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
It’s not just because Carolina toppled the Bruins, last week’s Best Team In The World, in pretty emphatic fashion on Sunday. The Hurricanes are painting themselves quite a pretty picture this season, and things have been going especially well of late.
The Canes’ 4-1 win over Boston was their fifth in a row, moving them into second place in the league standings with 72 points through 49 games. They only have one regulation loss in their last 10 games and have managed to beat both the top team in the Eastern Conference (Boston) and the Western Conference (Dallas Stars) during their current win streak.
To no surprise, Carolina also remains analytical darlings. The Hurricanes are tops among all teams in five-on-five shot attempt share and expected goal share this season, clocking in at 59.8% for both categories. Their identity is (and has been) centered around being a great possession team, and that still rings true.
It’s hard to be a great possession team without a strong defensive group that skates well and moves the puck decisively, and Carolina checks all of those boxes. Overall, the strong defensive work and ability to control play have helped overshadow the fact that the Canes are not great at finishing. They have one of the league’s lowest collective shooting percentages (9.3%), are middle of the pack in goals per game (11th at 3.27) and have the league’s 25th-ranked power play (18.7%). They can out-possess their problems, but they’re typically not going to outscore them.
This recent stretch, though, has shown just how dangerous and dominant Carolina can be when the finishing touch is consistently there. The Hurricanes have outscored opponents 22-11 over the last five games, and if they continue to average anywhere close to 4 1/2 goals per game, they’re going to be an absolute problem. It won’t even matter that the goaltending has been relatively average.
Of course, that offensive outlook took a demoralizing hit last week when Max Pacioretty went down with a re-torn Achilles, an injury that ended his season before it even really had a chance to get going. It was tough to see both for the player — a 34-year-old veteran tearing his Achilles twice in less than a year is brutal — and for the team that brought him in last summer to fill a glaring and specific need. It seemed like such a strong fit; Pacioretty is a proven goalscorer who would have had ample opportunity to produce in Carolina’s system.
If there’s a silver lining to Pacioretty’s re-injury, it’s that it came at a time that still allows the Canes to explore a Plan B. With his $7 million salary moving to long-term injured reserve, they suddenly have money to play with and explore the trade market.
Timo Meier would provide additional firepower and could potentially fit into the team’s long-term plans. St. Louis is falling apart, so pending free agents Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko could be on the trading block, though neither vet has been filling up the scoresheet this season. Regardless, O’Reilly, a Conn Smythe winner, would fill a need down the middle, while Tarasenko is a year removed from scoring 34 goals.
In any case, the top of the East is turning into a dogfight, and the Hurricanes are currently on the most impressive stretch. They have some areas to address, and they should be aggressive buyers in the coming weeks as they look to solidify themselves as a serious contender.
Worst team in the world this week: Boston Bruins
A team that spent most of the season as the Best Team in the World and had not lost consecutive games has now lost THREE (3) whole games in a row? Pathetic. The Bruins’ goal differential has dipped all the way down to plus-78, and now they only hold a nine-point lead over the next-best team in the league standings. Sights that were once set on the Stanley Cup are now shifting to the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. How things can change quickly in this league.
In all seriousness, the Bruins were due for a skid, and we probably should have seen it coming after I wrote this last week:
The Bruins swept a back-to-back against the Islanders and Rangers in New York, continuing a trend of Boston defying the concept of the ol’ “scheduled loss.” You’ll have to go all the way back to Oct. 18 to find the last time the Bruins lost on the tail end of a back-to-back — their first of the season. Since then, Boston has gone 6-0 and outscored opponents 26-8 while playing on a second straight day.
Boston promptly lost all three games it played last week, including a back-to-back that saw the Bruins chunk a game in Florida on Saturday and then get pushed around by Carolina on Sunday. They looked tired and undisciplined. Their passing and off-puck movement — both consistently great this season — were lacking.
But considering Boston played three games in four days, all against quality opponents (Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Hurricanes), it’s probably premature to be wondering if the Bruins peaked too soon.
Still, a previously infallible team has looked mortal for an extended stretch for the first time this season. Time to start digging that grave!