The sun is shining a little brighter in Raleigh this week as the Hurricanes put an end to their five-game losing streak and have now earned points in three consecutive games. They are still struggling to score goal and are far from being in top form, but they are at least banking points now and that is never a bad thing. Despite the losing streak, the Hurricanes are still in decent shape compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference and should continue to do so if they can keep their heads above water, which they have done with this brief point streak.
Prior to Tuesday night's game against the Flyers, I said that this past week was the Hurricanes best chance to "right the ship" because they were going up against some weak teams in the Flyers and the Islanders. Neither of those games were pretty, but the Canes managed to win both of those games and earned a point in Saturday night's shootout loss against the Wild. With Colorado, Anaheim and St. Louis waiting for them next week, the Canes did a good job of taking advantage of this part of the schedule and not letting their season fall apart early. It might be silly to speculate that in November but historically, this team has struggled in November and they usually get knocked out of contention early because of it. There is still a lot of hockey left to be played in this month, but the Canes five points in three games this past week is a nice start.
That said, there are still some concerns, the biggest of which being the offense. Carolina is averaging less than two goals per game and scored only five total goals in their last three games. They were able to earn points in them thanks to some strong defensive play and Justin Peters having three solid outings, but the offense is going to have to start producing eventually.
Every team goes through dry spells like this and I do not expect Carolina to shoot at 6.2% for the entire season but without Jeff Skinner, there is a lack of goal-scoring talent in the lineup and it has been noticeable these last couple of weeks. Skinner's goal-scoring numbers might be trending in the wrong direction but his ability to create scoring chances can not be understated because the Hurricanes have continued to struggle in that department.
Defensively, this was the Hurricanes best week of the season. They weren't impressive in terms of possession but they were allowing fewer than 10 five-on-five chances per game and making Justin Peters' job relatively easy. Some of this was the result of good fortune and their opponents not creating much offense (especially the Islanders), but I still think the Hurricanes defense and play away from the puck has improved quite a bit from what it was last season. That isn't saying much because they were a tire fire last year, but it's still an improvement nonetheless. However, the downside to this is that they aren't creating much offense either. They are averaging only 10 five-on-five chances per game and that's simply not going to get the job done even if you are playing well in your own end.
The fact that Carolina was outshot this past week is also a little concerning even if it wasn't by much because it means they are spending more time in their own end and probably won't be as fortunate as they were this past week if their territorial play doesn't improve. This was a positive possession team last year but Skinner being out of the lineup does hurt them quite a bit. Pitkanen's absence is also noticeable on the team's zone exits.
Individual Performances (Five-on-Five)
- We are seeing Muller take a new approach with the forwards now as Manny Malhotra's line is taking virtually all of the defensive zone faceoffs at even strength. The team was using Jordan Staal in this role for most of the year, but adding Malhotra gives them another good faceoff guy and someone who can free up Jordan to more offensive minutes. Jordan seems to be enjoying this, as he is winning the territorial battle by a wide margin and it should result in him producing some more points soon.
- Alexander Semin is also enjoying having Malhotra in the lineup, as he is getting Sedin-like assignments now and destroying them on the shot clock. He isn't scoring but he was responsible for about 1/3 of Carolina's five-on-five offense this past week and is shooting the puck a lot more than usual. Semin is taking a lot of grief from some fans & columnists, but he has been Carolina's best forward this year and should start to see some results soon. He simply creates too much offense to stay where he is at right now.
- Another player who is due for some better luck is Patrick Dwyer, who is also playing softer minutes thanks to Malhotra. Dwyer has never been a great finisher and I don't expect him to net more than 10 goals in a season, but he has been creating a lot of chances while playing with Jordan Staal and should begin to get on the scoresheet if he keeps it up. If he stays on that line, that is. I wouldn't be against moving him to the Malhotra line since he is better suited for that role but the Canes forward depth won't allow that right now.
- The third line needs to be better and I don't know what else to say about them. They're getting pillow soft minutes and are still fighting to keep their heads above water for some reason. Tuomo Ruutu played a solid game against Philadelphia but he, along with his linemates, were underwhelming in the two following games and this has been the case for most of the year. This is a line that should be able to produce some secondary scoring with the minutes they are getting but they haven't done much of anything since Skinner's injury.
- Eric Staal came out on the losing end of the possession battle despite the zone start boost and performed worse than his linemates. Granted, he played "tougher" minutes than them but the disparity between him, Semin & Tlusty is a little concerning.
- Tracking the progress of Sekera & Faulk can be maddening at times because there are some nights where they look like a legit first pairing and other nights where they get destroyed. This past week was more of the former, as they shut down the likes of Claude Giroux, John Tavares & Zach Parise at even strength. Sekera is also showing a lot of progress as the "puck-mover" of this pairing and has been very active in both the neutral & offensive zone. He doesn't completely fill the void that Pitkanen left, but he ooes a lot of similar things and slightly mitigates the loss of him. We know how good this duo can be but we just don't get to see it every night.
- Ron Hainsey continues to be very solid for the Canes, picking up two primary assists this past week and being on the ice for only six five-on-five scoring chances. Getting him late in the off-season is proving to be a very good move.
- As inconsistent as the top pairing is, the third pairing of Ryan Murphy & Jay Harrison is just as frustrating to watch and it's probably worse for them because they play easier minutes. Murphy redeemed himself a little with his goal against Minnesota but these two were still destroyed at even strength and were on the ice for almost half of the opposing team's scoring chances. They are still capable of producing a lot of offense and have played well for stretches but their overall results have been pretty extreme....and not in a good way.