As one month ends and another begins, the Carolina Hurricanes can assess the first two months of the 2014-15 regular season with mixed judgment; a much better November helped the team dig out of an October-sized hole. Ahead in December, the Canes face the challenge of continuing to improve in order to position them well heading into the New Year.
In the first 10 days of November, the Canes won five of six games and had points in every game of that stretch (5-0-1). In the latter half of the month, the Hurricanes posted a 2-7-0 record, dropping six of seven games at one point.
Five of those six losses came by just a goal’s difference, the slim margin between two points and a losing skid in today’s NHL.
“The easiest way to turn it around is no freebies. I thought we gave up a few too many easy goals here recently,” head coach Bill Peters said. “We’re not a team that can outscore our mistakes, so we have to eliminate those types of mistakes.”
“I still think we’re making progress. We were a lot better in November than we were in October, and now it’s about coming out with a big, big December,” Eric Staal said. “Now it’s about finding ways to get over that hump and be on the right side of those one-goal games.”
That happened on Friday, Nov. 28 in Pittsburgh, when the Canes iced away a 3-2 lead with an empty-net tally late to seal a 4-2 victory, one of the team’s most complete efforts of the season. A night later, even though the Canes dropped a 3-2 decision, there are elements of their game they can highlight heading into December.
“They’re at the top of the Eastern standings. We more than hung in there in Pittsburgh. I thought we controlled most of that game and got the win, and then they came back with a better effort here at home, but it was a pretty competitive game,” Staal said. “If we would have chipped in a little bit more, we would have been where we wanted to be.”
“I liked the back-to-back with Pitt. I liked a lot of the things we took out of that,” Peters said. “I thought we took a step for sure. We can play with anybody in this league. We just have to find a way to play 60 minutes at our level.”
With a team identity beginning to form – Peters said they’re “definitely getting closer” – the group also finds itself the healthiest it has been essentially all season, with forward Jordan Staal still on the shelf but positively progressing in his recovery (http://hurricanes.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=741602).
“That helps, no question,” Staal said of the team’s clean bill of health. “You want to have all bodies in the lineup and know what you look like when you’re out there playing your game.”
December plays out much like November did: four of the first six games played at home, followed by a slightly road-heavier second half.
“We’re set up pretty good for the month of December. I really like the month,” Peters said. “We went over it real quick here prior to practice, and we want to get started and take advantage of the fact that we’re starting the month at home.”
The final month of the 2014 calendar year begins with four straight games at home, a chunk of a larger five-game homestand that dates back to Saturday, Nov. 29 against Pittsburgh.
“We’re playing good teams, so we’re going to have to have our game dialed in,” Peters said. “I think we’re there.”
In all, December could prove to be a crucial month for the Hurricanes who find themselves nine points removed from the playoff picture in the Metropolitan Division.
“We know where we’re at as far as the standings go. This [month] is very key to us continuing to take steps toward getting better and getting points,” Staal said. “We just have to find ways to win. When you’re putting up points and getting wins, you’re finding ways in different areas of your game.”