Ten things we’ve learned through 20 games as the Canes reach the NHL quarter pole

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The Carolina Hurricanes are 20 games into the 2021-22 season and the record is 15-4-1. They won their first nine games, giving them a nice points cushion, and recently added nine points on the six-game road trip that ended Friday in Philadelphia.

Here are 10 things we’ve learned about the Canes in those first 20 games:

COVID still a threat

What’s the old saying, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over? That applies to the pandemic. The Canes, like everyone else in the league, must remain vigilant in protecting themselves, and their teammates and coaches, against COVID-19 and its variants.

The news Monday wasn’t good for the Canes: defensemen Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo being placed in the COVID protocol. That came after Ethan Bear, off to a good start with the Canes and playing in the top D pairing with Jaccob Slavin, contracted coronavirus on the recent road trip.

Aho still getting better

Canes center Seabastian Aho is becoming one of the NHL’s most complete players and the consummate pro. There are few weak links in his game. Once spotty on draws, for example, he has been winning more than 55 percent of his faceoffs this season.

Twenty-nine teams passed on Aho in the 2015 NHL Draft and the Canes passed on him in the first round. He now wears a letter as an alternate captain, has developed into a quiet leader and remains their leading scorer. And he still burns to be better.

Svechnikov still streaky

The talk last season was about Andrei Svechnikov feeling the pressure to perform with a big contract in the offing, resulting in offensive inconsistency. The power forward got the big contract, then began this season by scoring seven goals in the first seven games, as if a weight was off his broad shoulders.

But Svehcnikov then went 11 consecutive games without a goal, ending the drought Friday against the Flyers. Some would point out he had eight assists in those 11 games, but the Canes aren’t paying him $7.75 million a year for assists.

Power play needs work

The skill and the personnel is there and there was early season success but Carolina has tailed off to 13th in the NHL in power-play percentage (19..4) through Sunday’s games. Opposing teams seems to be figuring them out -- six straight games, and 14 power plays, without a goal for Carolina.

Brind’Amour would say it’s still a work-in-progress. Rookie Seth Jarvis has been added to the mix at times, and odds are Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be more involved on the power play.

Los Angeles Kings goaltender Cal Petersen, right, stop a shot in front of Carolina Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis (24) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Cal Petersen, right, stop a shot in front of Carolina Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis (24) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Jarvis is a keeper

Once in the lineup, Jarvis has made a rapid ascent and had an impact. He has the speed and stick-handling skills to break down defenses and is pretty fearless despite a lack of size.

Jarvis, a first-round draft pick by Carolina in 2020, is still learning. He allowed Caps defenseman Nick Jensen to speed up ice ahead of him late in the third period Sunday and was forced to grab Jensen from behind and take a penalty. That soon became a 5-on-3 for Washington, soon became a power-play score for the Caps. But Jarvis is a fast learner.

Kotkaniemi in the right spot

Moving Kotkaniemi from wing to center has been the right move. He’s well-placed, for now, centering the fourth line. He had a goal and assist Friday against the Flyers, then scored against the Caps to start the Canes’ third-period rally.

“It’s a little more natural for me,” Kotkaniemi said after the Flyers game. “I think overall I’m getting the system of the game a little bit better here. I’m getting used to it. I like that you’re a little more involved in the game.”

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen, of Denmark, makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning’s Corey Perry during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Hurricanes won 2-1. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen, of Denmark, makes a save against Tampa Bay Lightning’s Corey Perry during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Hurricanes won 2-1. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Stopping the puck

There was second-guessing when the Canes let goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer both leave in free agency, and even more when Carolina traded Alex Nedeljkovic, a Calder Trophy finalist last season, to Detroit. Talk about starting over.

But Frederik Andersen has thrived, again, as a No. 1 goalie once out of the Toronto cauldron. Antti Raanta, if he can stay healthy, should be a good complement in net and likely will win some big games. He’s capable of doing it.

Canes cashing in on Tony D

Investing in DeAngelo looked questionable by the Canes. Dougie Hamilton was gone and the Canes had a big offensive void to fill on the back end. What about DeAngelo for one year and $1 million?

Yes, his mouth and temper had gotten him in trouble in the past. Yes, many Canes fans were shocked and dismayed by his signing and let it be known. DeAngelo’s offensive skills are apparent and needed by Carolina -- four goals and 15 assists, his 19 points fifth among NHL defensemen. The question: can he get through the season incident-free? Another: how much will he be affected by COVID?

Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind”Amour, top center, protests a call with the official during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind”Amour, top center, protests a call with the official during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Brind’Amour all coach

As a Canes assistant coach, Brind’Amour often seemed more like a player-turned-coach than a coach. He even asked media folks to call him “Rod” and not “coach,” saying he was more comfortable with that.

Brind’Amour is all coach now, and a Jack Adams Award winner. He talks like a coach, handles the media like a coach. And no lack of passion. Or maybe you missed him Sunday at PNC Arena his face twisted in anger, as he fought for his team after some late penalties.

Canes can contend

Finally, the Hurricanes have shown they’re good enough, well-rounded enough to make a run at the Metro Division title and a Stanley Cup championship. They have the skill, defense and goaltending, plus the system, structure and depth, to get where they want to go this season.

The players talk about Brind’Amour having the Canes play a “stress game” and the pressure is constant. The goaltending must remain consistent. It’s a long season, with potential injuries and now the COVID-19 situation. So much has to go right. A lot has already.

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