Game Analysis: Back To Back Vs. Lightning, At Rangers

Much like last season, injuries in goal have propelled the Carolina Hurricanes into a tailspin. The Canes lost at home to the Lightning and on the road against the Rangers Friday and Saturday, respectively, pushing their losing streak to five games and a 4-7-3 record.

Be it a lack of offense or below average goaltending, the Carolina Hurricanes are finding it easy to lose of late. The latest two defeats came on back-to-back nights, with Tampa Bay blanking the Canes at PNC Arena Friday, 3-0, then the Rangers winning 5-1 Saturday at the newly renovated Madison Square Garden.

Three Observations

1. Carolina continues to be an incredibly fragile team. While the Hurricanes were pretty much absent from Friday's loss to Tampa Bay, they came out the next night with some fire. But that was quickly extinguished after Carl Hagelin scored his first goal, and any that remained was a distant memory after his second. Muller attempted to put all his eggs in one basket against the Rangers, but the line of Alexander Semin with both Staals was unable to score despite being the team's most effective trio.

2. Brett Bellemore looked great in his return to the lineup Saturday. He led the team with five hits while replacing alternate captain Tim Gleason, who sat out the game with an upper body injury. It's a part of Gleason's game that's been lacking since his return from a concussion, and one has to wonder if Gleason will get the snarl back. With diminishing foot speed becoming an issue, Gleason has to be a physical presence on the ice to be effective. If he's not, Bellemore will be there to snatch away his job.

3. Speaking of jobs, is Muller's in jeopardy? At this point, I think anyone who knows how Jim Rutherford operates would say no. The team's last two coaches, Paul Maurice (twice) and Peter Laviolette, each got ample — perhaps too much — time to turn around their teams before getting the axe, and the Hurricanes’ injury woes this season and last under Muller exceed anything his predecessors had to deal with. While this is firing season for Rutherford (Maurice's and Laviolette's dismissals all game in late November to mid December), he has never pulled the trigger on a coach just two years into his tenure. Muller will likely get all season and then be reassessed.

Number To Know

48 — Combined goals for Carolina (27 in 14 games) and Philadelphia (21 in 13 games), who will meet Tuesday at PNC Arena. They are also among the league’s worst 5-on-5 teams: the Canes rank 26th with 0.62 goals per one goal allowed at full strength, while the Flyers are T-27th at 0.56. In all, four of the five worst 5-on-5 teams in the NHL reside in the Metropolitan Division.

Plus

Manny Malhotra — Malhotra was brought in to do a job, and he's done it. Despite the lingering effects of an eye injury that nearly ended his NHL career, Malhotra is still arguably the game’s best faceoff man. In his first two games with Canes he won 25 of 34 faceoffs — an otherworldly 73.5 percent — including five of six shorthanded. Perhaps Kirk Muller’s latest wrinkle could be sending Malhotra out for key power play faceoffs. While the team has won a respectable 53.2 percent of its man-advantage draws this season, a 20 percent boost in that could mean a key goal.

Minus

Tuomo Ruutu — The blame for this five-game losing streak is spread throughout the lineup, but it's hard to not notice what a difficult time Ruutu is having getting back up to speed. Ruutu still hasn't scored in nine games this season and has been the team's most frequently penalized player at 2.8 penalties taken per 60 minutes (but he is drawing 2.2, second best behind Jeff Skinner). Whether it's lingering effects from his injuries or just rust, the Hurricanes desperately need the Ruutu of old.

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