RALEIGH (FEB. 6, 2001) -
On the heels of a friendly January schedule that kept the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh for 11 of 14 games, the Hurricanes now begin a February schedule that no team or coaching staff would welcome.
Carolina has gone 10-4-2-0 since Dec. 31 and is poised to jump into the Eastern Conference playoff position. And, with two games in hand on the Washington Capitals, the Hurricanes look to battle for the first place spot in the Southeast Division standings this month.
The only trip thus far during 2000-01 that could be considered a “West Coast swing” would be Nov. 3-4 when the Hurricanes played at Pepsi Center in Denver and San Jose Arena on back-to-back days. This week, Carolina will face a similar challenge when they face the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Sunday. Not to mention traveling to Detroit from California to face the Red Wings on Feb. 14.
Things are different for the Hurricanes these days. When the team faced the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 3 they had gone 1-4-1 in the six previous games and dropped that game, 5-3. The skid continued the following night at San Jose with a 4-1 loss and finished in Toronto on Nov. 8 with a 5-0 defeat.
This time around Carolina goes west with a bit of confidence following the most successful January in franchise history.
Despite the Hurricanes’ recent successes one cannot help but to notice that the team has struggled against Western Conference opponents -- going 3-9-2-0 this season. Carolina can drastically improve that statistic, as well as its road record, currently 9-11-3-2, in the coming weeks with five straight games against Western Conference teams.
“These are going to be four difficult games for us,” said Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley. “We’ve got to shoot for .500 and get a couple of wins out there and come back with some confidence and know that we can stay right with Washington.”
Carolina wingman Jeff O’Neill did not score a goal in the Hurricanes’ final game before the All-Star break, a 3-1 win at Atlanta, but did earn an assist to extend his points streak to four games (1/27-2/1: 6g, 2a). O’Neill finished January with 14 goals, breaking the franchise record for the most goals in a calendar month and leads Carolina in road scoring with 17 points (12g, 5a) in 25 games.
“We’ve got to improve our road record and we’ve got to win tough games going out on the West Coast,” said O’Neill. “We’ve got Phoenix who always plays well at home and Los Angeles is one of the most dynamic teams in the league. It will be a good challenge for our team. We’ll get a little team bonding on the road out west and try to get some wins.
“Guys like me and Glen Wesley, we’ve been here six years and we don’t care who scores the goals for us,” said O’Neill. “We want to get to the playoffs. We’ve been to the playoffs once since I’ve been here. For the young guys in their first year, some guys have been here longer and we want to make the playoffs. I hope they realize that and we’re going to make a push here in the next couple of months.”
NOTES: Defesnseman Sandis Ozolinsh represented the Hurricanes at the NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 4 in Denver earned an assist for the World Team… Linemates Rod Brind’Amour (1/18-2/1: 2g, 10a) and Martin Gelinas (1/18-2/1: 4g, 7a) are riding team-season-high eight-game point streaks… Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy earned the second ever assist by a goaltender in an All-Star game on Feb. 4. The only other All-Star goaltender to earn an assist is Carolina’s Arturs Irbe who helped on a goal in the 1999 All-Star Game.