The Carolina Hurricanes are 46 games into their 82 game season and currently find themselves with a 19-18-9 record, good for seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. They have earned a total of 47 points which puts them only four points out of a wild card playoff spot, but they have four teams to jump to get into that spot.
Fans have seen the good, bad, and ugly of this team, not only on a game by game basis, but from period to period. At any given time, no one knows what quality of play will be seen on the ice.
The good news is that newcomers Andrej Sekera, Nathan Gerbe, and Anton Khudobin have performed better than expected. Jeff Skinner has been one of the hottest shooters in the league. Manny Malhotra is among the league leaders in face off percentage, which helps the club gain more possessions.
But there is plenty of bad news as well. Eric Staal has more penalty minutes than points. Alexander Semin is on pace this season to score the fewest goals in his NHL career, (per game average). Tuomo Ruutu has a team worst (-16) and his goal scoring is also at a career low level. Cam Ward has a losing record and team worst .895 save percentage, while currently resting with a mysterious ailment and no hint of when he will return.
What hurts even worse is that these struggling players are among the top paid players in the league and represent almost $28 million in salaries to be paid this season. (Staal $9.25, Semin $7, Ruutu $5, and Ward $6.6.)
Each of these players have faced adversities and they have played through injuries. Can they turn it around in time to salvage the season? Will they be able to?
Due to the plethora of injuries, the coaching staff has had to juggle lines. But at this point, there does not seem to be any chemistry within the line combinations and Kirk Muller was still mixing and matching lines in the most recent loss to Calgary.
Speaking of the coaching staff, one of their primary objectives this offseason was to improve the woeful powerplay. Have they succeeded?
Last season the Canes finished 27th in the league with a 14.6% success rate. So far this season, the Canes are 26th in the league and remarkably, still are at exactly 14.6%.
The team has improved the penalty kill slightly. They are currently 25th in the league at 79%. Last season they finished at 28th in the league at 77.6%. The team also has a league best eight shorthanded tallies.
Another objective was to lower the shots against and goals allowed per game. The team has succeeded in doing this. Last season Carolina allowed 3.31 goals per game, 29th in the league. They also allowed 32.2 shots per game, 25th in the league.
So far this season the goals allowed average has dropped significantly, to 2.76 goals per game, 18th in the league. They have allowed 30.9 shots a game, 22nd in the league.
So, can this team cure what is ailing them and put themselves into a playoff spot?
Jim Rutherford seems to feel that changes need to be made and he has already made one deal, (Tim Gleason for John-Michael Liles), and is rumored to be trying to make other changes. It will be interesting to watch him.
If the team can start scoring like they did last year, can stay relatively healthy, and the goaltending can hold up, they are certainly not out of the picture. But there is a lot of hard work ahead and it won't be easy.
What do you think?