Hurricanes looking sharp after poor start
FEB 05, 2013 4:36p ET
In the case of the Carolina Hurricanes, they might have been holding their breath to try to find a cure for what ailed them after their first two games.
They lost that pair of games by a combined 9-2 score and while that might have given them cause for despair, the Hurricanes now appear to have hit their stride, winning their fourth out of their last six on Monday with a 4-1 victory at Toronto.
With eight points in eight games, they currently possess the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot and in a mediocre Southeast Division, they have a shot to make their first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs since going all the way to the conference finals in 2009.
In Monday’s win, the formula was seemingly as general manager Jim Rutherford envisioned it when he made a series of big offseason moves. Jordan Staal earned his first goal as a Hurricane and big brother Eric added one himself against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Waiting so long to get his first goal as a Cane after coming over in a trade from Pittsburgh last summer produced an excited celebration from Jordan Staal while playing in his home province and the city that bills itself as the “Center of the Hockey Universe.”
“Why, wouldn’t you be?” Eric Staal said. “First one with a new team in Toronto, nonetheless. I’m excited for him.” Monday marked the first time that a pair of brothers scored a goal for the Hartford/Carolina franchise since it toiled as a member of the Adams Division back when David and Wayne Babych did it on April 5, 1986.
In addition to Jordan Staal – who has seven assists to go with his first goal, ranking him third on the team in points with eight – another of Rutherford’s big-name acquisitions also appears to be panning out.
Right wing Alexander Semin, known as one of the game’s deadliest snipers, also only has one goal like Jordan Staal. But he has five assists and his plus-7 mark is tied for second-best on the team.
Skating with Eric Staal and left wing Jiri Tlusty, the line has been one of the league’s better trios with eight goals, 10 assists and a plus-21 rating. (To compare, Buffalo’s line of Thomas Vanek, the league-leader in points, Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville has 41 points collectively but are only plus-9 and the Sabres not only have lost to the Canes twice but they have one less point and have played one more game than Carolina.)
While the compacted schedule – 48 games in 99 days – is the same for every team, not every team has taken to it in the same way. Jordan Staal seemed to say after Monday’s game that the Canes were beginning to adjust.
“I don’t know if we’re getting used to it, but I think a lot of these guys, including myself, are starting to get their legs under them and really starting to get into the routine of playing every second night,” he said. “You can see that second and third (period), we really started getting our legs going and getting our bodies into it and it showed towards the end.”
Among the kinks that the Hurricanes are working out are those on special teams. Carolina has played well at even strength with 16 goals-for to 14 against, but its special teams have ranked among the league’s worst.
Even after going 2-for-4 on Monday, the Canes still entered Tuesday ranked 20th ranked in the league at 15.0 percent. Even worse, their penalty killing has allowed 10 goals and ranks 25th, as they have killed penalties at a rate of only 73.7 percent.
“Our team, like we were saying earlier, we have seven or eight new guys and we’re trying to get the chemistry right on it,” coach Kirk Muller said of the power play. “We went back tonight with some old familiarity with guys and their positions and the guys they played with and threw Tim Brent back on the power play for the first time tonight. I think guys are familiar with each other again.”
One of the biggest reasons for the Hurricanes’ slow start – but also for Monday’s win – is goalie Cam Ward, the 2005 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. Even with a 41-save performance in which his coach and teammates credited him for holding them in the game, Ward’s save percentage remains below .900 (.895) with a garish 3.43 goals against average. Backup Dan Ellis, with wins in two of his three starts and sparkling .939 save percentage and 1.99 GAA, put Ward in the unheard of position for him of having to fight for his starts.
“He had fire in his belly and wanted to prove something to me,” Muller said. “He’s an elite player and goaltender.”
So if the Hurricanes can keep it up, they should be in good shape. With a 4-1 mark against the Northeast Division – where the franchise’s former Adams Division rivals now play – the Canes are harkening back to their roots. Meanwhile, their 0-2 record in their own division begs improvement but they have plenty of opportunity to turn that around.
With Florida and Washington – two playoff teams a season ago – off to horrendous starts and Winnipeg appearing somewhat directionless, the Hurricanes could be a clear-cut choice for second in the division behind impressive Tampa Bay.
“It was nice to get that first one,” Jordan Staal said of his goal, “and hopefully many more after that.” Surely, that’s what his general manager was thinking.
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