The playoffs are quickly looking like a pipe dream for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. After a start which saw the team come flying out of the gates with a 15-8 record, the team has gone stagnant. With a record of 1-9-1 in their last 11 games, the Hurricanes find themselves sitting in 12th in the Eastern conference, closer to a lottery pick than a playoff spot. They trail Washington by four points for the division lead, but with no cohesiveness on offense, weak team defense, and awful special teams play, the Canes are dropping in the standings quickly.
After last night’s 5-0 shutout at the hands of Tampa Bay, the team seems to have hit rock bottom. Despite peppering goaltender Ben Bishop with 45 shots, they were unable to score. The closest opportunity they had was a disallowed goal, when Alexander Semin kicked the puck into the net. 45 shots sounds impressive, but most of the shots were uncontested slap shots from the blue line. Not to take anything away from Bishop, who was outstanding in net in his Bolts debut. The team has been playing uninspired hockey for much of the past month and a half. Their power play ranks 27th in the league out of 30. Their penalty kill? 28th.
Since defeating Winnipeg 3-1 last Saturday, the Canes have dropped three straight, and been outscored by a margin of 14-4 in that time frame. Injuries do hurt. Starting goaltender Cam Ward and young defenseman Justin Faulk have missed significant time due to injuries. However, neither Ward nor Faulk makes much of a difference in the 5-0 thrashing we witnessed last night. The team is struggling to find their identity, and despite the production from the first line of Semin, Eric Staal, and Jiri Tlusty, there is no secondary scoring.
Earlier in the season, the Canes expected to be buyers at this year’s trade deadline. Instead, they essentially gave Jussi Jokinen away to the Penguins for a 6th or 7th round pick. While they didn’t fully go into fire-sale mode, they didn’t do anything to bolster the team. Add that to the season-ending injury Joni Pitkanen sustained during the game against Washington, and the Canes may have a rough couple of weeks coming up.
Still, with all the adversity in front of the team, they ONLY sit four points out of the division lead. They have to start winning games for the playoffs to become a reality, and have to go on a crazy tare to end the season just to sniff post-season play, but the division is there for the taking. The optimism that was prevalent at the beginning of the season has all but evaporated, and coach Kirk Muller HAS to do something about the team to right the ship. There’s no outside help coming this year, so the team has to take it upon themselves and play better to a man in order to salvage the season.