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A Search for Guidance

The Hurricanes' up-and-down season continues. Will the Olympic break work in their favor?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Signs of optimism that the Carolina Hurricanes might continue their winning streak came in a 6-1 triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the following night their five game winning streak ceased as they fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 and then lost 2-0 at home to the Calgary Flames.

After a few days break, the Hurricanes hit the ice again at home against the Florida Panthers. Alex Semin had a breakout performance as he scored two goals, which helped edge the Hurricanes over the Panthers. It was soon back to the losing column though in a 5-3 bout versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. With that loss the Canes are still in the Wild Card race, but are now under .500.

Semin, whose play had been questioned by General Manager Jim Rutherford, was named to the Russian Olympic team Tuesday as a replacement due to injury after being initially left off the primary roster. “[Semin] came off a great year, and we are all very disappointed with his production at this time. He’s a guy who is paid to score goals and put up points, and he hasn’t done that,” Rutherford told ABC 11. “He’s trying to play an east-west game when the rest of the team is playing a north-south game, and he needs to get his act going pretty soon. I do think it’s the focus and the will to do well. The same will to do well that he had in his contract year. He is probably the most skilled player on this team, and when he wants to play, he can do it. He needs to start.”  Semin's recent performance has shown improvement seeing that he has four goals in three consecutive games.

A few key factors have caused the Hurricanes’ performance as of late and one of those is their inability to play a complete 60-minute game. The team is either off to a slow start, like their game against Calgary, or they don’t record enough chances in the third period. Their power play has been anemic since the beginning of the season, but they have somewhat made up for it with their short-handed goals, leading the league with nine. Although their penalty kill has been effective in the scoring category, they are ranked 25 in the league.  If only they could be effective on both sides of special teams.

As of now, the Carolina Hurricanes have about the same record at home (11-10-5) as they do on the road (9-9-4). Although attendance at the PNC Arena continues to increase, it doesn’t seem to spark a fire for the ‘Canes on the ice. In last year's condensed season, the Hurricanes had a worse home record than they do at this point of the season. The Triangle continues to be loyal and support the mediocre professional sports team inside the PNC, but they deserve better.

Another factor that has been absolutely necessary to a team, since the NHL commenced, is a smash-mouth, hard-nosed agitator. The Hurricanes used to have guys like Gary Roberts, Mike Commodore, Jesse Boulerice, Craig Adams, Sean Hill, Bryan Allen, Tom Kostopolus, Tim Conboy, and Wade Brookbank. Whether or not the Hurricanes used the aforementioned players as agitators or fighters specifically, they played much better hockey because intimidation wasn’t as much of a factor. Most recently, agitators for Carolina have been Nathan Gerbe and Chad LaRose who are both under six feet tall. Tuomo Ruutu was brought in to help with size on the aggressive side for the Hurricanes, but he hasn’t produced hits this season like he used to. Size and toughness and a player that can ignite the bench when needed are key components to having a well-rounded team that can not only produce, but make teams cringe when they see them on the schedule.

Jeff Skinner has had an incredible season so far, but he can’t be the only player to get the job done. Since his return from injury, he has been a great deal of help to the team in the goals column. Typically on the nights that Skinner strikes, the team is then able to get pucks in the net.  However, in their last few games Skinner didn’t produce and neither did the team. However, Skinner isn’t the player that the Hurricanes should be looking towards to provide the fire to get the team going. Although Skinner is indeed a franchise player, producers like Eric Staal and Alex Semin who have top-notch resumes of lighting up the lamp, should be the ones the team looks to in these situations. Not to mention Staal is the captain of the team. Staal has produced in the assist column but he isn’t doing what he should be doing as far as goals go. Semin, as mentioned before, was brought in to score goals and we’ve yet to see him at his full potential.

The Hurricanes are a team that has a skillful roster with players who are fully capable of setting up plays and making crisp passes. Unfortunately, when nothing is working they revert to the simple dump-and-chase method. When they do get ahold of the puck in the neutral zone, they unnecessarily try to dance around players and make pretty plays rather than simply playing the game and getting pucks on net. Their history shows that this is a formula that they have continually reverted to and it does not get the job done.

If the Hurricanes can get rid of players who are not adding the value they were expected to and replace them with players that can provide points, score goals, and get in opponents' faces when necessary they will be much better off. Maybe try and get some bigger bodies to help clog up the neutral zone at the trade deadline. Sure, a five game winning streak was a start, but they need to get their rear in gear because things are going south quickly. Maybe the Olympic break will be what they need to get into the mindset that is essential to qualify for the playoffs. As committed as Rutherford is to his team right now, that could be altered in the near future. “I’m committed to [the team] at this point in time, but certainly we have to win games and win at the pace that I feel we can win at. If that doesn’t happen, that commitment can go away at the end of the season.”