A sink or swim week for the Carolina Hurricanes has gone just about as poorly as it could have gone.
A pair of road losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a performance on home ice that was described as “high school” quality by Jordan Staal against the Pittsburgh Penguins has turned a four-game win streak to a three-game losing streak and makes Monday night’s bout in Washington a virtual must-win against a Capitals team that is 10-0-1 since January 1.
So, what now?
Well, luckily for Carolina, the teams around them in the standings aren’t doing too well either.
The Hurricanes sit three points behind the Bruins and Flyers, who hold the seventh and eighth positions in the East, respectively, and they have multiple games in hand on both clubs.
Games in hand are great, but if you don’t start winning those games in hand, they are useless. If Carolina had gone just 1-1-1 over their last three outings, they’d be seventh in the East.
With 36 games left in the regular season, it’s do or die time for the Hurricanes and it starts in Washington. How they bounce back from a trio of painful losses, all of which were painful for different reasons, could be telling of how the rest of the season will go.
A win on the road against the NHL’s new top team would be a massive confidence boost for a young team that desperately needs it.
Before we get there, though, here are my thoughts on the last week of Carolina Hurricanes hockey.
- Entering January 17, the Hurricanes were riding high. They had won four consecutive games, but they weren't winning games how we are accustomed to seeing them win. In each game, they fell behind early and had to work their way back. Instead of playing a heavy possession game, they were just trying to outscore teams. They were successful in doing so, but this team isn't made to do that. This ultimately came back to bite Carolina in games against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday and Penguins on Friday. They got outscored 11-2 in those games and saw the wheels completely fall off the wagon in a 7-1 embarrassment on home ice against the Pens. The message here is obvious. The Hurricanes have to get back to playing the way Bill Peters has taught them to play. The high scoring games are fun to watch, but in the long run, that’s not helping the Canes, it’s hurting them.
- To the surprise of no one, Cam Ward playing the second-most games of all NHL goalies through 45 games has finally backfired. His stellar November and December was a key factor in Carolina’s rise to playoff relevancy, but his play has continued to get more lackluster over the past two months and the Pittsburgh game was the straw that broke the camels back. Michael Leighton got his first start since December 3 in Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Columbus, which gave Ward a much-needed night off, but is Leighton really the answer as a backup goalie? Eddie Lack has been traveling with the team and is getting closer to returning, but he hasn’t played since November 10, so it would be naive to think he could step in and give the Hurricanes quality starts. With all the Matt Duchene trade talk, I’m now thinking it is far more important for the Canes to get a quality backup or 1B goalie to go along with Ward down the stretch, especially if the aging netminder continues to wither.
- On the topic of Duchene, there have been some new developments. Bleacher Report’s Adrian Dater said last week that there are talks in Carolina’s front office regarding the idea of trading away young defensemen/prospects for Duchene’s services. That was reported prior to Carolina’s three-game skid. One would assume that their recent play might factor into those discussions. Ron Francis and company will continue to do their due diligence. The February 28 trade deadline is 36 days away.
- Amidst a week of disappointment, rookie Sebastian Aho shined for the Hurricanes. He scored two of Carolina’s four goals over the past three games and remains one of the most impressive rookies in this year’s astonishing rookie class. Aho ranks third among NHL rookies in goals (12), second in shots (112), and seventh in points (25). Only Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask have more scoring points than Aho on the Hurricanes. Kyle talked about his impressive stretch on Sunday.
- Ryan Murphy came back into the lineup in place of Matt Tennyson on Saturday. Yep. He was a minus-two in just 12:00 of ice time and took roughing and hooking penalties on the same play which led to a four-minute powerplay for the Blue Jackets. In 11 games this year, he has just two assists and two shots on goal to go along with a minus-eight rating. Once upon a time I erred on the side of not trading him and keeping him around, now I think his days in Carolina should be numbered. He has clearly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and he is being outplayed by each of Carolina’s other seven NHL-level defensemen. We’ll see what the future holds for him as the trade deadline and expansion draft approach.
An important week of hockey kicks off tonight in Washington and will take the Hurricanes back home to take on the Los Angeles Kings immediately before the All-Star break and Philadelphia Flyers immediately after.
We are nearing the home stretch of the regular season, and the Canes need to string some wins together and avoid losing streaks like the one they are currently on.