Down The Stretch: Are The Hurricanes Running Out Of Gas?

Eastern Conference Standings 3 14 11 from NHL.com

The Carolina Hurricanes are down to 13 games remaining in their regular season and they find themselves in the unenviable position of needing to win the vast majority of their games if they want to make the playoffs.   The team currently has 72 points, which puts them four points outside of eighth place, and a far cry from the 90 points which is the projected total needed to make it into the postseason.

The club would have to post a 9-4-0 record, or equivalent, to earn the additional projected 18 points needed to make it to 90.

That record is certainly doable, but the Hurricanes have been in a downward trend for the past four games, (0-3-1), even though they have worked hard and played pretty well for the most part, (at least during even strength).  But a mistake here, a mental error there, and the inability to score at key times has hurt the team in recent games.

Is it just bad luck, bad timing, or something else?

Some fans think that rookie, and youngest player in the league, Jeff Skinner has hit a bit of a wall because he does not look quite as dynamic as he did earlier in the season.

No doubt, it's been a long season and the Hurricanes have had a tough haul.  First, they started in Europe, then traveled back home only to hit the road again for a long trip to the west coast.  They also have had more back-to-back games on their schedule, (21) than any other team besides Buffalo, (22).

But keep in mind, Buffalo will have traveled an estimated 30,000 miles over the course of the season, while the Hurricanes will have traveled over 40,000 miles. 

Skinner may or may not be affected by the long grind of the season, but if he is, he might not be alone. 

Eric Staal is averaging more minutes per game this year than in any season in his career.  His average ice time of 22:03 is the second highest average of any NHL forward, behind only Ilya Kovalchuk.  His total ice time of 1,500:12 is third highest of forwards in the league and is just behind Corey Perry and Alex Ovechkin, both of whom have played in more games. 

Staal is still getting shots on goal, is still battling hard, but the points have been harder to come by in the last few games. 

As Paul Maurice said after the game on Saturday, it seems like the players are a split second off with their decisions.  Pucks are just missing the net or are just off target.  Could it be because of mental fatigue?

Cam Ward certainly is not to blame for the recent losing streak, but has he played at the absolute top of his game?  One could argue that rookie Braden Holtby and then Steve Mason both out-played him in the last two games. 

Ward has been in 61 games so far this season, below is career high 69 games in 2007-08, but he has already surpassed his previous career highs in saves and shots faced.

He currently has faced an NHL high 1952 shots and also has an NHL high 1795 saves.  His previous career highs were actually in the 68 games he played in 2008-09 when he faced 1901 shots and made 1741 saves for the entire season.  In 2007-08, he faced 1870 shots and made a total of 1696 saves.

Ward could end up playing another 13 games, enabling him to absolutely crush his previous career highs.  

If you were to ask any of these players, they would say that they are feeling fine, just like Staal answered when he was asked about it Saturday night, so maybe mental, or physical fatigue has nothing to do with the recent losing streak. 

But while most players were resting and relaxing during the All Star break, those three players were still "turned on mentally", even if they were not playing a physical game.  And coincidentally or not, their production has dropped off since the break.   

One thing for certain, the team has not given up yet, and the players have not given up hope.  But things don't get any easier.  Another back-to-back is coming up, starting Tuesday in Buffalo, then returning home to face Toronto.

We will see if there is anymore gas left in the tank.

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