As the calendar year ended, the Carolina Hurricanes were a game shy of the official midway point of the season.
After another month of erratic results in December, leaving the Canes sitting a game below hockey .500 at 15-16-9 (39 points), the team’s New Year’s resolution is to find consistency in their game.
“We found a level that we can play to. We found the game plan that works for us,” forward Manny Malhotra said. “It’s a matter of bringing that intensity and executing that game plan on a nightly basis.”
The Hurricanes began the month of December earning points in six of their first eight games, including stringing together a three-game winning streak in the first week.
Whether it correlates or not, it’s interesting to note what has happened to the Canes following their two longest breaks in between games this season. After a four-day gap in between games in October, the Canes lost five straight games. After a five-day gap in between games in December, the Canes were winless in five straight games. In both cases, the Hurricanes had three-game point streaks prior to the gaps in their schedule.
|DATE ||OPPONENT ||RESULT |
|DEC. 1 ||vs. VANCOUVER ||3-2 L |
|DEC. 3 ||at WASHINGTON ||4-1 W |
|DEC. 5 ||at NASHVILLE ||5-2 W |
|DEC. 6 ||vs. SAN JOSE ||5-3 W |
|DEC. 9 ||at VANCOUVER ||2-0 L |
|DEC. 10 ||at EDMONTON ||5-4 OTL |
|DEC. 12 ||at CALGARY ||2-1 OTL |
|DEC. 14 ||at PHOENIX ||3-1 W |
|DEC. 20 ||vs. WASHINGTON ||4-2 L |
|DEC. 21 ||at TAMPA BAY ||3-2 OTL |
|DEC. 23 ||vs. COLUMBUS ||4-3 L |
|DEC. 27 ||vs. PITTSBURGH ||4-3 OTL |
|DEC. 29 ||at TORONTO ||5-2 L |
|DEC. 31 ||vs. MONTREAL ||5-4 W (OT) |
“It’s strictly consistency. We’ve played some good hockey. We’ve played a lot of good 45-minute games,” Malhotra said. “But to be successful on a nightly basis in this league, you cannot play anything but a 60-minute effort. You’re going to get away with it at the odd time. To get on some good rolls, you have to bring that 60-minute mentality, and that’s going to be our focus.”
Ringing in the New Year
What better what to cap off 2013 than how the Hurricanes did?
It wasn’t only that it was a three-goal, third-period comeback – it was the timing of the victory. Winless in five straight, the Canes were rolling downhill toward 2014; despite the fact the team felt it was playing good hockey, the bottom line was that the results weren’t there.
The slide continued on New Year’s Eve, as the Canes trailed Montreal 3-0 after two periods. The team played tight in the first period, and though the second period was much better, the Canes still couldn’t solve the brick wall that was Carey Price, and their power play remained a sore spot.
The team talked it over in the second intermission.
“It’s a tribute to our players and the leaders, but at the end of the second we just said, ‘Hey guys, there are two things we can do. We can just play this out, or we can just go for it. This could be the period that turns the season around or we just finish the way it is,’” head coach Kirk Muller recounted after the game. “They stayed with it, played hard and found a way to win a hockey game.”
“I think that separates a lot of teams – that ability to stay the course,” Malhotra said. “There was a decision to be made. It was either jettison the whole thing and see what happens playing an individual game or believe in each other, believe that guys are going to do their job and it will pay off. We stuck with that mentality.”
The comeback was on just 1:38 into the third period when Jeff Skinner scored his first of two power play goals. The Canes kept rolling through the 8:16 mark, when Malhotra found the back of the net to make the score 4-3. Carolina bent but didn’t break when Montreal tied the game with a power-play tally of their own, and overtime set the stage for a dramatic, fitting end.
Alexander Semin raised his arms and looked upward as he scored the game-winning goal in the extra period.
2013 was over, and so was the winless streak. Now, the Canes have to turn their momentous victory into something more.
“[Tuesday’s] win doesn’t mean anything if we don’t follow it up,” Skinner said. “You can’t dwell on it, just like we wouldn’t dwell on it if it had gone the other way and we lost. We’d bounce back and try to win the next game. That’s the mindset going into [Washington].”
Skinner Unstoppable, The Captain Consistently Producing
With the way December unfolded statistically for Skinner, it’s a shame to see the month come to an end. The 21-year-old, now in his fourth NHL season, scored 12 goals in December (his most prolific month of his career), tied with Chicago’s Patrick Sharp for the most in the league. Skinner led the team with 16 points (12g, 4a) in 14 December games, four of which were multi-goal efforts and five of which were multi-point games.
Overall, Skinner leads the Hurricanes in goals (16) and power-play goals (7). He ranks second on the team in points (27) and has already eclipsed his total of 13 goals in 42 games from last season.
“It started with the line of me, Ruuty and Staalsy. We were clicking pretty well, and I was on the right end of some of the plays we were making,” a humble Skinner said. “But any time you have individual success, it stems from team success. When the team’s going well, individuals are going to have success. I was benefiting off those two guys.”
And it wasn’t just that Skinner was scoring goals with regularity; it’s that he was scoring big goals when the team needed it most.
His two-goal outing in Washington on Dec. 3 included what would be the game-winning tally. His hat-trick in Nashville two nights later lifted the Canes past the Predators 5-2. His third-period tallies in Edmonton and Calgary a week later forced overtime, and he scored the game-winning goal in Phoenix on Dec. 14. Fast forward to New Year’s Eve when his two power play goals electrified the Canes and PNC Arena as the comeback began.
“He’s a money player,” Muller said. “It’s great to see. We’ve had a lot of tight games, and he’s coming up with the big goals. When you have your top players step up at the right time, that’s a great thing to see.”
Eric Staal has somewhat quietly been consistently racking up points. He leads the Canes in points (33) and assists (23) and he ranked second in team scoring in December with 15 points (4g, 11a). He posted his third three-point game of the season on Tuesday against Montreal (1g, 2a), and he has recorded 24 points (7g, 17a) in his last 22 games.
Goaltending and Roster Decisions
The Hurricanes’ goaltending saga continues to get more interesting with each passing week.
At one point, the Canes were down both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin. Then Ward came back, and Justin Peters played as well as he ever has at the NHL level. Then, Khudobin was nearing a return and there was a question of what to do with three healthy goaltenders.
At the end of December, Khudobin completed a two-game conditioning stint with the Charlotte Checkers, starting both games and stopping 77 of 83 shots faced. He was named the first star in his second start, a 3-2 Charlotte victory in which he made 41 saves.
Now, Ward has suffered another, unrelated lower-body injury, perhaps again delaying any goaltending transaction decision by at least a week.
In other roster news, though it ultimately occurred on New Year’s Day, the wheels were already turning in December on a trade that would send defenseman Tim Gleason to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman John-Michael Liles and defensive prospect Dennis Robertson. When Jay Harrison returns from his concussion – barring any other injuries – the Canes will once again have eight healthy defensemen, a scenario with which President and General Manager Jim Rutherford has said he has no problems.
Looking Ahead to January
The Hurricanes will play 15 games over 31 days in January, eight of which are at home.
Five of the team’s 20 back-to-back sets will take place in January, the most of any month. Included in these five is one of the team’s two back-to-back home games when the Canes host Florida on Jan. 18 and Tampa Bay the next day.
In terms of where the team currently sits in the standings – sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and five points out of a playoff spot – January could prove to be crucial in determining the team’s fate down the stretch.
“For the most part, we felt like we were playing pretty solid and just not getting results, but at the same time, that’s what this is all about – getting results. The slide we went through isn’t good enough, and it’s not acceptable,” Skinner said. “But the best thing we can do now is learn from that, try to build off the win [Tuesday] night and take it into January.”
|LEADING SCORERS |
|DECEMBER || || || || ||OVERALL |
|PLAYER ||GP ||G ||A ||PTS ||+/- || || || || ||PLAYER ||GP ||G ||A ||PTS ||+/- |
|JEFF SKINNER ||14 ||12 ||4 ||16 ||-10 || || || || ||ERIC STAAL ||40 ||10 ||23 ||33 ||-16 |
|ERIC STAAL ||14 ||4 ||11 ||15 ||-5 || || || || ||JEFF SKINNER ||29 ||16 ||11 ||27 ||-7 |
|JORDAN STAAL ||14 ||4 ||6 ||10 ||2 || || || || ||ANDREJ SEKERA ||38 ||7 ||16 ||23 ||-2 |
|ANDREJ SEKERA ||13 ||2 ||8 ||10 ||1 || || || || ||NATHAN GERBE ||40 ||9 ||10 ||19 ||-1 |
|NATHAN GERBE ||14 ||4 ||5 ||9 ||2 || || || || ||JORDAN STAAL ||40 ||8 ||11 ||19 ||3 |
5-5-4, 14 pointsOverall record:
15-16-9, 39 points, 6th in Metropolitan Division (For full standings, click here