Just a couple of games in to the NHL hockey season it’s wise to not overreact to a small sample size. That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed with the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 start to the season. There were expectations that the ‘canes might struggle in the early going and particularly on offense. That hasn’t been the case–they’ve done just fine scoring goals and have done an even better job scrapping out victories against tough opponents. They’ve now got three 1 goal wins over Montreal, Washington and Tampa Bay.
Florida is an even bigger question mark in former Blackhawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville’s first year at the Panthers’ helm. They’re 1-1 which is not bad at this point given that their first two games came against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then again, since their first two games were against the same team it’s tough to make an accurate assessment of where they’re at. For example, one might conclude that newly acquired goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is in poor form after allowing 7 goals in two games. In context–knowing that he’s faced only the Lightning’s offensive juggernaut–it becomes less of an issue.
Bobrovsky earned a reputation as a ‘workhorse’ in Columbus and to no surprise he’s already been confirmed as the starter here. He’ll most likely be opposed by Carolina’s Petr Mrazak who is 2-0-0 with a 2.84 GAA in the very early going. Mrazak won both of his starts against the Panthers last season and Carolina has had little trouble with Florida in recent years winning 5 of the last 6 head to head including 2 of 3 on enemy ice. Carolina swept the season series last year winning a pair of games in South Florida.
Panthers will play four of their next five on the road including a three game East coast swing that will take them to the New York area to face the Sabres, Islanders and Devils. They’ll return home for a game against Colorado before playing a game at Nashville. They’ll play another one off game at home and then head out on a four game West Coast swing. Overall, 11 of their first 16 games will be on the road and without a lot of ‘easy games’ on the slate.
It was easy to overestimate how much the Panthers would improve in the first year of the Quenneville regime. Much of that was based on his resume in Chicago where the Blackhawks reached the playoffs in his first season on the job and won the Stanley Cup in the second. This project is more of a ‘work in progress’ and the Hurricanes are a tough challenge for any team. Carolina goes to 4-0 with a victory here.