The ways in which October began and ended for the Carolina Hurricanes are two very different beasts.
The Canes began the 2013-14 season earning points in seven of their first nine games.
The month of October ended with a team walking wounded, having dropped three in a row.
“We were playing really good hockey. The message the last couple of days has been that we have to keep that foundation in our game,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Yes, there are some areas we have to address, but I think at the end of the day, we still have to be a confident team that is aggressive at the right time.”
“We’d like to be in a better spot than we are, but we’re still in the thick of things,” Eric Staal said. “We’ve got a good stretch of home games coming up that we want to take advantage of.”
After the first two games of the Carolina Hurricanes’ annual State Fair road trip – both of which were wins – the team sat at 4-2-3 with a firm grip on second place in the Metropolitan Division.
The team broke up its four-game road trip by coming back to Raleigh for three days of up-tempo, focused practices.
“We go into Toronto and beat the first-place team in the East and feel good about ourselves. We go into Long Island and win there,” Muller said. “Come back and have a good couple practices, and everything is pretty rosy.”
The team was playing well, and spirits were high.
How quickly perception can change.
One injury led to another, and the Canes finished October on a three-game skid.
“In my position, I have to stay away from the emotion of it,” said team President and General Manager Jim Rutherford. “I understand the emotions of how people feel game in and game out.
“One of the biggest things that everyone has to overcome this year is that it’s so fresh in every body’s mind as to how quickly the team dropped last year, so there’s a little bit of fear there whether it’s the players, the coaches, the media or the fans,” he continued. “So, of course when you lose one or two games, it’s like, this is going to happen again.”
When assessing the month, it’s hard not to view the team’s performance through the lens of the last three games, but that would be a bit disingenuous; it’s important to consider the sum of the team’s play through 12 games.
In doing so, it’s certainly a mixed bag. Yes, the team won just four of its first 12 games, which puts them a skosh under .500 in terms of point percentage. On the other hand, the Canes secured points in seven of their first nine games.
That said, the Canes are not happy with their standing through the first 12 games of the season, but the situation might not be as dire as the recent skid suggests.
“It’s not about individuals right now. It’s about the team mentality,” Muller said. “It’s an 82-game grind, and I think we were rolling along pretty good.”
“I do think there’s a foundation being built, and it’s being built gradually as I see the team gaining some momentum,” Rutherford said. “With that being said, we have to get through this situation without our number one and number two goalies. That, to me, is really going to be a key in once we get to the finish line, how many points we can come up with here through this trying time.”
Goaltending Injures … and More
But the injury situation really didn’t improve from there.
Anton Khudobin went down early with a lower-body malady. Eleven days later, Cam Ward suffered a lower-body injury and Jeff Skinner was sidelined with an upper-body injuries. The Canes have been able to patch the holes left by spotty injuries in between due to increased depth, but playing without their No. 1 and 2 goaltenders is an uphill climb.
“I take the emotion out of it and look at the overall picture,” Rutherford said. “We’ve got to get through this stretch, but it’s easier to overcome a setback of a period of time in 82 games than it is in 48 games, so I don’t see the same thing happening, and I don’t have the same fears of that happening. With that being said, we’re coming into a stretch here where we have to win some games.”
“Justin was not real happy when he went down at the start of the season,” Muller said. “We had a good chat, and he said he had a good experience last year, and he feels like he’s a better goaltending than a year ago. He worked hard all summer. These things happen, and then bang, next thing you know it falls right on his plate. He’s a confident kid, and this is his opportunity. You only get so many, and this is his chance right here.”
From a front office standpoint, Rutherford has his eye on the situation.
“We may look at making a couple of changes,” he said. “We’ll watch the goaltending and where we’re at there.”
Young Guys Step In, Step Up
The Hurricanes’ roster currently features nine players who are age 25 or younger, many of whom are already or are becoming focal points of the team, including Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm and Ryan Murphy.
The latter four were the most notable in October.
Prior to his concussion last season, Skinner opened the year with 14 points (7g, 7a) in 13 games. Through a month of play this season, he’s the team leader in points with nine (3g, 6a) through 10 games.
Additionally, he is a team-best plus-5, as he is playing the most complete game of his young career, fine-tuning his defensive game while sustaining his offensive production.
“It’s something we asked him to do in the offseason to prepare for it,” Rutherford said. “We needed to do it as a team, and he bought into it. You just look at his plus-minus and what he’s done. I give him a lot of credit.”
Faulk continues to be a stud on the blue line for the Hurricanes. He leads the team in ice time, averaging 24:17 a game, and it would be a shock not to see him represent the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics come February.
Lindholm has logged seven games in the NHL as an 18-year-old. The team’s fifth overall draft choice potted his first career goal in Washington on Oct. 10 as a shot from atop the circles deflected off a defender’s stick and in. But they all count. He recorded his first career assist on Oct. 28, feeding Nathan Gerbe tape-to-tape in the slot for the five-on-three goal.
“Even with him not being healthy yet, people can see that this is going to be a special player,” Rutherford said.
Opportunity abound with Pitkanen out for the season, Murphy has risen to the challenge. The 20-year-old ranks fourth in the NHL among rookie defensemen with five points (1g, 4a) and eighth in the NHL among all rookies in average ice time with 18:40.
“We’ve got a good balance of some younger players but also some veterans and guys that have been around the league for a long time and played a lot of games,” Staal said. “You want to use both of those things to your advantage – the experience and also the youth.”
A Home-Heavy November
November marks the Hurricanes’ most home-heavy month of the 2013-14 season, as they’ll play nine of their 14 games at PNC Arena. The month begins with a stretch of six of the Canes’ first seven games at home, which includes a season-long five-game homestand from Nov. 5 through Nov. 15.
“It’s a great opportunity to be at home and change this thing around,” Muller said.
“At home you want to have a good start,” Staal said. “You want to be aggressive in the right way and go after the first goal.”
Six of the team’s nine home games will be against conference opponents, with two of the six being against divisional foes. Minnesota, Colorado and Anaheim – in that order – will visit Raleigh at the tail end of the Canes’ five-game homestand.
In October, the Canes posted a meager 1-2-3 record at home, but as Rutherford mentioned, the foundation is there, and now it’s about execution.
“We can’t go and win one out of our next six at home and think we’ll have a chance at the end. We have to win some home games here,” Rutherford said. “We’re a good enough team that we can win on the road, which is a good thing.
“Points are points, whether you get one point on opening night or you need one point in game 82, they all count.”
|Back to top ↑|