The Carolina Hurricanes will make their only stop at SAP Center this season for the San Jose Sharks’ home opener on Friday. Along with team comes a familiar face — yes, we’re talking about fan favorite forward Stefan Noesen and his goal song, Hakuta Matata. Tagging along with Noesen is up-and-coming defender Brent Burns, who spent 11 seasons roaming the blue line (with some time on the wing, too) and is the most decorated defender in Sharks history.
While Burns has done almost everything possible while playing for San Jose, general manager Mike Grier traded the veteran to Hurricanes this summer, giving the defender a chance for the one thing that has eluded the Sharks: a Stanley Cup.
When it comes to depth construction in Raleigh, former Sharks seemed to be a key factor on players’ resumes this past off-season. Along with Burns, the team acquired center Lane Pederson as part of that trade. Free agency began with the signing of Stefan Noesen, and a few days later, goaltender Zachary Sawchenko signed a deal with Carolina. Following a brief stint with the Sharks, forward Ryan Dzingel wasn’t re-signed, instead finding his way back to the Hurricanes, where he had played parts of two seasons between 2019 and 2021.
That’s just depth, though. The Hurricanes weren’t done with blockbuster moves after acquiring a Norris-winning defender. The team also added veteran forward Max Pacioretty in a deal with the cap-strapped Vegas Golden Knights. Add in free agent signing Ondrej Kase, a right wing that Sharks fans are all too familiar with after his years with the Anaheim Ducks, and the Hurricanes are looking like the new destination for the Western Conference’s top talent.
Luckily for the Sharks, Pacioretty won’t be in tomorrow’s line-up, as unfortunately for the ‘Canes, he underwent surgery in August to repair a torn Achilles tendon. The center depth for Carolina isn’t as terrifying as it will be when the team is fully healthy, but compared to San Jose’s lack of scoring power, the difference is splitting hairs. Not to mention, the Long-Term Injured Reserve relief from Pacioretty ($7 million) and defender Jake Gardiner ($4.05 million), who suffered a setback after missing last season recovering from hip and back surgery, is more than enough to keep the team competitive through the regular season.
The Sharks have been in practice mode since returning home from Prague, where the team was dispatched by the Nashville Predators with ease, thanks mainly to former ‘Canes forward Nino Niederreiter, and his three goals over the two-game series. The Hurricanes started the regular season at home with a impressive 4-1 win over the new-look Columbus Blue Jackets, where Burns led the team with six shots on goal.
Whatever strategy the Sharks deploy against the Hurricanes, they’ll have to have a short memory about it, as they’ll turn around to host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes will have a travel day, heading to Seattle to face the Kraken on Sunday.
Does San Jose have an advantage?
The Corsi Cup Champions have been one of the best teams on paper over the last few seasons, but Carolina has yet to make it out of the second round since the 2018-19 season. Last season, they finished as the league’s ninth-best team in terms of goals per game with 3.38 (Sharks were 30th with 2.57) while giving up a paltry 2.44 goals per game to lead the league (Sharks were 21st with 3.18). The Hurricanes' power play was solid last season working at 22 percent clip and that was before adding Brent Burns, who will provide plenty of shots from the point. The team’s penalty kill was also the league’s best with an outstanding 88 percent kill rate.
At 5-on-5 last season, Carolina posted the fourth-most shot attempts (50.2) per 60 and were also the league's best at limiting opponent’s shots (39.1) per 60. San Jose, on the other hand, averaged 42 shot attempts per 60 at 5-on-5 last season and gave up the league's most shot attempts with an average of 50.2.
This looks to be a game where Carolina will control the pace of play and San Jose will have to make the most out of limited chances.
Will Barabanov return?
The Sharks could be getting a boost on the top-line if Alexander Barabanov is ready to go. The top line of Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl and Barabanov ranked 11th-best in the league in expected goals (of lines with over 200 minutes played together) last year. Not only that, but the trickle-down effect would allow for Luke Kunin to play a middle-six role, where his no-nonsense, get-to-the-net-and-grind style of play should thrive.
The Hurricanes' top line of Teuvo Teräväinen, Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis against the Hertl line should create a great match-up to watch, as Carolina’s depth makes tough sledding for San Jose’s bottom lines. In games like these, anyone can score.
What adjustments will Quinn make now?
Head coach David Quinn was quick to change his lines last weekend, banishing newcomer Scott Harrington to the Upside Down, and promoting former ‘Canes forward Steven Lorentz to Logan Couture’s wing.
After nearly a week off, how will Quinn continue to dial in his forwards and find help for Couture on the second line? The Sharks captain was mainly used in a defensive role on Saturday’s game against the Predators, making 10 defensive zone draws while the third line of Oskar Lindblom, Nick Bonino and Matt Nieto saw the most offensive zone starts with eight.
Will Quinn try to give Couture more favorable starts in order to generate offense against a suffocating opponent, or will he try to limit the damage on the defensive side with a very shaky blue line in hopes to squeak out a 2-1 win, puck luck and Hockey Gods willing?
BOLD PREDICTION: Brent Burns scores twice to help the Hurricanes dismantle the toothless Sharks 5-1, with Timo Meier netting the lone goal for San Jose.