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Why the Hurricanes should be wary of their 5-on-5 play against the Islanders in Round 1

Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour talks to his team during a timeout late in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 5-3 victory over the Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 22, 2024.

Just keep on keeping on, the Carolina Hurricanes are basically saying, as they try to close out the New York Islanders in Game 5 on Tuesday. After all, they’re up 3-1, they must be doing something right.

Except:

Five-on-five goals in the series are an even 6-6, with the Islanders fighting the Hurricanes to a draw.

The Hurricanes have a 43-37 advantage in high-danger chances, per Natural Stat Trick, but have been outscored 4-1 on them. Yes, that’s the math: They are 1-for-43 on their best chances at five-on-five. You’d expect them to convert more based on random chance alone.

“It’s just small things, really,” Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen said. “Play our style, play it the right way. Make them turn the puck over and crash the net a little more. It’s pretty easy. Simple answer. Just have to do it.”

They just have to do it, because six five-on-five goals just isn’t good enough, and whatever the Hurricanes may say, their actions indicate some concern.

Coming off Saturday’s double-overtime loss, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour reshuffled the deck, leaving Jake Guentzel and Andrei Svechnikov with Sebastian Aho but rearranging the other three lines, moving Jack Drury to center with Jordan Martinook and Martin Necas and putting two scoring wings on either side of Jordan Staal in Teravainen and Seth Jarvis.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who’s been very good without the puck but has done little with it, drops to the fourth line with Evgeny Kuznetskov and Stefan Noesen. It’s all designed to jumpstart an offense that hasn’t been able to finish the chances it has generated, the oldest of stories with this group, or at least see if it might.

“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re just looking at some other things. “I don’t know how that’s going to go tomorrow.”

Still, looking at some other things is a tacit acknowledgement that some other other things are not working as planned or expected.

Others are: The power play and Frederik Andersen have carried them to this point, but even if they do take care of business against the Islanders on Saturday, they’ll face a second-round opponent that excels on the power play and in net. If the Hurricanes are going to have an advantage over the New York Rangers, it will be at five-on-five.

But that has not manifested itself against the Islanders, and while it’s hardly a time of crisis, the Hurricanes are tempting fate with their failure to finish. Even with the new (and old) faces that weren’t around last spring, it’s all too reminiscent.

“We’re aware that obviously we have another level and we need to get to that,” Aho said. “Just trying to win hockey games, that’s the whole deal out here. Tomorrow, we come in and we try to do our best. That’s our mindset.”

Svechnikov has been a strong all-around player, but has yet to score in the postseason, while Guentzel has been a very quiet point-per-game player: One empty-net goal, one even-strength assist, two PP assists (although one, in Game 2, was very nice). The Hurricanes need a big Game 5 from him. And Kuznetsov struggled to find chemistry with Drury and Noesen; Kotkaniemi may be a better fit with him.

The Hurricanes, under Brind’Amour as they were under Peter Laviolette, are far more concerned about the process than the results, even if the results have eluded them in the small sample of postseason hockey in previous years. In this case, the process hasn’t been up to their standards, and even so they haven’t gotten the results they might feel they deserve, but in the big picture they’re still up 3-1, so it’s hard to get too worked up about it.

But Andersen has been exactly what they hoped he would be when he was finally available from Day 1 of the playoffs. And the power play has been good. That’s a huge plus. There’s a lot that is going right. But given how the 2022 season ended, and how the 2023 season ended, they’d probably feel a little better if they were finishing more of the chances they’re generating five-on-five. If not now, unquestionably if they advance.

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