There’s not much the Carolina Hurricanes can do about their injury situation. They have to wait for the injured players to recover and push on as best they can.
In the interim, hockey must be played and the show must go on. With the division leading Pittsburgh Penguins coming into town Monday night, Carolina must mend what they can if they are to extend the Penguins’ current losing streak.
Head coach Kirk Muller as well as captain Eric Staal have both publicly said that dominance in the first period is the top issue being addressed in practice and team meetings. Muller has uncharacteristically been toying with lines and pairings in recent practices. No line has been safe, as practice has seen nearly every possible combination.
Carolina has a very spooky record when it comes to their first period woes. Currently the team is .500 when trailing after the first, but when leading after the second the record moves slightly higher to .667. This presents issues, because Pittsburgh is unbeaten in four games when leading after the first period. When trailing in the second, Pittsburgh has won only once. This paints a simple picture. Show Pittsburgh they can be hurt in the first and keep the pedal down in the second.
This seems more difficult when seeing the Hurricanes have allowed nine first period goals yet have only scored three of their own. Pittsburgh has scored 11 times in the first.
The numbers will show one other thing the Hurricanes are struggling with: Managing the game’s momentum. Look at the power play. Carolina has spent 76:17 on the man advantage this season and have a combined 70 power play shots on goal (PP Shots). This places them No. 7 in the NHL in both categories. Has all this power play time paid off? The Hurricanes are 14.9 percent on the man advantage with a paltry seven power play goals (PPG) and have only converted one 5-on-3.
Allowing unanswered goals will not win hockey games, nor will refusing to capitalize on the momentum generated by their goals. Too often, the Hurricanes have let their guard down and allowed an opponent to regain lost momentum, putting Carolina on their heels.
Justin Peters is projected to start in goal for the Hurricanes and has a 2-3-1 record against Pittsburgh. In all fairness, Peters was not called up to be a starting goalie. Yet with the recent injury to Cam Ward, Peters is getting his big shot — Again.
It was just last season that Peters was in this same situation. With Ward out he was forced to step up and went 4-11-1 with a 3.46 GAA. While this isn’t entirely what kept the Hurricanes out of the playoffs, it sure didn’t help. He also gave up an 8-3 loss to Pittsburgh. So, there’s that.
Having defenseman Tim Gleason back in the lineup will hopefully be a spark that allows the defense get behind Peters more, preventing him from the levels of danger that an AHL goalie is not ready for. This is crucial, and having Gleason paired with Ron Hainsey might just do the trick.
More than anything else it comes down to momentum and confidence. Muller knows to get his team out of the gates fast, early, and fired up. Relying on the leadership of veterans and the coaching staff will be the key to allowing this to happen. Should they get this strategy working, once the team is back healthy, there will be every chance of finishing in the elite of the Eastern Conference.