5 Keys To Keeping Carolina Hurricanes In Contention

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5 Keys To Keeping Carolina Hurricanes In Contention

contender
James Guillory - USA Today Sports

Nobody likes to lose. That's pretty much rule one of sports.

The Carolina Hurricanes and their fans have gotten a little too used to that of late. Two straight seasons of 'just about', 'almost there', 'if only', and not making the playoffs has created an atmosphere where the Hurricanes need to start hosting some tailgate parties in May -- or front office folks may start getting pink slips.

Much maligned in the cloud of chest-beating and alpha-fans that make up hockey fandom, Carolina takes a lot of undeserved condemnation. In the world of hockey fans, your team is either putting wins on the scoreboard or your team is a joke, and message boards are not the best place for you to hang out. Carolina fans haven't been able to post or tweet comfortably for a while.

In the last month, the Hurricanes have shown signs of coming around. The goaltending fiasco seems to be smoothing out into a minor disturbance in the Force, the power play is getting less horrible by the day, and the Boys In Red are looking like they could possibly throw together a run on the rest of the Metropolitan Division.

While nothing will get Carolina out of the doldrums right this very moment, there are a few things that can and must be done if the team is to remain in the conversation after the Olympics. While logic dictates the injury problems have got to be over by now, the Hurricanes must make themselves a team that can regroup and adjust automatically. Injuries are a drag, but they're not an excuse. Excuses don't put banners of any kind in the rafters.

If Carolina expects to be taken seriously from this point forward, the following five things need to happen.

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5. Young Blood

younguns
James Guillory - USA Today Sports

No matter how many big names with big shots you put out on the ice, if there's nothing on the lower lines -- you may as well triple-shift your top line and call it a night.

Carolina has an amazing corps of younger players prime to make their mark in the league. Guys like the Swedish firebrand that is Elias Lindholm can provide much-needed support to the top lines. Alongside Lindholm are guys like Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk who have been huge for team chemistry and morale, in addition to contributing offensively.

Leading the younger ranks is phenom Jeff Skinner. No matter how much teasing he takes for being a pretty-boy, hanging out with Taylor Swift, or any other non-hockey-related haterade he gets -- the constant is that this kid can play.

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4. A Little Of The Ol' Razzle-Dazzle

flash
Brace Hemmelgarn - USA Today Sports

Grit, hustle and grinding it out are all things any hockey team must have to compete. Nobody argues that.

In addition, there is never anything wrong with some flash. Old-school commentators like Don Cherry usually frown upon "showing off," but a little flash can be a good thing. Seeing someone like Nathan Gerbe throw a little spin move, round-the-back, or any other form of ice trickery can ignite a team like C4. It's a proven fact that teams who have fun on the ice end up winning. A lot.

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3. Get Angry!!

arrgghh
James Guillory - USA Today Sports

On the flip side ...

All flash does not a winning season make. This is hockey and at the end of the day, it's a tough guy's game. Standing tall to an opponent and staking a claim to their own zone will pay off in spades for Carolina. There is an abundance of tough guys on the roster, and leading the charge is Tim Gleason's protege -- Brett Bellemore.

The physicality cannot be limited to one guy or one line. The players who can mix it up need to. Opponents need to be put into boards, the slot and crease are to be defended, and most of all -- gloves need to be dropped.

The catch is to do it smartly, so as not to spend half the game on the penalty kill.

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2. Talent Must Earn Their Salary

salary
Tom Szczerbowski - USA Today Sports

You get what you pay for. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work.

Eric and Jordan Staal, Cam Ward, Alexander Semin, Tim Gleason ... these guys are making a ton of money. Ward and Gleason have both spent significant time on injured reserve, the elder Staal is only just emerging from a rough patch, Semin is hurt, and there but for the grace goes Jordan himself -- the sole consistent producer on the list.

For only one of the five big-name marquee players to be punching the clock is scary. Carolina is shelling out a pretty penny for these guys, and they need to play like money well spent.

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1. Fix. The. Power. Play.

pp
James Guillory - USA Today Sports

The state motto of North Carolina is Esse Quam Videri (to be rather than to seem), but lately it seems like it's been changed to "Can We Please Fix The Power Play?"

The biggest thing holding the Hurricanes back from making any kind of noise in the division is their inability to consistently convert on the man advantage. It's been said time and again that a team who cannot perform on the power play opens the door for their opponent to commit penalties with impunity.

Progress has been made in recent games, but it needs to be sustained. A power play goal here and there doesn't cut it.

Unless the Hurricanes are playing one of the most epic examples of rope-a-dope in history, the power play needs to produce and to do so three games ago. Failure to fix the power play will result in a lot of players making tee times for the third week of April.

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