For the Carolina Hurricanes, the 2012-13 season was frustrating, maddeningly so at times, and April provided more of the same vexation, as the team struggled to find results despite putting forth largely consistent efforts.
Despite missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season, looking forward, the team is poised to be successful in the long run.
“When you look at it deeper than [the results], I think you can only take away positives,” defenseman Jay Harrison said. “But ultimately, when reflecting on what happened this year, it was a team-wide lapse in a few games over a few weeks. With a shortened schedule, it just adds up far too quickly.”
Fighting Until the End
Though the Hurricanes entered April having won just one of their previous eight games, they were still very much a part of the playoff picture. The team was just a point out of the eighth and final playoff spot and four points out of the Southeast Division lead with games in hand.
The team went on to drop seven straight games and plummeted in the standings.
“There are a lot of different ways you can look at it,” Harrison said. “Ultimately, the simplest explanation is that we just didn’t play well enough over a stretch when we had to, and we didn’t limit the losses when we needed to.”
The Canes could have just as easily checked out for the final weeks of the season, but they scratched and clawed their way to eight points in their final eight games, including a brief two-game winning streak and three-game point streak in the final week.
“I really can’t tell you why,” said defenseman Justin Faulk when asked about the team’s slide. “You definitely can’t say guys didn’t show up or guys didn’t want it.”
During the torrid stretch the team had through February and early March, in which they posted a 13-6-1 record, the Canes showed they could match up with virtually any team in the Eastern Conference. Though the results didn’t continue in the latter half of March and through April, the effort remained.
“We had a lot of great efforts, especially in that skid,” Harrison said. “I don’t think our record through March and April was really indicative or reflective of our effort and the kind of hockey we were playing. But at the end of the day, it was not enough to get the results required.”
If a healthy team can carry that through 82 games next season – which will be preceded by head coach Kirk Muller’s first actual training camp – there’s reason to believe there will be competitive hockey played in Raleigh well into the months beyond April.
Top Line Production
Seemingly as consistent as the injuries that befell this team was the production from the Hurricanes’ top line of Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin, which proved to be one of the most productive and dominant in the league.
The trio combined for 135 points (54g, 81a) and was a collective plus-34. Staal led the team in points (53) and assists (35). Tlusty ranked first on the team and tied for fifth in the NHL in goals (23), and he also paced the team in plus/minus (plus-15). The line potted eight game-winning goals and six empty-net tallies (including four for Tlusty, which ranks tied for first in the NHL).
Tlusty ranked tied for first on the team in April scoring with nine goals and six assists (15 points) in 15 games. Staal also posted 15 points in April, 13 of which were assists.
Each of the first line threesome also ended the season riding streaks. Tlusty strung together an eight-game point streak (6g, 5a), Staal posted a five-game point streak (1g, 6a) and a four-game assist streak and Semin, prior to missing the last two games with a concussion, was riding a four-game point streak (3g, 3a).
“Our line was effective most nights,” Staal said.
“They are good guys. I like playing with them,” Semin said, noting the chemistry between the three was instant. “We really understand each other.”
The first line trio amassed over 40 percent of the collective team point total (of the players that logged games with the Canes and remain in the organization) this season. This serves to highlight just how dominant the first line could be but also highlights the depth scoring weakness of the team this season.
Regardless, the team moves forward with one of the most dangerous top lines in the NHL, something that couldn’t be said a year ago. It was a trio that was consistently productive throughout the season, even in a month like April when the team was struggling to find wins.
“We’re trying to build something that’s going to be consistent and be in the playoffs every single year,” Staal said. “I feel like we’ve got pieces and parts there to do that.”
Heading into last summer, there was an air of optimism, even before the acquisitions of Jordan Staal and Semin infused that optimism with sheer excitement.
The approaching summer this year holds frustration and a bit of disappointment, but assessing the situation with a wider lens reveals that the team is in a better position now than it was a year prior.
An aggressive offseason push in 2012 assembled a strong core of players, and their contributions, both individually and to the team, have proved beneficial. This year, the team will not be setting out with the goal of finding a top-flight forward, but rather, the Canes will look to fill in the edges with depth players who can contribute offensively and a grittier, perhaps more sizable defense.
Asked if he thought the team was in a better position this year than last, Eric Staal replied with a simple and confident, “yes.”
“There are some good pieces here that can compete with anybody,” he said. “It’s just about continuing to tweak and add and being ready to go.”
Though the Canes ranked in the top half of the league in average goals-for (2.65), they ranked 29th overall in average goals-against (3.31). The team’s goal differential of minus-32 is certainly an area needed improvement; just one playoff team this season finished with a negative goal differential (Minnesota with a minus-5).
The Canes also need to see marked improvement in special teams next season; the team ranked 27th on the power play (14.6 percent) and 28th on the penalty kill (77.6 percent), falling well short of the 100-percent combined benchmark of special teams success.
By comparison, Washington held the league’s top-ranked power play at 26.8 percent. Even with the 27th-ranked penalty kill (77.9 percent), their special teams percentage totaled 104.7, as they won their seventh and final Southeast Division crown. Ottawa, the team’s top-ranked penalty killing team at 88 percent, logged a below-average power play (15.9). Their special teams percentage totaled 103.9, as they enter the playoffs as a seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Summer Ahead
Another long summer awaits the Hurricanes, and, as with every summer will come changes.
For some, the competitive hockey experience continues with the World Championship. It’s not the playoffs, but donning a sweater with your home nation’s crest on the front is a source of pride.
For others, the offseason begins. After some time off away from the rink, many will get back to work in their respective hometowns, training for next season, perhaps an easier mental feat this summer as compared to the uncertainty surrounding last summer.
Jim Rutherford and head coach Kirk Muller will address the media later in the week, and then the book on the 2012-13 season will be officially closed.
Should the Canes add the pieces around the edge they need to make the team tougher to play against, the 2013-14 campaign promises to be an exhilarating ride in a new eight-team division that will deliver a heightened competitive level.
“It’s a big summer for a lot of guys here who are looking to prove something and establish themselves,” Staal said. “I’m excited about training and coming back in great shape now that we know for the sure the season is going to start in the fall. I think that helps everybody. There’s a date to be ready, and I think you’ve got to be excited about that.”
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