After recording 11 points in their first 10 games, the Carolina Hurricanes are who we thought they were. Their 90-point pace puts them squarely on the playoff bubble, though their opponents thus far have included 8 playoff teams from a year ago and 4 of the last 5 Stanley Cup champions.
It’s a pace that’s going to have to increase if the ‘Canes want to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-2009. The Metropolitian Division is off to a slow start, but this is not another shortened season — there remains plenty of time to catch up.
In a year where the Hurricanes’ top line has had a shaky debut, it’s been Skinner that has carried the load. His 9 points lead the team, and he’s doing it in only 12:26 per game at even strength — seventh among Carolina forwards.
Perhaps most impressive has been his maturation defensively. Once considered a liability, Skinner has quietly put together a solid season. He’s not going to be a shutdown center any time soon, especially with Jordan Staal still on the team, but he’s earning the trust of Kirk Muller to be used in crucial, end-of-game situations.
However, any thoughts of a bump in the lines should be stymied. While Skinner has played and performed well, it’s been against easier competition. But if it’s working, why change it?
The Bad: Slow Starts Still a Concern
In 7 of their 10 games, the Hurricanes gave up the first goal. Though they’ve come back from multiple two-goal deficits in the third, continually playing from behind is a not a recipe for success. The 2005-06 team did it with regularity, posting the 6th best win percentage when trailing after two, but this is a different era. Wide open hockey isn’t the norm anymore.
Muller has repeatedly talked about “not respecting” their opponents, and yet his team still comes out tentative, often getting visibly outplayed after one. Arguably, they haven’t even put together a 60-minute effort where they’ve imposed their will from start to finish. The Hurricanes need a statement game.
The Ugly: Cam Ward Has Been Very Good…When Healthy
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: just when Ward has gotten into a bit of a groove, he suffers an injury that will sideline him for nearly a month. It happened last year and it’s been the case more than a few times in his career.
Aside from one game where he came off the bench while cold, Ward has had an overall solid season. Though it took him several tries to earn his first win, it’s not for lack of numbers. In four of his six starts, he’s faced over 35 shots, posting a .926% in those games while only going 0-1-3.
When Ward gets back, he’ll have to post similar numbers to get the attention of Team Canada. The competition for the three goaltending spots appears to be wide open, but his injury has further put him at a disadvantage.
With Anton Khudobin also on injured reserve, the ‘Canes will have to rely on the tandem of Justin Peters and Michael Murphy — Charlotte’s goaltending duo — to get through the next stretch of games.
There’s no guarantee that either Khudobin or Ward will play at the same level when they return, and may even need several practices before getting into game shape. Both Peters and Murphy have a lot to play for, but both haven’t exactly been impressive lately, and neither has ever been on Ward’s level.