The Carolina Hurricanes started off the season stronger than anyone expected, taking control of the Southeast Division for a long period of time.
Alex Semin was having a comeback season creating one of the top lines in the Eastern Conference with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty. The acquisition of Jordan Staal looked brilliant as he created secondary scoring with line mate Jeff Skinner. Cam Ward was also playing well in goal earning wins to cement the Hurricanes as playoff favorites.
But in the past month, the tracks have fallen off for the Hurricanes, who currently sit at 13th in the Eastern Conference and have been taken over by both the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals in the Southeast.
The ‘Canes have four games this week against the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins(2). Depending on how Carolina performs in the coming week, the team could be handily out of the playoffs or look like playoff contenders again.
What’s Gone Wrong
Injuries have decimated the Hurricanes, most notably on the blue line and in goal. Currently Joni Pitkanen, Justin Faulk and Cam Ward are all injured. Faulk could make a return this week, while Pitkanen is done for the rest of the season. Ward could be back closer to the end of the season.
Since Ward’s injury the team has had a tough time earning wins with Dan Ellis and Justin Peters sharing the workload in the net. Pitkanen and Faulk’s offensive presence has been missed, but GM Jim Rutherford made an effort to replace Faulk with Marc-Andre Bergeron. Pitkanen was injured in Bergeron’s first game.
Semin also missed Saturday’s game against the Rangers. His injury was listed as an upper-body injury and further detail was not given. Semin should make a return in Monday’s game as long as the injury is not serious.
Even with the Hurricanes’ loss of their star goalie, their main problem has been a lack of offense. In the 17 games without Ward, the team has scored three goals or more six times in that span.
Skinner has been the biggest culprit for the fading offense, who is going through a major slump. Skinner has not scored in the past eight games and has no assists in that span. Tlusty has also fallen off a bit since his hot start to the season. The Czech-native had a hat trick in a loss against the Capitals, but those were his only points in the last five games.
The Hurricanes have not had a strong power-play this whole season, even when the team was playing well at the beginning of the season.Carolina has problems getting the puck on net on the man advantage and Bergeron was brought in to help in that regard. The move paid off in his first game when Bergeron recorded an assist on the power-play.
Why These Games Are So Important
The Hurricanes have a total of eight possible points in the coming week. The team plays the Rangers once, who has experienced a rough season despite being named Stanley Cup contenders before the season. Stealing two points from the Blue Shirts could come in handy down the stretch drive.
While the Penguins and Bruins are solidly positioned near the top of the Eastern Conference, beating the two teams could do a lot for the Hurricanes’ confidence. Realistically, the Hurricanes should not win those three games given how the team is playing, but gaining six to eight points in those games will do a lot in the standings.
How To Turn It Around
The first thing the Hurricanes have to do is just score. It is nearly impossible for them to win close one-goal games without Ward in net. The scoring can come a few different ways, either through the power-play or Skinner breaking out of his slump. It would also be helpful if a few of the younger players could help on the scoring front, such as Pat Dwyer, who has six goals this season.
The team has also shot over 45 shots in its last two games. The forwards are getting chances, now they just have to bear down and finish them.
If Faulk can return earlier in the week, rather than later, it could really help the Hurricanes. Faulk will help improve the transition game making cleaner passes than Jay Harrison or Bobby Sanguinetti can from the defensive zone.
Ellis and Peters have typically played strong in their games this year, but have not received scoring support. The duo does not have to get shut outs every game, but they can also not afford to have a weak effort in the four games this week.
Confidence will also go far for this team. In the early going the team was winning games, scoring goals and playing strong defense causing the team to be more reassured with their skill. The same team is still on the ice, but stringing two wins in a row may do enough for the team to gain the confidence to make a strong playoff push.