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Canes Prep for Key Stretch

Thursday, 12.19.2013 / 2:57 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Canes Prep for Key Stretch
In the first 14 games of December, the Carolina Hurricanes played seven of eight games against Western Conference opponents.

Michael Smith
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In the latter half of the month, the Canes will play six straight intraconference games, including three against divisional opponents.

It’s not that points earned from out-of-conference match-ups are of any less importance, but Friday marks the beginning of an important stretch of games that will continue into the new year.

“You approach every game the same way, and I think you should. If you try to approach it some other way that you’re not used to, then you’re doing something you’re not used to, and usually that’s not a good thing,” forward Tuomo Ruutu said. “At the same time, it’s in the back of your mind. You just have to look at the standings to see it.”

The Hurricanes currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division with 35 points at 14-13-7. Philadelphia, the New York Rangers and New Jersey each trail the Canes by just a point, and Columbus, who comes to town on Monday, is within striking distance with 32 points.

Above the Canes sit the Washington Capitals with 39 points and the Pittsburgh Penguins in a distant first place with 51 points. Both are opponents the Canes will host in the next week, as three of their next four games are against Metropolitan Division foes.

With five days off in between the Canes’ last game in Phoenix – a rousing 3-1 victory to cap off a four-game road trip – and tomorrow night’s game against Washington, the team has been deliberate and focused in prepping for the upcoming vital stretch of games.

“I think the big focus was just keeping our focus and keeping the energy we had from the road trip,” Muller said. “I think the guys have been going hard and practicing at a high tempo. That part of it was what we wanted to keep going.”

Just how big was that win in Phoenix? It brought the Canes to 4-2-2 in the month of December, and it secured them a .500 record on the road swing.

“It was so big. Looking at our road trip, if you lose that game, it’s a bad road trip. But now it was all right. We were .500,” Ruutu said. “I think we’ve improved a lot, but we still have to find the consistency every night.”

“You want to pick up points where you can,” forward Jeff Skinner said. “It was nice to end it on that note. It was a real solid win where everyone contributed. It’s always nice when you’ve been on the road awhile to come back home with a good feeling.”

The Canes have come back healthy, as well. All previously injured players have been skating with the team at practice this week, including defensemen Brett Bellemore and Mike Komisarek and goaltender Anton Khudobin.

It was announced on Wednesday that rookie forward Elias Lindholm would be loaned to the Swedish team for the upcoming World Junior Championship. Muller said the 19-year-old forward will leave for his home country on Friday.

With the Canes heading into an important stretch healthy and upbeat, President and General Manager Jim Rutherford’s evaluation of the team just a handful of games shy of the official midway point of the season was hopeful.

“There are things that I like and things that I don’t like, but I like more things about this team than I dislike,” he said. “What I see, and I’ve really seen this right from the start, is a team that Kirk has coached as building into a team that can play through different adversities, compared to a horse race where one horse jumps out of the gate real quick and then fades.

“There are two things about this team: it’s being built to understand how to play the game in all parts of the rink, and it’s being built to come together. And I can see both of those things on a week-to-week basis that are continuing to improve,” he continued. “Every team can look back and say we could have gotten points in this game or that game, and every team is dealing with injuries; but I would say, with what we’ve dealt with and how Kirk has gradually brought this team together to gain momentum, we sit in a good spot where we are now.”

A winning record in intraconference games to round out December would likely leave the Canes sitting in an even better spot.

“It’s great that we did what we did (on the road trip), but now the big games – divisional and conference games – are important. It starts tomorrow night,” Muller said. “We’ve got to get that focus back that we had on the trip and get ready to roll.”



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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Skinner 82 28 23 -2 51
V. Rask 80 21 27 -6 48
J. Staal 82 20 28 6 48
E. Lindholm 82 11 28 -23 39
J. Faulk 64 16 21 -22 37
J. Nordstrom 71 10 14 1 24
A. Nestrasil 55 9 14 4 23
R. Nash 64 9 13 -5 22
N. Hanifin 79 4 18 -14 22
J. Slavin 63 2 18 1 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 23 17 10 .909 2.41
E. Lack 12 14 6 .901 2.81