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NHL - US Sports: Can Carolina Hurricanes cope without Max Pacioretty?

The Carolina Hurricanes' excitement to add scorer Max Pacioretty to their line-up has quickly subsided after it was revealed that the 33-year-old will miss up to six months of the new season with an Achilles injury.

Carolina acquired Pacioretty from the Vegas Golden Knights in July, which helped the Knights gain cap space and gave the Hurricanes a much-needed top-six forward.

General Manager Don Waddell insists the Hurricanes have the depth to cope with the American's absence but after losing two of their top scorers to free agency, the news is certainly less than ideal.

Pacioretty an important addition

Waddell traded for Pacioretty to help off-set the scoring loss of forwards Vincent Trocheck (to New York Rangers) and Nino Niederreiter (to Nashville Predators), who combined for 45 goals and 95 points last season.

Pacioretty has 19 goals in 39 games with the Golden Knights last season despite being slowed by a couple of minor injuries which he was said to have healed from before injuring his Achilles while running.

The first-round pick of Montreal Canadiens in 2007 has scored 30 or more goals six times in his career, totalling 323 goals and 319 assists in 850 regular season games.

Convenient absence

While Pacioretty's injury is a blow, it's come at the right time for the Hurricanes who, under coach Rob Brind;Amour, have mastered qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the regular season.

After nine years of missing out, Carolina has made the post-season in each of the past four seasons, most recently winning the Metropolitan Division with a 54-20-8 record.

Pacioretty is set to return by February, giving him a couple of months to get ready for the playoffs where the Hurricanes hope he will have the most impact and help change their fortunes the most.

In each of the past two seasons, Carolina have lost at the second-round stage, with offence at crucial times being a particular problem in the recent campaign.

The Hurricanes averaged 3.38 goals per-game in the regular season, but that slipped to 2.64 in the playoffs, where they blew a 3-1 lead to the Rangers, scoring nine goals in the final five games.

In total contrast to their near perfect home record, Carolina went 0-6 on the road, the first time an NHL team has lost its first six road games in a single playoff campaign.

In those games they were outscored 26-10 and were 1-for-24 on the powerplay (4.2%).

Their single home defeat was in Game 7 to the Rangers, forcing them to turn their attention to veteran Pacioretty, who has 25 goals and 24 assists in 74 career playoff appearances and might well be the missing piece of the puzzle.

Case for defence

Carolina scored the ninth most goals in the NHL last season (278) but their considerable success was built upon their outstanding defensive record, leading the league for goals against (202).

Their ability to keep the puck out of their net is something which negates the Pacioretty loss somewhat, with Brind'Amour confident that their defensive record alone will ensure their participation in the playoffs for a fifth season straight.

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Added depth

GM Waddell leaves little to chance and on top of the addition of Pacioretty, the 63-year-old has also signed two former 20 goal-scorers in Ondrej Kase from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ryan Dzingel, who returns to the Hurricanes following a year-and-a-half away.

Waddell believes such depth will be enough to account for the loss of Pacioretty, at least in the short-term, and he expects Martin Necas, who is likely to benefit most from the added responsibility, to step up and take his game to the next level.

Necas was announced as signing a new two-year deal with the Hurricanes on the same day that Pacioretty's arrival was confirmed. The first-round pick in 2017 scored 14 goals and registered 26 assists for 40 points in 78 regular season games last season, which was his third full campaign in the NHL.

The trio will line-up in a forward group which continues to have Sebastien Aho (37 goals; 81 points), Andrei Svechnikov (30 goals; 69 points) and Teuvo Teravainen (22 goals; 65 points) lead the way, suggesting Waddell's confidence is well placed.

Get to the dance

The Tampa Bay Lightning broke an NHL record for most wins in a regular season (62) in 2018/19, only to fall at the first hurdle in the playoffs.

Since then, they have re-focussed their efforts on simply doing enough to ensure a playoff position and whether related or not have gone to the Stanley Cup Final three times in a row, winning twice.

Nobody will remember that the Hurricanes won the Metropolitan Division last season, nor any franchise records which they have set in recent regular seasons.

The goal as proven by the Lightning is to ensure you have a chance to contend, something the well-built Hurricanes should be perfectly capable of without Pacioretty.

All being well, he'll then return for the most important time of year and have the opportunity to make up for lost time with a team who are desperate to realise their promise as a Stanley Cup Champion.

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