The Carolina Hurricanes head down the stretch as arguably the hottest team in the league. The distinction is not by accident. Not only have the players picked up all aspects of their game, they have been playing with a more consistent intensity. And they have been able to do so while maintaining their self control and discipline in the process.
They continue to be the least penalized team in the NHL.
Average PIM per game:
- Carolina 9.8
- Detroit 10.2
- Florida 11.2
- Minnesota 11.2
- Boston 12.1
Ever since the arrival of Coach Maurice, there has been more emphasis on team defense. One might think that because of the new focus, it might lead to more stick work and a tendency to use one's hands, while trying to improve in their own end. But remarkably, the club has been able to reduce goals against, allow fewer shots on goal, and limit odd man rushes, while maintaining the top position in the league regarding penalty minutes.
The Canes have certainly had their share of late game, costly penalties, but those mistakes have been few and far between during the most recent winning streak. And compared with several other teams, the mistakes are minimal.
Not only does Carolina lead the NHL in that category, but they are also at the very top when it comes to drawing penalties.
Total Powerplay Opportunities:
- Carolina 339
- LA Kings 337
- Montreal 328
- Calgary 328
- Pittsburgh 328
As you can see, the Canes are the only team in the league to be in the top five in both categories, penalties for and penalties against. This can be attributed to the speed on the club as well as the hard-working nature of the players.
Who are the team leaders? Erik Cole leads the team with 49 penalties drawn and is tied for third in the NHL with that number. Next is Eric Staal with 41, Tuomo Ruutu with 35, Chad LaRose with 22, and Ray Whitney with 21.
All this bodes well for the Canes if indeed, they can make it to the post season. Special team play can make the difference between losing and winning a playoff series and obviously the less time you spend in the box, the better chance you have to win.
Speaking of playoffs, several sportswriters around the league are starting to take notice and are calling out the Hurricanes as a team you do not want to face in the opening round. Remember the Allan Muir article which was put on the blog a couple of weeks ago where he said that the Canes would "fall out of the race"?
Muir is singing a different tune today:
While top contenders like Boston and Washington struggle down the stretch, the Hurricanes finally discovered that extra gear, setting themselves up to be a team no one really wants to face in the first round.
Muir is not alone with his recent prognosis. Can the Canes keep it up?