Six wins and four losses may not seem like a great stretch of games, but over the course of the season that works out to 98.4 points — enough to likely earn a spot among the Eastern Conference's top eight. Unfortunately for the Carolina Hurricanes, the recent 6-4 run was preceded by just 12 wins in the team's first 43 games. So while the recent spurt of good play is encouraging, it is probably too little, too late for the Canes to make a push for the postseason.
But with several young players in the lineup, learning how to win is not all bad, even if it costs the Canes the chance to select in the top three in this summer's Entry Draft. There are several factors contributing to Carolina's improved play, be it offense, defense, goaltending or special teams. Let's look at the trends for the past 10 games.
- Much has been made of Eric Staal's play since becoming Carolina's captain. There's definitely some truth in it. Staal now finds himself on a point-per-game pace with 42 in 41 games. But while his past five since his captaincy was announced have been stellar (eight goals plus an assist), he was still averaging a more than a point a night the previous five (two goals, four assists). Combined, that's 10 goals (of his 18 on the year) and five assists in just the past 10. So base it on his new-found leadership position, move back to center, improved health or new linemates: no matter how you slice it, Staal has been a difference-maker for Carolina.
- Speaking of his linemates, both Ray Whitney and Jussi Jokinen have also kept a point-per-game pace over the past 10 games. Whitney has three goals and eights assists in that stretch (plus he had two more goals just 11 games ago) and Jokinen is 5-7-12. Having your top line players all producing at that clip is not unheard of (see San Jose this season), but is no doubt indicative of how good the first line has been.
- Let's not forget defenseman Joni Pitkanen either. He's also registered 10 assists in as many games, plus contributed to a defense that's much improved since the calendar has flipped to 2010. Led by Pitkanen, the defense has managed two points a night (20 total) during the recent stretch. Last season the D — perhaps the best point-producing backend since the team moved to Raleigh — registered 172 points, just slightly better than the current pace.
- Speaking of that defense, it's allowed just 2.3 goals a game during this run, whereas the team is scoring 3.5 a night. Compare that to the entire season: even with the recent improved play, the team is still averaging just 2.6 goals a game while allowing 3.21.
- A big part of that, of course, is goalie Cam Ward. How good has Ward been? He's earned the decision in all 10 games, and in the six wins his save percentage has been at least .941, with four better than .960. Even when figured with the four losses, Ward's save percentage is .938 in the last 10.
- Perhaps most importantly, Carolina's special teams have been much improved in both ends of the ice. The Hurricanes have converted 11 of 34 power play chances (32.4 percent, including seven games out of 10 with at least one) and stopped 31 of 36 (86.1 percent) on the penalty kill. Compare that to an 18.1 percent season success rate with the man advantage and 79.4 percent penalty kill — and keep in mind both numbers benefit from the recent surge in special teams — and you can see why it's been so crucial to the improved play.
- While the top guns have fueled the offensive surge, it's important not to discount the secondary scoring the team has received. Sergei Samsonov came back from injury and has three goals and an assist since returning six games ago. Matt Cullen continues to boost his trade value, registering eight points (two goals, six assists) in the past 10 games — which has him on a pace for 52 points that would be the most of his NHL career (he had 49 twice before with the Canes). Rod Brind'Amour, Brandon Sutter, Tom Kostopoulos, Patrick Dwyer and Chad LaRose have all scored twice — good for an average of one a game — during the run.
Are all things cured with the Hurricanes? No, certainly not. The trade deadline will lead to the departure of several players, potentially including some key cogs like Whitney and Cullen. Yes, Erik Cole, Tuomo Ruutu and Joe Corvo should all return from injury soon, but their return coupled with the deadline threatens to ruin the chemistry that has been built.
But for now, there's plenty to like about the Carolina Hurricanes.