The strides that the Carolina Hurricanes have made since this time last year are astonishing.
As of January 12, the Hurricanes are 19-15-7 and sit just three points behind Philadelphia Flyers who occupy the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina has two games in hand on Philly.
This past week, Carolina defeated the best team in the NHL in the Columbus Blue Jackets, a long-time Western Conference powerhouse in the St. Louis Blues, a Boston Bruins team that sits second in the Atlantic Division, and they lost to the Western-Conference leading Chicago Blackhawks despite outshooting them 40 to 24 on the road.
The Hurricanes are the hottest team on home ice, posting a 12-1-1 record at the PNC Arena since November 12, and have six of their next nine and 11 of their next 17 games coming at home, including a five-game homestand in late February that may very well decide the fate of their season.
Carolina has become a competitive hockey team every night and a dominant, nearly unbeatable, force on home ice. Now, if they can turn an abysmal 6-11-6 road record around in the second half of the year, they should be in for a special season.
With that said, it was a great week for the Hurricanes, so let’s talk about it.
- Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Derek Ryan were in desperate need of a great showing against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, and they got one. The trio combined for eight points and a plus-nine rating in Carolina’s 5-3 win at the PNC Arena. The emergence of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen has been a key part of Carolina’s success over the past month and if Skinner, Rask, and Ryan can also find ways to contribute offensively on a night-to-night basis, they’ll be even tougher to play and beat.
- Cam Ward has gone from playing incredible in net to pretty well over the past couple of weeks, and that’s fine. It was preached all offseason that the Hurricanes needed average goaltending to be in the playoff hunt, and that has held true through the first half of the regular season. Even with how well he has played, he is playing too much. Ward has started 17 straight games for the Hurricanes in Eddie Lack’s absence, and with a stretch of six games over 12 days starting Friday, surely Michael Leighton sees a game or two in net. The alternative is to give Ward 23 consecutive starts, which could come back to bite Carolina in March and April. Keep an eye on the waiver wire and trade market with regards to backup goalie help. If there’s a guy who makes sense for Ron Francis, I wouldn't be surprised to see another goalie brought into the fold. Lack’s health going forward will also play a role in that.
- Ty Rattie skated in three games for Carolina last week after getting picked up off waivers from St. Louis. In his first games, coming against his former club, he played well but was relatively quiet, but he followed that up with a solid showing in a loss to the Blackhawks, in which he picked up an assist and nearly found the back of the net on a couple occasions. A minus-two rating with a 40% even strength Corsi share against the Bruins on Monday gave Bill Peters sufficient reason to scratch him against Columbus and Ryan played very well in his place. With the Hurricanes clicking as well as they have been, it’s tough to find a place where Rattie can fit in. Unless one of Derek Ryan or Elias Lindholm starts to fall off, it may be a little while before Rattie cracks the lineup again.
- Having Justin Faulk back in the lineup has been big for Carolina. He’s such an effective puck mover both at even strength and on the man advantage, and now he’s on his way to his third consecutive All-Star Game. A strong argument could be made that one of Jeff Skinner or Jaccob Slavin is just as deserving, if not more so, of the honor, but I’m not going to complain about the selection. Faulk has represented the Hurricanes admirably throughout his career both on and off the ice. He’s earned all the success and accolades that he has accumulated.
The Carolina Hurricanes have another important stretch of games ahead of them. Each of their next six games will come against Eastern Conference foes and five of them are within the Metropolitan Division. A good stretch of hockey and some help from teams like Philadelphia and Toronto could put the Hurricanes in a playoff spot by the end of the month.