After starting the season with eight straight losses, the Carolina Hurricanes started to right the sinking ship. With the return of Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal, Nathan Gerbe, and Patrick Dwyer to the lineup, the level of play noticeably improved. The Canes reeled off four straight wins (including a win at home against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings) before losing an overtime contest in Washington. The Canes then dominated a good Calgary team for their fifth win in six games. The 6-game point streak finally came to an end last night, as Winnipeg came to Raleigh and handed Carolina a 3-1 loss. The loss was the first time the Canes have failed to gain a point in the standings in the month of November.
The abysmal start to the season, which saw the Canes go 0-October, looks to finally be in the rear-view mirror. Head coach Bill Peters has his team playing a new system that they are finally beginning to buy into, and the players are playing tough hockey with close to maximum effort every night. While there’s a long way to go in the season, the Canes find themselves only four points out of a playoff spot. Players who were seen as role-players in the past have stepped up in a big way.
Riley Nash continues to lead the team in points with 12, and Jiri Tlusty and Elias Lindholm are tied for the lead in goals with six each. While Captain Eric Staal has only registered seven points in 10 games, he seems to be much more responsible in the defensive zone and is focused on playing more of a two-way game than he has in the past. The resurgence of Justin Faulk has also been a big reason for the turn-around this season.
Without a doubt, the biggest reason for the team’s recent success has been the play of goaltender Cam Ward. Ward looked terrible in his first four starts, but has drastically improved over the last few games. He has posted a 5-1 record in November and he has looked more like the Cam Ward we saw in the 2005-06 and 2009-10 seasons. Backup netminder Anton Khudobin has only played once this month in Washington as Carolina fell in overtime. Khudobin was excellent throughout the game, and allowed the Hurricanes to secure a tough point on the road.
The Hurricanes face a tough western road trip soon, and also play a home-and-home with the Metropolitan Division leading Penguins. The road doesn’t get easier for Carolina, but the sustained success thus far has shown that the Hurricanes can compete with anyone they face. Once a lock for the McDavid/Eichel sweepstakes, the Canes aren’t quite out of the running yet for a playoff spot.