Category 5: Hurricanes go back to Pyotr Kochetkov against Islanders

Michael Bunting is adapting to whatever role the Hurricanes give him

Hurricanes goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov will make his third consecutive start Thursday. (Karl B DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The Hurricanes will look to win a third straight game for the first time in a month when they host the Islanders on Thursday at PNC Arena. It’s a 7:30 p.m. start with a national broadcast on ESPN+/Hulu.

1. Pyotr Kochetkov got the start in net the last two games and performed well, allowing just three goals — two flukey bounces against the Blue Jackets and a breakaway goal to Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny on Tuesday.

He’ll get the nod again against the Islanders.

“He’s been good, obviously,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said after the morning skate. “Solid. He made a couple key saves at key times, especially in the third the other night. There was really only a couple chances, but you’ve got to make those saves.”

The Hurricanes are surely hoping he can go on the same kind of run he did last November and December when he went 10-1-4 with three shutouts. Not that Brind’Amour was ready to look beyond anything other than Thursday’s game.

“It’s more day to day, to be honest with you,” he said. “(He) had a good game. How do you feel? We know we’ve got to get (Antti Raanta) back in there. We have a ton of games coming up too. But what he did last year just gives us confidence to know what he’s capable of doing.”

2. Andrei Svechnikov looks like he’ll also be back in the lineup after missing the Flyers game with an illness. Svechnikov scored his first goal of the year — the game-winner with under two minutes left in regulation — against Columbus after being elevated to the top line, but he skated on the fourth line with Jack Drury and Stefan Noesen on Thursday morning.

“I hope so,” Brind’Amour said when asked if Svechnikov would play. “I know he’s maybe not 100%, but I’m sure he’ll try.

3. That likely means Brendan Lemieux will join Tony DeAngelo as a healthy scratch. It will be DeAngelo’s fifth straight game as an extra — Jalen Chatfield has been plus-5 with two assists paired with Dmitry Orlov during that stretch.

In the last four games, that duo has team-bests among defensive pairs at 5-on-5 in Corsi For percentage (68.87%), expected goals (3.2), expected goals against (0.93), scoring changes percentage (68.75%) and high-danger scoring chances percentages (81.82%) with a goal differential of 5-0, according to Orlov and Chatfield have given up just 10 scoring chances in 54:35 together at 5-on-5 in those four games.

Lemieux, meanwhile, played for the first time in 24 days Tuesday in Philadelphia and ended up with the winning goal, getting to the front of the net and quickly banging in the puck after it bounced off his shin pad.

He could still draw in if Svechnikov is unable to play, but even if he doesn’t, he seems to have accepted his role as the 13th forward and credited Brind’Amour after the win over the Flyers.

“I’m just blessed to be in a place where a coach takes good care of me,” Lemieux said after the win over Philly. “You can always tell the difference when a guy cares and he doesn’t, and I can tell Roddy cares about us as people and as players. I’ve got all the time in the world for a coach like that.”

It’s possible that could have been a two-pronged statement as he played part of last season for the Flyers and coach John Tortorella, who publicly called Lemieux “out of shape” just three days after Philadelphia acquired him.

Either way, it was clear Lemieux admires how his current coach has handled him this season.

“Well, it’s probably the smart thing to say. You don’t want to say the other thing,” Brind’Amour joked when told of Lemieux’s statement. “Whether he thinks it or not. I mean, it’s a tough position. Tony’s in it now right now where he’s out of the lineup, and these are guys that are quality players that, when you have a good team and you have a healthy group — which we haven’t really had over the years — sometimes that’s where he goes.

“That’s all how you handle things, as we know, in life, right? Whether it’s hockey, whatever, how do you handle these things that don’t go your way? And (Lemieux’s) been a big pro about it, and he needs to continue to do that.”

Brind’Amour said managing players’ emotions has become a bigger part of being an NHL coach.

“But really, at the end of the day, they get paid to be on the team and do whatever’s asked, right?” Brind’Amour added. “I mean, that’s really how this goes. You know how they’re feeling. But whether he’s in the lineup or not, like everybody, you have to kind of know where they’re at. But the team comes first.”

4. Another player who has handled that well is Michael Bunting. Bunting had been playing with Drury and Noesen in recent games, but he bumped up to the top line against the Flyers with Svechnikov out of the lineup and finished with a goal and an assist.

I talked to Bunting on Monday — after he skated with the fourth line at practice — about adapting to playing with the Hurricanes and if there was any frustration with his deployment.

“No, none at all,” he said. “I just play my game no matter what and help the team win, produce when I can, and that’s what I plan on doing.”

After scoring against Philadelphia while playing on the top line, his message was the same.

“That’s my game,” he said. “I can play anywhere in the lineup and I’m very confident where I am too. So any time I get the opportunity, I’m going to roll with it.”

While Brind’Amour said not to read much into the line rushes at Thursday’s morning skate, Bunting was back with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis. Another opportunity presents itself.

He’s had a sneaky good statistical start to the season with five goals and 14 points through 20 games. He’s tied for the team lead with seven assists at 5-on-5, including five primary assists.

He’s also been his normal agitating self: He’s tied for fourth in the league in penalties drawn with 14 while taking only seven. His 102 drawn penalties since the start of the 2021-22 season are second only to Connor McDavid, who has drawn 108.

5. Bunting was definitely under the Lightning’s skin in Carolina’s 8-2 loss last Friday. Tampa Bay’s Austin Watson went after Bunting with 30 seconds left in the game, resulting in 14 minutes of penalties — including his second misconduct of the night — and Erik Cernak also had a heated exchange with the Hurricanes winger.

It all stems back to Bunting shouldering Cernak in the head in the first round of last year’s playoffs, knocking Tampa Bay defenseman out of the rest of the series and resulting in a three-game suspension for Bunting.

“When you play a team as much as I have in the last 2½ years,” he said, “I think it’s been over 20 games I’ve played them in regular season and playoffs. So obviously there’s emotions every night, and those are games that I have fun playing in. And I’m sure they have fun playing against me too.”