While it still seems like the 2013-14 NHL season only just got going — it’s actually a quarter done.
It’s been touch-and-go for the Carolina Hurricanes, who have had their share of triumphs and off-nights. They’ve seen injuries, comebacks, new faces, fire and rain. However, with just 10 weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it’s as good a time as any to take inventory.
The first half of the season is half over and Carolina sits comfortably in the middle of the Metropolitan Division. With the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly untouchable, it’s been a dogfight with the rest of the division to remain in contention. Pittsburgh beat the Hurricanes in their only meeting so far on Oct. 28 and only make two more appearances on the schedule — the first being well into December. Should the Hurricanes continue what began in November, it’s not impossible to make a stand against or even defeat the division leaders.
Having knocked off both the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks in the same week gave a huge boost to team morale, during a very rough patch. However, it was the two losses to the Boston Bruins that seem to sting the most. Boston is turning out to be the achilles heel for starting goalie Cam Ward. But if movies have taught us anything, it’s that Ward is likely to rebound and get vindicated. If not, there’s 28 other teams in the league and spinning wheels over one team vying for League’s Most Obnoxious Fans is counter-productive.
Being able to finally ice a full roster has been a goal for the Hurricanes. With backup goalie Anton Khudobin, forward Alexander Semin and defenseman Andrej Sekera due to return within weeks, this is a reachable goal. Veteran defenseman Tim Gleason is still listed as indefinite, however, it’s a good chance he will return sometime after the road trip out west.
Interestingly enough, it’s been the third and fourth line offense that’s come up huge for Carolina. With Jeff Skinner setting the example, lower-line players like Pat Dwyer and rookie Elias Lindholm have come up huge seemingly out of nowhere. On top of that, the surprising performance of newcomers Nathan Gerbe and Manny Malhotra has been equally crucial. Gerbe has been a catalyst from the get-go both on the stats sheet and in the dressing room. With the now-justified acquisition of Malhotra, there’s plenty of bang-bang on the lower lines.
There’s problems to be solved, of course. The power play is bad, but that’s an improvement from the “horrible” status they wore in October. The penalty kill has not been as bad, and actually is leading the league in shorthanded goals — which literally nobody saw coming.
The biggest problem, however, is not the power play. It’s the injuries. One or two injuries are part of the game. However, nobody should see the cavalcade of oh-the-humanity that Carolina has faced on their injury report. It’s to the point that coincidence or “bad luck” is no longer an acceptable reason. There is a serious issue in either conditioning, training, practice or another area of the team. Whatever it is, it needs to be solved or Carolina cannot maintain any kind of push other than on the exit door at the end of the regular season.
Trimming those lose ends, focusing on the positive and maintaining morale are the orders of the day if Carolina is to head to Sochi anywhere near the top half of the division. Finishing the first half in a high playoff spot will make it easier to defend that spot in the second half than it would be to claw back.