Few things are tougher to contend with than a hockey team with momentum and something to prove. Currently, the Carolina Hurricanes have both, which if things continue as they are, could make them the most unexpectedly dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off of a banner win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina carried the momentum to a victory over the New York Islanders Saturday night. The victory over New York, coupled with other goings on in the NHL, moved the Hurricanes into second place in the Metropolitan Division, behind the juggernaut Pittsburgh Penguins.
On top of the boost in the standings, the Islanders game also succeeded in spotlighting success in areas that sorely needed it. Top liner, Jiri Tlusty finally broke the seal on the season, and in a major way, scoring two big goals. This is a welcome sight from Tlusty as he, Eric Staal, and Alexander Semin had been struggling until recently to find a common ground. Staal had scored a go-ahead goal in the previous win over Toronto.
Another encouraging thing was the goal that came from Jordan Staal early in the second period. Having a goal come on the power play, which has been embarrassingly ineffective until now, is exciting. While the team is still an irksome 15.4 percent on the man advantage, being able to go 1-for-3 against a team with an 82.6 percent penalty kill, is evidence of hard work.
Carolina actually isn’t all that bad on the road, sitting eleventh in the league on road wins, with four. Compared to just the single win at home, the road isn’t that horrible of a place for them to be, especially with the man advantage. The Hurricanes are converting penalties 21.4 percent of the time on the road — compared with a mere 12 percent in their own barn.
Goaltending is of course an area of concern. With Anton Khudobin injured, it comes down to starter Cam Ward to come as close to perfection as he can. He isn’t. Ward is 35th in the league on save percentages and carries a 2.84 GAA, which also places him in the bottom half of the league. Ward makes too much money to carry a 2.84, plain and simple. The only place Ward ranks in the top ten goalies in the league? Shots faced, where he’s seen 211. Ward is nowhere near back to his full potential yet, and the sooner Khudobin is behind him again, and Tim Gleason returns to leading the back end, the better. Ward sees too many shots, is put in too many awkward situations, and makes too many saves he shouldn’t have to make.
The team has an extended travel/rest period, not taking the ice until Thursday when they face the Minnesota Wild. All signs have been pointing towards Gleason rejoining the team for this game, which would be a welcome lift of weight off of Justin Faulk‘s shoulders. As the momentum builds, the Hurricanes have all the tools at their disposal to continue their new winning streak.