By pocketing three out of four points over the weekend, the Carolina Hurricanes again sit at .500 on the season, managing 28 points in 28 games. They are in a three-way tie for ninth in the Eastern Conference, holding two games in hand over Buffalo and three over Ottawa, and are seven points behind eighth-place Atlanta, who has played two more games than the Canes.
On Friday, Carolina lost in the shootout at Dallas, 2-1, but bounced back with a shootout victory in St. Louis by the same score. Here are five observations from the weekend's two road games.
1. How do you score two goals total in two games and come away with three points? Two words: Cam Ward. The Carolina goaltender was brilliant in both games of the back-to-back, stopping 66 of 68 shots to keep the Hurricanes in both games. He also stood tall in the shootout, allowing just one goal in six attempts in the two games. His .925 save percentage is tied for sixth in the NHL, and he is making a strong case to play on home ice at the All-Star Game.2. Jiri Tlusty scored his second goal in as many games when he notched Carolina’s lone tally in the shootout loss to Dallas. Tlusty has not played double-digit minutes since mid-Novemeber, but it is clear that the 22-year-old Czech is improving after having offseason knee surgery. Tlusty is still sporting a significant knee brace, but the young forward looks like he's regaining his burst and is also playing with confidence. With Tlusty and several Checkers players making a case for a role in Carolina's top nine, the Hurricanes again seem to have a glut of players battling for limited spots in Raleigh, much like when Patrick O'Sullivan was waived.
3. The Canes had five days to work out what their lines would be for the back-to-back games, but coach Paul Maurice spent most of both games shuffling around the forwards to try and find the best combinations. Eric Staal, who spent significant time centering Erik Cole and Jeff Skinner, has hit a cold spell after a monster November, going without a point in four games. The search for a third line center is on again, with Tuomo Ruutu moving back to wing and playing with Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen. Patrick Dwyer is getting the nod right now, but he hasn't registered a point in nine games. It's been even longer for Chad LaRose, who hasn't netted a point since he had four on Nov. 17. Without any secondary scoring, Carolina has teams focusing on stopping Staal — and it's working.
4. The Canes have now gone 20 power plays without a goal, getting shut out in six straight games. The defense’s inability to get shots to the net — or, with the exception of Jamie McBain, even attempting to do so — has led to the puck staying on the outside and not getting into the ugly areas where struggling power plays need it to be. For a defense that was considered offense-heavy heading in to the season, it's surprising that there have been struggles to produce. Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo are on pace for normal career numbers, but McBain has just six assists and Ian White has three through 10 games since he was acquired. McBain has just two power play assists and White one.
5. Speaking of defense, does anyone else feel like Tim Gleason is rounding into form? He had four hits against Dallas and another six vs. St. Louis. Most notably, he stood his ground and traded hits with Blues power forward David Backes, who had one of the best games I've seen him have in some time but still skated off the ice with no points. Credit Gleason, who didn't let Backes run through the Canes without retribution and made a point of delivering hits — and words — to the Blues throughout the game.