Much like life itself, hockey is a game of ebbs and flows. Some weeks you’re the butcher, some weeks you’re the slab of meat on the table. Every week, we’ll examine one NHL team that falls into each category. And because we live in a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of world, we’re really leaning into recency bias and doing our best to overreact to the recent trends.
As such, here are the best and worst teams in the world this week.
Best team in the world this week: Carolina Hurricanes
Congratulations to the Canes for becoming the first Best Team In The World of 2023! It’s certainly well-deserved, as they’ve ripped off 11 straight wins heading into the new year and are creating some separation between themselves and the rest of the Metropolitan Division. Entering Tuesday’s games, Carolina holds a seven-point lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Metro and are now second in the entire league with 56 points.
Let’s take a look at some of the Hurricanes’ numbers during a win streak that began on Dec. 10.
Carolina has outscored opponents 40-21 and been a dominant possession team, owning 59% of shot attempts at 5v5 — the best shot share in the NHL over that stretch. And yes, the Hurricanes have famously been analytical darlings over the past several years, so some of you may be rolling your eyes at the fancy stats here. I’ll be the first to recognize that sometimes those numbers can be empty calories when it comes to Carolina, but that’s not the case recently. The Canes’ 61.4% expected goals rate is also best in the league, as are their 137 high-danger chances over that stretch. They’re controlling play and doing plenty of damage.
So who do we have to give props on an individual level? Well, anytime you’ve got a lengthy streak like this there’s a very good chance you’re getting very solid goaltending, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Pyotr Kochetkov.
The 23-year-old Russian rookie netminder is emerging as an absolute stud for Carolina. During the streak, he has made five starts and has given up a total of five goals on 123 shots against (.959 save percentage) with two shutouts. It might be too soon to crown Kochetkov as “the guy” in Raleigh, but if he’s even close to as good as he’s looked recently, then the Hurricanes are going to be infinitely more dangerous down the stretch. (Antti Raanta has made the other six starts and also has two shutouts, but he has given up 16 goals and only has an .899 save percentage.)
What also must be recognized is that the Canes are getting healthier. They recently welcomed back top center Sebastian Aho after a seven-game absence with a lower-body injury. He took a few games to shake off the rust before tallying three points in his last two games, so that’s a very promising development. Also encouraging? Max Pacioretty’s Hurricanes debut is seemingly on the horizon.
Pacioretty, who had surgery last August to repair a torn Achilles, began fully participating in practice last week. The 34-year-old winger will need time to get acclimated with his new team, but adding a 30-goal scorer to the lineup probably isn’t going to hurt.
The Hurricanes have a ton of talent from front to back. They’re well-coached and are getting back to full strength as the results are piling up. The Boston Bruins are clearly the class of the East at this point of the season, but there’s a storm coming. And it only seems to be picking up steam.
Worst team in the world this week: Chicago Blackhawks
For a second week in a row, this was a pretty easy call. The Blackhawks have lost four in a row and nine of their last 10 and are currently dead-last in the NHL with only 20 points in the standings. Over the past month, they’ve essentially been neck-and-neck with the Anaheim Ducks for most garbage team in the league, but the Ducks have at least picked up a few wins over the past couple weeks.
If there’s a silver lining for Chicago, it might be that its minus-58 goal differential, while absolutely awful, is not quite as striking as the minus-70 that Anaheim is currently sporting.
But we all know the real silver lining for Blackhawks fans is that Connor Bedard is absolutely tearing apart the World Juniors as a 17-year-old, so all of this misery could be worth it if Chicago ends up with the winning lottery ball this summer. The last time the Blackhawks won the draft lottery was in 2007, when they ended up selecting a guy named Patrick Kane. That certainly helped Chicago turn things around, so a hyped generational talent like Bedard could help it do the same as the team looks to usher in a new, overdue era of Blackhawks hockey.
It would be quite the clean and clear transition if Kane, who is in the final year of his current contract, departed Chicago in the same year that Bedard moved in, wouldn’t it?