Looking back at this time last year the NHL season hadn’t even begun. A skewed 48 game season due to a lockout kept hockey fans anxiously waiting until January 19.
An unorthodox beginning to the season issued challenges for the franchise as they only had a week to prepare for the regular season. Without an extended training camp and no preseason, players and coaching staff had to make rapid adjustments and changes as the season was soon underway.
Once the shortened season began, the first month didn’t have the results the Hurricanes had hoped for. Winning only two games in their first five, the Canes struggled to find consistency. Many injuries surrounded the month of January, which resulted in lineup changes that created issues for chemistry. A total of nine new faces joined the Canes roster in January.
In February, balance was found as the hurricanes held an 8-5-1 record with a heavy six game road trip on their hands. "Not only did we pick up points, but we got to the way we wanted to play. Once you find that early in the year, you just have to keep building on it," Jeff Skinner said. Aside from a substantial outcome from the road trip in the numbers game, the twelve days away from home helped build team chemistry and gave players the opportunity to bond. The month of February also marked the first time Ryan Murphy saw NHL ice. Jordan Staal also saw February as his breakout month in his new franchise. Staal joined the Hurricanes after being dealt from Pittsburgh during the NHL Draft. In the month of February, Staal totaled four goals and six assists for 10 points. Jiri Tlusty also had a tenacious month scoring nine goals and six assists for 15 points on the month. Let's not forget he also scored this beauty.
Jiri Tlusty scores on no-look pass from Alex Semin 2/21/13 (via NHL)
As March rolled around, the Carolina Hurricanes found themselves atop the Southeast division. It was to no surprise that the team at the peak of their division won four of their first five games of the month. However, the second half of the month wasn’t so easy as they lost seven straight sending them from third to tenth in the conference. Those seven straight losses may have ensued from Cam Ward's absence. On March 2nd, in the second tilt of their back to back games against the Florida Panthers, goalie Cam Ward suffered a third-degree sprain of his MCL after colliding with Panthers forward Jack Skille. Ward would then be placed on the Injured Reserve and would remain out for the rest of the season. Despite the team’s unsuccessful efforts, Alex Semin found his identity among his new franchise. Later that month, the Russian signed a five-year contract extension for $35 million. Semin led the Canes in points for the month of March with 18 managing 6 goals and 12 assists. Carolina ended the month of March 6-6-1.
April concluded the final stretch of the regular season. A ‘sprint to the finish’ perhaps may be the only way to define this month for some NHL teams. Unfortunately, for the Canes, a sprint to the finish wasn’t the case. Although they fought until the end with a valiant effort, they weren’t able to produce the results they needed. Carolina started the Month of April with their second seven game losing streak of the season. "We had a lot of great efforts, especially in that skid," Jay Harrison said. "I don’t think our record through March and April was really indicative or reflective of our effort and the kind of hockey we were playing. But at the end of the day, it was not enough to get the results required." The Hurricanes received much production from their top line in the final month. Not only did they prove themselves worthy amongst the team but they also showed to be dominant throughout the entire league. The Semin, Eric Staal, and Tlusty line combined for 135 points (56g, 81a) and a cooperative plus 34 . "We’re trying to build something that’s going to be consistent and be in the playoffs every single year," Staal said. "I feel like we’ve got pieces and parts there to do that."
The summer months for the Carolina Hurricanes players was filled with more golf and off-ice workouts than they may have hoped for, but the front office stayed hard at work. As some faces left, others such as Andrej Sekera, Nathan Gerbe, and Mike Komisarek were welcomed. At the Prudential Center in New Jersey, the Hurricanes picked Elias Lindholm fifth overall. In the month of September, the Hurricanes announced defenseman Joni Pitkanen would miss the entire 2013-2014 season due to a broken heel suffered on April 2 against the Washington Capitals.
Carolina’s first game of the season was the home opener against their new Eastern Conference foe Detroit Red Wings. Although the game etched out only one point for the Hurricanes, they played a complete 60 minutes against a team that hasn’t missed the playoffs for 22 straight seasons. The Hurricanes were off to a tough start of the season winning only four out of their first 12, but managed seven points in their first nine.
As far as standings go, right now the Hurricanes are seventh in the Metropolitan Division. Although it’s subject to change, the Canes are in a tough bind right now, but it doesn't add up. Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner are already off to great seasons. The Hurricanes lead the league with the most takeaways having 398. Eric Staal and Andej Sekera both rank in top five for takeaways in the league. Eric Staal continues to produce for Carolina while having 30 points so far on the season. The month of November included a seven game point streak for Staal. While individual numbers are showing production, the search for consistency is far from over.
Since Jeff Skinner returned from injury, he recorded his first NHL hat trick, was named the NHL’s first star of the week, and also has 10 so far in the month of December. Also since Skinner’s return, the line of Eric Staal, Skinner, and Ruutu has a combined 37 points in 16 games.
Manny Malhotra has been a godsend after joining the team in late October signing a 1 year, 2-way contract. Malhotra’s numbers are impressive with a 60.3 faceoff percentage ranking third in the league.
As the month of December winds down the question arises: What should the Hurricanes do about their goaltender situation? After Ward suffered a third-degree MCL sprain, he hasn’t been the same. Justin Peters has put up better numbers with a save percentage of .926 and Ward having .901. Anton Khudobin was put on the Injured Reserve after suffering a lower body injury after an awkward fall on October 13 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Khudobin appeared to have much potential going into this season before suffering the injury. Currently Justin Peters is deserving of the Starting position although Ward has come up with some spectacular saves since returning from injury. With the Hurricanes continuing luck with injuries, what is the most appropriate decision to make?
Bob Wage took to the polls earlier in December asking what the readers of Canes Country thought would be the best goalie decision to make and almost 50 percent voted to at least try to trade Cam Ward. However, the issue that arises is the possible fate for Justin Peters if the Canes trade for another goaltender and place peters on waivers once Khudobin is healthy to send him back to the Charlotte Checkers. Ward has the fourth highest cap hit among all goalies according to Cap Geek, so he has a high trade value. Jim Ruthereford stated on twitter when trade talks of Eric Staal reached the surface, he quickly put a stop to the rumors on stating that he didn’t have any plans to move Cam Ward or Eric Staal. Could this still be the case if the GM really wanted to improve the franchise?
Looking on into the New Year the Canes are still searching for consistency. The offense has proven their ability, can the defense do the same? Will the Hurricanes finally end their drought and make it to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. If they don’t what could the possible future hold for Kirk Muller? There are still many questions to be answered and much more hockey to be played.