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5 Questions: Carolina Hurricanes

Quick start to season, performance of young defense could be crucial

by Kurt Dusterberg / NHL.com Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Carolina Hurricanes:

 

 

Can they get off to a strong start? 

In each of Bill Peters' first two seasons as coach, the Carolina Hurricanes have dug themselves into a deep hole by early December. In 2014-15, the Hurricanes started 8-19-3; last season, they went 8-13-4 in their first 25 games. Getting out of the gate quickly will be a stiff challenge; the Hurricanes begin the season with a six-game road trip and play 18 of their first 28 away from PNC Arena. How seriously is Carolina taking this issue? The coaching staff began stressing the importance of the Oct. 13 opener against the Winnipeg Jets during the first practice of training camp.

 

Is the goaltending good enough to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Management attributed last season's poor start, in part, to the play of goalies Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. Though each improved in the second half, they combined for a .906 save percentage and allowed three or more goals in 28 of 31 regulation losses. For Carolina to challenge for the playoffs, Ward and Lack must steal a game occasionally. Each is under contract for the next two seasons; the Hurricanes are counting on them to deliver better results.

 Video: CAR@BOS: Ward stones Marchand, makes pair of stops

 

Does the young defense have enough veteran presence?

The Hurricanes' young defensemen were a revelation last season, but 35-year-old Ron Hainsey is the only regular on defense who's older than 24. Jaccob Slavin, 22, likely will play on the top pair with Justin Faulk (24). Brett Pesce (21) and Noah Hanifin (19) also will have full-time roles. Ryan Murphy (23) is looking for a roster spot after three seasons split between the Hurricanes and Charlotte of the American Hockey League. That's a lot of responsibility for a defense that's long on potential but short on experience.

 

Can they improve in overtime and the shootout?

The Hurricanes went to overtime 26 times last season, second-most in the NHL. They were 8-11 in overtime and 2-5 in the shootout, prompting a search for skill players for each scenario. Forward Lee Stempniak, signed as a free agent on July 1, scored twice in 3-on-3 overtime last season; he will complement centers Jordan Staal (three goals) and Victor Rask (two goals), who were physically dominant in OT. The shootout could be another matter; the departure of center Riley Nash (3-for-5) in free agency leaves Carolina with two returning players, Hanifin and Slavin, who scored in the tiebreaker; each had one shootout goal.

 

Can Jeff Skinner produce consistently?

Skinner, 24, is one of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL, but he is streaky. Last season, he had eight stretches of at least four games without a goal. In those 40 games, he had 10 assists. But in a span of 14 games in December, he had 10 goals and four assists, and Carolina went 8-4-2. When Skinner is a scoring threat, the Hurricanes are far more dangerous.

Video: OTT@CAR: Skinner's last second goal sparks Canes' win

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