As far as schedule difficulty is concerned, this will be one of the more challenging weeks for the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2013-14 season.
The Canes will host Colorado on Tuesday before playing a back-to-back set with Anaheim at home and St. Louis on the road, three Western Conference teams that each have no more than three regulation losses in at least 15 games.
With that said, the Hurricanes have collected points in three straight and are in the midst of a stretch in which they feel confident about their game – and that’s what they’re concerned about at this point.
“We’ve built a lot on these last few games. We’ve done a lot of good things as a team with some really solid team play. I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Jordan Staal said. “We’ve gotten results, as well.”
“We’ve picked up five of the last six (points), so I think we have to feel good about a lot of things,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’ve been sound defensively.”
After surrendering 18 goals during their five-game losing streak, four of which were to Tuesday’s opponent in Colorado, the Canes have allowed just three regulation goals in their last three games.
“I think our defense is playing well,” Muller said. “When you’re only giving up a couple goals or a goal a game, it’s a tribute to everybody, but the D has done a really good job of boxing out in front of the net.”
The skills competition aside, Justin Peters has stopped 77 of his last 80 shots faced (.963 save percentage).
“He’s done his part to help us win, and that’s all we can ask out of him,” Justin Faulk said. “We have confidence in him. The majority of us have played with him before, whether it’s up here or in Charlotte, and we know what kind of goalie and what kind of player he can be.”
“He’s worked hard,” Muller said. “His performance in the last three games has been very strong, and he’s played very well.”
Against teams that don’t relent much defensively, the Canes know they will need to be opportunistic, capitalizing on chances when they present themselves and preventing as many second and third rebound opportunities as possible.
“These last few games we’ve built up to that. This year has been a test for our team defensively, and we’ve come through with some big games and tight matches,” Staal said. “It always shows a lot of character and leadership when you can win those 1-0 games and stick with the program for 60 minutes.”
“It’s good when you’ve been in those situations and come out on the right side of it,” Faulk said. “It’s all a process figuring out who we are as a team and what we can do as a team, so when you can do that early in the season, it’s a good building block for this team.”
This upcoming weeklong stretch will be a good measuring stick for the Canes’ team game. Colorado is 6-0-0 on the road, Anaheim is 7-3-1 on the road and St. Louis is 7-1-1 at home.
The Canes are taking it just one game at a time.
“There are a lot of teams with the new schedule that you don’t see as often,” Staal said. “You can’t really scout them as much or worry about their game as much as you have to worry about your own and play the way you can.”
“Shots on net and lots of traffic,” Faulk said when asked what it will take to earn victories this week. “At the same time, they’re playing a tight defensive game, so they’re not giving up much. We know we have to play a tight defensive game. We’ve done that the last few games, I think.”
“Really, our whole focus is on Colorado right now,” Muller said. “We’ve got a quick team coming in that plays a high-tempo game, and we’ve got to be ready to skate tomorrow night.”
And as much as the Canes like what they’ve done on the ice in the past week, they’re still admittedly short of their ceiling. Taking their game to the next level can begin this week when they face three of the NHL’s hottest teams.
“We all know there’s still more to be done, and we’re excited that we have more,” Staal said.
“We like where we’re at and where we can still get to,” Faulk said. “There’s another level in our game we know we can get to, so we like the process we’ve been going through to get there.”