Timing is everything.
Luckily for the Carolina Hurricanes, time is still on their side. Despite earning just three points (1-8-1) in their last 10 games, the Hurricanes still have their eyes on first place in the Southeast Division.
Trailing the first-place Winnipeg Jets by just four points and having three games in hand, a multi-game winning streak would favor the Canes’ standing.
Indeed, timing is everything.
“You can see from the skate this morning and the energy, the guys are still engaged,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Let’s be honest … we’re outplaying teams and coming up with no points.”
To tally in the win column for the first time in April, the Hurricanes will need to couple the effort that has been present in three of their last four games with a worthy performance between the pipes from goaltender Dan Ellis, who will start his second straight game tonight.
In fact, that is likely the key component if the team wishes to assemble a timely streak for a final playoff push.
“We’d like one of them to grab it,” Muller said of the No. 1 goaltending job. “One of them has to get in there, and for us to get on a roll, we need one to take the reins and run with it.”
“We have to win a couple of games to get some confidence,” said President and General Manager Jim Rutherford in a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “We have to get on a little bit of a roll with one goalie who can come in and really get on a confidence run. If we do that, [the playoffs are] not out of reach.”
Ellis, who played in 31 games with Tampa Bay in 2010-11 and posted a 13-7-6 record, was pulled in the second period on Tuesday after making just four saves on seven shots against Washington. The 32-year-old goaltender is 0-2-1 in his career against the Bolts, one of those losses coming on Feb. 23 in a 5-2 defeat at home.
After missing two games with a lower-body injury, forward Tuomo Ruutu will draw back into the lineup tonight. Ruutu left Saturday’s game in Winnipeg in the first period and did not return.
Having already seen the tangible benefit of having Ruutu in the lineup – the Vantaa, Finland, native has tallied three assists, including two in Winnipeg, in four games – his presence also brings intangibles that could help the team get back to its winning ways.
“He gives some energy and competitive level, but it also gives us a chance to be flexible in putting Patty Dwyer, who is reliable, with a guy like Nash to balance it out on that third line,” Muller said. “You’re adding a top-six forward. His energy and the way he plays opens things up for Jordan and Skins, but it also helps [balance out] lines.”
In a few other roster notes, forward Alexander Semin did not skate this morning but will be in the lineup tonight. Defenseman Justin Faulk, who has missed the last six games with a knee injury, skated with the team this morning but isn’t quite ready to re-enter the lineup.
“He’s in the right direction and moving along good,” Muller said, noting there was no time frame for his return.
With both Faulk and Joni Pitkanen (10-12 weeks, broken heel bone) out of the lineup, the Hurricanes will be missing the two players who rank first and second, respectively, in average ice time per game; Faulk and Pitkanen combine for over 55 minutes of average ice time.
“We’re going to need a little balance of the ice time, but on the same token, we’ve got a couple of veteran guys that, if they’re on their game and playing well … they’ll probably eat up more minutes that particular night,” Muller said. “In the perfect world, all six are going and we can kind of balance it out tonight.”
Timing is everything, and, with exactly three weeks and two days remaining in the Hurricanes’ schedule, the time is ripe for the team to make a push for the division lead.
“We’re just telling our guys, ‘Hey, stay with it, keep doing the things you’re doing and it’s got to turn somewhere,” Muller said.