It’s time to visit the main storylines for the Carolina Hurricanes as we’ve reached the halfway point of the regular season.
With just 29 points in 41 games, the Canes are well behind the pace of 47 points at this same juncture last year. But remember, Carolina has yet to string together more than two wins and are starting to play better, going 6-6-2 since losing five in a row.
We should know by the Olympic break if Carolina has closed the gap and gotten back into the playoff chase or whether GM Jim Rutherford will be sharpening his trading pencil.
- Injuries: Sure, every NHL team has to deal with injuries, but Carolina’s major losses have been to significant players such as Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo. Now, add Erik Cole and Chad LaRose to the list, each who have missed the last 11 games. The Canes are on pace to lose 300 man-games. Last season, the Canes had 13 players play at least 70 games, while Ward played 68 in net.
- Scoring: With just 99 goals, the Canes are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league. No players have scored more than 11 goals and Carolina’s power play has hovered around the bottom third of the NHL all season. In 41 games, the Hurricanes have scored two goals or less 25 times. The worst drought came from Oct. 24-Nov. 11 when the club tallied just 12 goals in eight games – all losses.
- Brandon Sutter: Because of injuries and poor production from some other players, the 20-year-old center was recalled from the minors. Sutter has been given key minutes, showing a nice scoring touch and power-play potential with 10 goals in 32 games. A player who almost made the team out of camp, he’s now a solid and defensively reliable NHL player.
- Defense: With a host of injuries and several newcomers, this group has yet to form a cohesive unit, allowing 142 goals, tied for 28th in the league. In addition, the scoring punch from the blue line has disappeared after the club got 45 goals from its defensemen last season. The total stands at 13 halfway through this year, a significant drop-off for a team struggling for offense.
- The Captain: Rod Brind’Amour is in the midst of the worst scoring slump of his 21-year NHL career, having been relegated to the fourth line. The captain has now gone 35 games without a goal and has just one assist in the last 23. Brind’Amour’s lack of ice time has also hurt the Canes when it comes to puck possession. Brindy led the NHL in face-off percentage last season at 61 percent, and while he’s still sixth in the league at 58.5 percent, he’s taking just a handful of draws each game.
- Road Woes: Normally a good road team, the Canes hit the skids this season with just three wins away from the RBC Center. Two of the victories have come against defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh and Southeast Division leader Washington, so the potential is there. Carolina was 19-16-6 on the road last season. The Canes have won at least 14 road games each of the last 11 seasons except for 2002-03 when the team won 10.
- Staal, Ward recoveries: Each player missed significant time, but have responded upon returning to the lineup. Staal has 22 points in 18 games since missing 10 straight with an injury to his mid-section, while Ward has a 2.29 goals against average in his last seven starts since being sidelined for 13 games with a leg laceration.
- Olympic gold: The Canes will be well represented in Vancouver in February with Staal making the Canadian team, while Tuomo Ruutu and Pitkanen will be playing for Team Finland. Tim Gleason, Jussi Jokinen and Ward were also under consideration and should be near the top of the list if their countries come calling for alternates.
- Defensive prospects: With injuries shuffling the blue line lineup, Rutherford and coach Paul Maurice have had an opportunity to look at such young defensemen as Bryan Rodney, Brett Carson and Jay Harrison. All appear to have the ability to stick with the team in the near future.
- Third period: If the Canes could just throw out the third period they would be over .500. Carolina has been outscored down the stretch 58-30 after allowing just 72 third-period goals all of last season.