The Carolina Hurricanes’ worst fears were confirmed on Tuesday when they announced that star forward Andrei Svechnikov will undergo season-ending knee surgery. The loss of Svechnikov is a huge blow for the Hurricanes, who have been one of the most dominant teams in the NHL this season.
“I hate it for him, more than anything,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters Tuesday. “He’s worked so hard to get to this point of the year, when it’s fun, and he’s not going to be able to be a part of it here going forward.”
Svechnikov, who finished his season with 23 goals and 55 points in 64 games, was a key part of the Hurricanes’ attack, ranking at or near the top of several offensive categories.
Svechnikov is the second Hurricanes top-six forward to suffer a major injury this season. They are also without proven scorer Max Pacioretty, who played just five games in January before re-tearing his Achilles tendon and ending up back on injured reserve.
This poses a dilemma for the Hurricanes, who, despite boasting a league-leading 58.4 xGF% at even strength, are not great at putting the puck in the net. Their 4.8 true shooting percentage in all situations is tied for 27th — second-worst among teams in playoff position. (The Minnesota Wild are tied for 29th.)
Unlike their rivals at the top of the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes did not add much up front at the trade deadline, acquiring Jesse Puljujarvi from the Edmonton Oilers. (They went after Timo Meier but were beat out by the New Jersey Devils, who trail them by two points in the Metropolitan Division.)
Puljujarvi took Svechnikov’s spot on the left side of the Hurricanes’ top line alongside Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis on Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets. They controlled 29.7 per cent of expected goals at even strength in 11:42 of ice time, though only one of their nine faceoffs came in the offensive zone. By comparison, Svechnikov, Aho and Jarvis controlled 70.7 per cent of expected goals when on the ice this season.
Aho, who already does so much to drive the Hurricanes’ offence, will now have to take on an even larger role. His 11.4 offence-generating plays per 20 minutes are tied for sixth-most in the league with Auston Matthews and David Pastrnak. Martin Necas will also be counted on to score more goals, which he is capable of doing.
The Hurricanes’ ace in the hole is their defence, which is the best in the league at suppressing quality scoring chances (2.24 expected goals against per game). But will that be enough to get past the high-octane teams that the Hurricanes could face in the playoffs?
It will take a collective effort to replace Svechnikov’s contributions.
“It’s 20 guys. It’s not one guy. I can tell you that,” Brind’Amour said. “If we think one guy is going to do it, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It was never about one guy. It just makes it a little harder.”