurricanes fans have a lot to cheer about. As a majority of the lineup from last season stayed intact, expectations for the 2021 season are just as high, if not more so for this young, exciting team.
At 12-4-1 (25pts | .735 win %) and 2nd in the Discover © Division, Carolina is projected to finish the regular season with 80+ points, certainly putting them in a playoff spot. Let’s recap the season thus far and look ahead to what’s next for the Hurricanes.
On February 3, forward Max McCormick inadvertently collided with starting goaltender Petr Mrazek, which knocked both players out of the game against the Dallas Stars. A game the Canes eventually won in a shootout. Unfortunately for the netminder, his thumb was injured, which ultimately required surgery. Neither Mrazek nor McCormick has been in the lineup since.
With Mrazek out, James Reimer has been solid as the starting goalie with a 10-2 record, neither of which were blowout losses. To lighten the load on Reimer, former Calder Cup-winning goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic (Ned) was moved up from the taxi squad to assume the role of backup goalie. Ned would see his first start on Saturday, February 13 at the Dallas Stars.
In Dallas, Ned stopped 26 of 29 shots he faced and turned away every shootout attempt the Stars threw his way. The win not only boosted Ned’s confidence but also extended the Stars’ losing streak to five games. With only four teams in each division making the playoffs, every point counts.
This past Saturday versus the defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Nedeljkovic stopped all 24 shots to record his first NHL shutout, giving the young netminder a 2-1-1 record for the season. As Mrazek looks to be returning soon, Ned will more than likely be placed back on the taxi squad until needed again.
This young season has also seen the resurgence of Nino Niederreiter, who was acquired from the Minnesota Wild in the 2018-2019 season. Nino has tallied 12 points (9G|3A) in 17 games played, when last season in 67 games, Niederreiter notched only 11 goals and 18 assists. On Friday, Nino tallied his 300thpoint (145G|155A) on retro night in Raleigh against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The New Guy
On February 13, GM Don Waddell orchestrated a two-for-one deal that sent Ryan Dzingel to his former team, the Ottawa Senators for forwards Cedric Paquette and Alex Galchenyuk. As Galchenyuk was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Paquette made the ten-hour drive to Raleigh in order to be in the lineup that Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (and led the team with 5 hits).
Paquette has fit in quite nicely with the team’s work ethic and personality. His high-intensity play adds another level of skill to an already exciting offense. On the same night Nedeljkovic records his first shutout, Cedric scores his first goal as a Hurricane against his former team; the same team he won a Cup with just months prior. When asked after the game, Paquette simply stated “…you can’t script this.”
As we look ahead to the next few months and head toward the playoffs, the Hurricanes still have a third of their remaining 39 games against the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators, who are currently two of the bottom-three in their division.
With a log jam at the top of the Central Division with Tampa Bay, the Florida Panthers and Chicago, the Hurricanes will need to continue fighting for that top seed in the divisional playoff to secure home-ice advantage for the first two rounds.