Heading into Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes have an interesting outlook they can take. They could take a win, or at the very least a point off of the Colorado Avalanche, one of the top teams in the NHL.
On the other hand, if they can hold their own and dig their heels in to prevent an all out face-punch, this bodes well for the future and is a harbinger of good things to come. Not to mention, it will be a small victory if Carolina can go three whole periods without anyone getting hurt.
In the unlikely event the Hurricanes do get the Alderaan treatment from Colorado, there’s a silver lining. They don’t have to play them again this season. On top of that, the juggernaut teams in the Western Conference like the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks only pop up on the schedule three more times. Furthermore, other than Anaheim’s visit this Friday, the Hurricanes have until March to even begin worrying about it.
This affords Carolina the privilege of spending the rest of the pre-Olympics part of the season focusing on the Eastern Conference, allowing them to make much more headway in the standings. They’ll also be facing the East with what should be a full roster after the return of all the injured starters.
No matter what happens with Colorado, the Hurricanes can’t lose. A three-game point streak, the return of Cam Ward to practice and the overall uptick in vital areas on the statistics sheet means that things are starting to go Carolina’s way again. It’s not something that looks good on a motivational poster, but all the Hurricanes have to do is survive Colorado intact, and then it’s sunny days.
Of course, this means Carolina has the bulk of the East to contend with. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins are still the bullies on this particular playground, but the Hurricanes have already shown that they can handle two of those three teams.
On top of this, the Tampa Bay Lightning has basically thrown in the towel on the next third of the season after the horrific injury to Steven Stamkos, leaving space for upward mobility in the rest of the conference.
There’s no reason to pencil Colorado in as a loss. As long as Carolina can come out of their corner swinging and stay that way, there’s no reason at all for them not to come away with a win. They have the talent to hurt the Avalanche and hurt them badly. Between Nathan Gerbe playing completely out of his mind, Justin Peters remembering to stop the puck and solid defense from Ryan Murphy, its not outside the realm of possibility.
Shutting down the big guns like Matt Duchene and Max Talbot are high on the to-do list, but there’s one thing that needs highlighting and underlining: making it rain on the goaltender.
Whether starting Semyon Varlamov or Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Colorado is still allowing a mind-boggling average of 32 shots on goal per game. Granted Varlamov and Giguere are sporting .936 and .970 saves percentages respectively, but Carolina is averaging 30.3 shots per game, and wins 71.4 percent of the time when out-shooting their opponent.
Goaltenders are human beings — throw enough shots on them, and something’s getting through. One thing the Hurricanes are showing sudden prowess at, is re-directions around the crease. Some call it “garbage goals”, but they sure look the same on the stats sheet. Traffic in the slot hasn’t been Carolina’s strong suit of late, but the sooner they realize the slot isn’t made of lava and they’re allowed to set up in there, the sooner the goals will come.
Colorado is the last hurdle before Carolina gets down to brass tacks and re-takes their place in the Metropolitan Division. With Ward reported to be ready as soon as the weekend, Tim Gleason skating in practice and Jeff Skinner nearing his return, there is hope for sunnier days in Carolina.