Hurricanes head west as one of NHL’s top teams

Carolina is off to an 11-2-0 start and hopes to keep rolling as it heads west for a six-game road trip

Hurricanes defenseman Tony DeAngelo has 13 points in 13 games in his first season with Carolina. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour says he is always focused on the day at hand, but it’s worth looking back at what his team has accomplished in its 13 games this season.

Though Monday’s games, Carolina is 11-2-0 and first in the NHL in points percentage (.846), goals allowed (1.92), 5v5 goals allowed (15), faceoffs (55.9%) and goal differential (plus-20). Three Hurricanes — Andrei Svechnikov (17), Sebastian Aho (14) and Tony DeAngelo (13) — are on a point-per-game pace, and Frederik Andersen is among the league leaders in wins (nine), save percentage (.938) and goals-against average (1.78).

And they’ve accomplished much of this while battling with injuries or ailments to Brett Pesce, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas and Antti Raanta.

“It’s nice knowing if we do have a guy go down, it’s next man up and they’re gonna do the job and try and do it as good as the guy that went down,” alternate captain Jordan Martinook said Monday.

The Hurricanes’ stiffest test of the season begins late Tuesday night when the team plays its first of six straight games on the road in Vegas. It’s an every-other-day trek through the west that makes visits to all three California teams and a first-time trip at Seattle before circling back to the East Coast on the day after Thanksgiving for a stop in Philadelphia.

From the start of November until the middle of December, Carolina’s schedule has 15 of its 20 games away from PNC, including 10 of its 13 this month. The cliche is that teams forge a bond on the road. It’s also when the players lean on each other the most.

“I feel like this group’s been pretty tight from the beginning,” Martinook said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with kids and families and stuff. I feel like toward the end you’re starting to miss your family, miss your kids, and I feel like that’s almost where you need each other the most. It’s toward the end of it where you’re trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel type thing, and that’s when being close as a group can help you a lot.”

But as another adage goes, winning cures everything, and the Hurricanes have been so successful to start the season that it’s been easy to get the 11 new players on this year’s team acclimated to “The Hurricane Way” even before this extended trip.

“We’ve probably got 11, 12 guys that have been here for a good while now,” DeAngelo said. “Add in new guys, but all the new guys have experience playing elsewhere. So it’s not like we have eight, nine rookies or anything. It’s nine guys that have played elsewhere and played a lot of hockey, so you just jump right in. … It’s been an easy adjustment.”

Outside of Andersen, no addition to the Hurricanes’ lineup has made more of an impact than DeAngelo. The 26-year-old ranks in the top five in points among NHL defenseman and has quarterbacked a power play that has converted 23.5% of its chances — ranked ninth in the league and hovering near the 25.6% success rate from last season when Dougie Hamilton manned the point on the top power play unit.

Brind’Amour said he’s not surprised by DeAngelo, who has two goals and 11 assists for 13 points heading into Tuesday’s game, has had success with his new team, particularly in filling Hamilton’s spot on the power play.

“He’s exactly what we thought we were getting,” the coach said. “He’s delivered so far, which has been huge because, obviously, that was a big boy there, and he’s been everything that we hoped for.”

While there were never doubts about DeAngelo’s talent, his character has been thoroughly questioned. After a rocky junior career that saw him suspended three times, DeAngelo is with his fourth franchise since being drafted in 2014. Most recently, he was bought out by the Rangers when a fight with a teammate proved to be the final straw for the New York front office.

His one fight in Carolina, during the Hurricanes’ 6-3 win against Chicago on Oct. 29 drew cheers and chants from much of the PNC Arena crowd as he completed a Gordie Howe hat trick. His lone indiscretion — a 10-minute misconduct at the end of Carolina’s first loss of the season in Florida — turned out to be overblown and not what many on social media suspected in its initial aftermath.

“I shot the rat away, the plastic rat,” said DeAngelo, referring to the celebratory rats Panthers fans often throw on the ice. “It went pretty far. … So I’m guessing that went a little too far, maybe in a spot it shouldn’t have. But it is what it is.”

As Brind’Amour said, DeAngelo has been exactly what the team thought he would be.

And the Hurricanes? They are in exactly the spot they want to be, too.