Heading into a new month can often bring with it hopes for a new start. Which is convenient for the Carolina Hurricanes, since a new start is exactly what they need — again.
While October held some higher hopes as Carolina started their annual State Fair Road trip with a bang, it was a flurry of injuries and bad luck that sent the month spiraling into disaster. For a month that held all the promise of the sun shining on the Hurricanes again, it sure ended with gray clouds.
Injuries were not the only thing that caused headaches for Carolina in October. While the loss of both goaltenders to eerily similar injuries didn’t help, it sure wasn’t the sole area for blame. Going 15.2 percent on the power play has nothing to do with hurt goalies. Neither does a 1.93 goals per game average. Or the 0.62 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio. In fact, none of those stats have anything to do with goaltending. These are all offensive output issues that a goalie has as much control over as he does the weather.
To be entirely fair, Justin Peters, who was called up to replace the injured Anton Khudobin, isn’t exactly blame free. Peters was asked to hold things down and come up clutch to be the hero. His answer so far has been a 3.49 GAA and .890 save percentage. On the other side of things, how much can a team really ask of a kid who was playing in the minors a couple of weeks ago? The same kid who had a similar implosion last season when asked to fill in for the habitually injured starter, Cam Ward. Goaltending isn’t the sole issue, but it’s near the top of a short list.
Heading into November, there are a few glaring issues that need hemming up.
A team needs its captain, especially when that captain is one of the highest paid players on the team. Eric Staal is a magnificent hockey player, and it’s a shame he’s forgotten that this season. His plus/minus is the worst on the squad (-10) and he’s leading the team in penalty minutes (18). While Kirk Muller has finally taken the hint and placed Staal on a line with his brother Jordan Staal and the supposed offense machine, Alexander Semin, Staal still has yet to hit that stride.
Starting the month off with embarrassing losses against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers has caused Carolina to plummet in the NHL‘s Metropolitan Division standings. The good news is that it’s only November. The bad news? It’s already November.
Carolina can still make a go of it in the first half of the season. One major improvement simply would be to get the team to stay healthy for any given stretch of time. Again, injuries are not the main issue, but having the dynamo Jeff Skinner out with an upper body concern and defensive foundation Tim Gleason hurt again certainly isn’t the way to go. Besides having players with output not in the lineup, it causes chaos on the depth chart. Muller has a habit of not making changes terribly permanent, which causes a weird paradox. Guys get too used to their lines and pairings. One injury causes havoc, as players need to re-adjust. If Muller insists on chiseled-in-stone lines, the team needs to do their best to stay healthy so those lines have chance to gel.
While an 80.4 percent penalty kill is not all that bad, it’s not that good. Yet on the other hand, 15.2 on the power play simply won’t cut the mustard. Carolina needs to convert the man advantage more often. In the same vein, their team total PIM for the season is a disgusting 132, placing them fifth in the league. All these tidbits together mean that the Hurricanes have close to zero penalty management skills at the moment. They must shore up the penalty issues and watch the goals for/against ratio skyrocket.
Other areas like increasing both average shots per game (30.3) and converting the shots into goals will help immensely. The questionable addition of Manny Malhotra has the potential of increasing the faceoff wins, though these were never really an issue.
Carolina is not a rotten team; they are a very good team playing well below their potential. Improvements in key areas and tightening of gaps will be a starting point for an upswing in the season and some wins to celebrate.