The Carolina Hurricanes allowed 84 shots in their back-to-back games this weekend while managing just 51, but that recipe was good enough to land the Canes three out of four points and put them alone in eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Here are five observations from this weekend's games.
1. During the summer you often here player acquisitions given point equivalents. "Adding so-and-so should give them at least eight more points in the standings." Like so many other things thrown around in the mayhem of the free agent period, there's really no way to measure any player's impact in the standings. But I think it's far to say that Erik Cole was worth at least two points to the Hurricanes this weekend. His deflection of Joni Pitkanen's slap pass capped a remarkable rally Saturday at Tampa Bay and was only sullied by the fact that the Lightning gained the second point in overtime. Cole then twisted the knife one more time on Atlanta, scoring his third game-winning goal against the Thrashers this season with 1:19 remaining to give Carolina two points in regulation.
Cole now has 16 goals and is on pace for 23, which would be the most he's had since potting 29 in 2006-07. His six game-winning goals are the most on the Canes this season, and only Phoenix's Taylor Pyatt (14 goals) and Boston's Mark Recchi (10) have fewer overall goals with that many GWGs.
2. Cam Ward has struggled with his glove hand some lately, most notably on Jeff Carter's goal last Thursday, but overall the Carolina goaltender has been the linchpin in Carolina's playoff push. While he is just 2-3-2 in February, his save percentage is up to .921 for the month and he has fended off opponents despite facing a lot of quality chances. He is first in the league in games played and saves, plus third in minutes. Coach Paul Maurice has been known to use his No. 1 goalie extensively, but Ward seems to get better with the more ice and rubber he sees.
3. The Canes had a season-low 17 shots on goal against Atlanta Sunday, and no player registered more than two. Attribute that to the Thrashers' willingness to block shots: they had 22 blocks to Carolina's eight, and three Hurricanes (Patrick Dwyer, Tuomo Ruutu and Jay Harrison) had three of their shots stopped by Atlanta skaters.
4. Carolina seems to be looking for a spark from some new faces, having recalled Brett Sutter for Saturday's game, then sending down Zach Boychuk and Sutter in favor of Zac Dalpe (Update: Dalpe was reassigned to Charlotte Monday) and Jerome Samson for the game in Atlanta. While Sutter saw just a little more than four minutes against Tampa Bay, Samson played 8:05 Sunday and showcased the game that has made him a force in the AHL the past few seasons. Samson was among the five Hurricanes who had a team-high two shots against the Thrashers, including a decent scoring chance. The long-term issue for Samson is he needs to prove he can be good enough to play on the third line, because as a fourth-liner he doesn't contribute as a penalty killer and would be hard-pressed to earn power play time as things currently stand.
5. With four of five games played in Carolina's final road trip of the season, the Hurricanes could salvage the roadie with a win Wednesday in New Jersey. The trip started last Thursday with an overtime loss to the Devils, then saw Carolina lose outright to Philadelphia before earning a point in Tampa Bay and winning at Atlanta. So far, the team has four points in four games, so a win in Newark would give the Canes six out of 10 points — the equivalent of going 3-2. Carolina has played seven more games on the road (32) than at home (25), so once Wednesday's game is in the books, the Canes will have just eight road games remaining vs. 16 at home. That bodes well for Carolina — they are 14-9-2 at home as opposed to 13-13-6 on the road.