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Carolina Hurricanes Weekly Thoughts: Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Goaltending, and Playoff Hopes

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Skinner and Lindholm leading the way, a growing goaltender controversy, and you’re saying there’s a chance?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

How about another great week?

The Carolina Hurricanes are 5-0-1 in their last six outings and have points in nine consecutive games.

The team is undoubtedly trending upward thanks to contributions all around.

For the first time in what seems like forever, everything is clicking. The team is scoring, they're playing strong defense, and they’re getting above average goaltending. We are seeing what a playoff caliber team looks like, which is especially promising considering this is the youngest team in the NHL.

Not only is Carolina winning, they’re doing it against good teams. Over the past week and change, they beat Nashville, they beat Minnesota, they beat Florida, and they beat Montreal with Carey Price in net. Three of those four teams are playoff clubs and Florida is a team the Hurricanes are directly competing with for a playoff spot.

I know, right? Playoffs? A couple weeks ago, it looked like it was over. The Hurricanes were playing bad hockey and weren’t getting any help in the crease. Now, it’s the exact opposite.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though. Most sites are giving the Hurricanes a 5% to 8% chance of making the postseason, but when you actually look at it, it is a little more realistic than that.

NHL.com

With 72 games down, Carolina sits at 77 points. They have two games in hand on the struggling Boston Bruins who hold a five-point lead on the Canes for the final wild card spot.

Of course, the Isles and Bolts stand in the way of the Hurricanes and a playoff birth, so they need help.

With ten games left, eight wins is probably the minimum of what Carolina needs to really put themselves in a position where they could make it in the top eight, but pretty much every game is a must-win, including a game in New Jersey against a bad Devils team, back-to-back home games against the bottom-dwelling Red Wings, and a home battle against the Isles in game 80 that could end up being this club’s biggest game in years.

So, there are a lot of things that need to fall perfectly in place for Carolina to even have a shot, but at this point, don’t count them out.

Here are some of my thoughts on the past week of Carolina Hurricanes hockey.

  • So, we’ve seen an uptick in quality from the goalie Eddie Lack department. Lack has played his best hockey of the season and perhaps has had his best stretch since he joined the team ahead of the 2015-16 season. Despite that, we have continued to see a goalie controversy, sparked by some questionable decision making from Bill Peters in regards to who he starts. I have been left scratching my head wondering why he’s made the decisions he has made in that regard, but guess what - they’re winning.
  • Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner have led the offensive charge as of late and they’ve done it in a huge way. Both of these players are playing their best hockey of the season with Lindholm riding a nine-game point streak and Skinner netting an absurd six goals in his last four games and nine goals in his last nine. Carolina’s biggest players are showing up when it has mattered the most and this needs to be a continuing trend. Lindholm’s offensive touch has been massive for this club and he has developed leaps and bounds as an all-around hockey player over the past 35 games. Skinner is just one goal short of 30 and is scoring big goals for the Hurricanes left and right and he’s not even getting big minutes by any stretch of the imagination, seeing what is pretty much fringe second-line ice time.
  • Noah Hanifin’s play as of late has been huge. He has seen his minutes rise and he’s responded well to it. On a pairing with Justin Faulk in Montreal, Hanifin logged 21:23 of ice time, had an assist, put three shots on net, and was a positive Corsi driver at even strength. His offensive confidence is on the rise and while he still has a good bit of ironing out to do in his own end, you can see the progress he is making, which is the most important thing. To this point in the year, we saw a regression in his game, but now we see him taking steps forward. It’s important to remember that he just turned 20.
  • After being as quiet as a church mouse through February and the first half of March, Lee Stempniak has quietly turned into an impact offensive player again. He scored twice in Montreal on Thursday and has seven points in as many games. This is a player who has been hit or miss. He’ll go on a scoring tear and then he’ll disappear for a few weeks. As a whole, he’s contributed just about as expected. His 36 points in 72 games is an even .5 points per game, which isn’t too shabby for a $2.5 million player.
  • At this point in the season, are the Hurricanes better off just rolling five defenders? Ryan Murphy logged just 10 minutes of ice time in Montreal and has seen much less ice time in games over the past few weeks. Obviously, the elephant in the room is his pending eligibility for the expansion draft, which makes him a must-play in order to get him to the 70-game limit unless the Canes plan on re-upping Tennyson or Dahlbeck and exposing one of them. Murphy has been in Bill Peters’ dog house for a long time and that won’t change, so maybe running a five-man defense, for the most part, is the better idea and then dressing Murphy every night and using him in desperate situations. They’ve done that multiple times over the past two weeks.
  • Branching off of that topic, Klas Dahlbeck seems like a really good candidate as a seventh defenseman entering next season. He brings some sandpaper and his play has improved a lot over the course of the season and, to his credit, he’s never played poorly over an extended period of time. He’s a serviceable player and he brings a dynamic that no other blueliner on this team does.