Carolina Hurricanes, 13-12-5, second place in the Metropolitan Division
Last week (3-1):
12/1: Vancouver 3, @Carolina 2
12/3: Carolina 4, @Washington 1
12/5: Carolina 5, @Nashville 2
12/6: @Carolina 5, San Jose 3
This week: 12/9 @Vancouver; 12/10 @Edmonton; 12/12 @Calgary; 12/14 @Phoenix
Wait… fourteen goals in three games? Second place in the division? Did someone fact-check all that?
Indeed, the Canes have been scoring and winning lately, taking a crucial divisional game in Washington before hanging five goals each on a pair of Western Conference teams. A three-game win streak puts them a point ahead of the Caps and Rangers in the standings.
Square peg, round hole: If there’s a silver lining to Alex Semin’s concussion, it’s that his absence finally forced coach Kirk Muller to abandon hope that the top line combination from last season would wake up. It just wasn’t clicking between Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty and Semin this season. Everyone not wearing a suit and standing behind the bench with his arms folded over his chest could see that.
Returning from injuries of their own, Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu have snapped neatly onto the elder Staal’s wings to provide a mix of physicality and skill that has showed up on the scoresheet. And Skinner’s smiling again, that’s a really good sign.
Semin will reportedly join the Canes for their road trip this week (Zack Boychuk was sent back to Charlotte on Saturday), so this line might not last. But Muller would be foolish to forget about it, or to rush Semin back amid three games in four nights.
The rest of the lines: Tlusty and Pat Dwyer are skating on Jordan Staal’s line, where the younger of the brothers is asserting himself more around the net. With a goal in each of the last two games, Riley Nash has found a home centering the third line with Nathan Gerbe and Elias Lindholm on his wings. Lindholm had the first three-point game of his NHL career against San Jose.
Red-hot blueline: The real key to the scoring surge has been the Carolina defense. In the last four games, the blueline has accounted for 14 points (3G, 11A), with Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison notching a goal and three assists each. Even Peters tallied an assist against the Capitals.
For much of the year, defenders have played lateral catch in their own end, allowing the opposing forecheck to chomp down on them for turnovers and quick attacks. If you don't move the puck up, the forwards have to slow and circle, unable to pursue the puck deep or to match a quick attack.
Now the Canes are moving the puck up ice and getting it to the net—particularly Faulk, Ryan Murphy and Andrej Sekera.
A Sabre-rattling aside: What were they smoking in Buffalo, letting Gerbe and Sekera go? Put Gerbe on a line or Sekera on the back end, and the unit spends all of its time in the offensive zone. The Buffalo general manager and coach soon followed those guys out of town, of course. Good thing the collective bargaining agreement didn’t have do-overs in it.
Goalie logjam: When the Canes brought in Anton Khudobin to back up Cam Ward in net, you had to figure we’d not see much of Justin Peters. So of course he leads the team in wins, with a goals-against more than a half-goal better than Ward.
Credit Peters more than anyone for Carolina lingering in the standings. With Ward back, and Khudobin on the verge, the Canes have decided to carry three goalies rather than lose Peters via waivers by sending him back down to Charlotte.
That means that somebody not named Ward will be traded. No hard feelings, but here’s hoping it’s Khudobin, whose one-year deal makes a move nice and easy.
Trade gossip: In the beginning, God created the Earth and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shortly thereafter, the Leafs expressed interest in Tim Gleason. Or at least it seems like that.
The Leafs, who subject their goalies to an absurd number of shots each night, have long coveted Gleason’s grit and dependability. But his contract is an albatross: $4.5 million this year with a full no-trade clause; two more years with a cap hit of $4 million each with a modified no-trade clause. Then again, Toronto is no stranger to such deals (see: John-Michael Liles).
Reportedly in the market for a puck-moving defenseman, general manager Jim Rutherford would love to move Ruutu, who has two more years at $5 million per ($4.75 million against the cap; full no-trade clause). It’s more likely that Tlusty would be moved, since he’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year and counts only $1.6 million against the cap this year.
The trade deadline is Mar. 5, later than usual because of the Olympic break from Feb. 9-25.
Put the coffee on: You’ll have to stay up late to watch the Canes this week, as they do the dreaded western Canadian swing for three games in four nights. They’ll tack on a visit to Phoenix before returning to our time zone.
Those late starts are worth tuning in for, however. Trade talk and organizational frustration has lit a flame under the team. It should be interesting to see if they can keep it lit through British Columbia and Alberta.