Carolina Hurricanes' Most Pressing Concerns Early in the NHL Season

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Carolina Hurricanes' Most Pressing Concerns Early in the NHL Season
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Ten games into the 2013 NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes haven't varied an inch from their preseason expectations.

With five ups and five downs in the books, the 'Canes are 5-4-1 and stuck in a four-way tie for the Eastern Conference's eighth place.

Free-agent additions Alexander Semin and Jordan have quickly settled into their roles, goaltender Cam Ward's game is nicely coming around and the Hurricanes are leading the league with 36.5 shots per game.

But head coach Kirk Muller and the rest of the team are far from perfect. Several training camp-born roster battles remain unresolved, balanced offensive production is nowhere close to happening and discipline has been a much bigger issue than in years past.

As the 'Canes head into a critical multi-week stretch that will likely define their status—true contender, playoff bubble scrapper or cellar dweller—for the remainder of the 48-game season, we take a glance at four pressing concerns in need of extra attention.

 

Bottom-Six Scoring

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images
Carolina's third and fourth lines, which have generally consisted of a Chad LaRose-Jussi Jokinen-Drayson Bowman checking line and a fluctuating, Tim Brent-led bottom trio, have combined for a whopping one goal in 10 games.

One goal.

Those four aforementioned players had a combined 96 goals last year, but have failed to gain any traction in this year's early going—despite all averaging more than nine minutes of TOI per game.

As the games and fatigue begin to accumulate, the Hurricanes will need much more contribution from their lower lines to stay competitive with deeper teams.

 

Defensive Healthy Scratch Rotation

Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Three defensemen—Jamie McBain, Bobby Sanguinetti and Joe Corvo—have all been a healthy scratch for at least two games to date as a training camp roster spot battle has escalated into a seemingly permanent rotation.

Sanguinetti is a minus-six with zero points, but, as the youngest of the bunch, he's made more appearances (eight) than either of the others. Corvo, making his first appearance in the last four games, had a two-point effort Saturday in Philadelphia. McBain sat out the team's first two matches but is a plus-four since then.

Several glaring defensive gaffes have kept all three from gaining the upper hand in the ongoing battle. Sanguinetti blew a simple crease-clearing situation to allow Toronto's only goal last Monday. McBain missed embarrassingly on a poke check attempt to allow an Ottawa last Thursday; Corvo committed a series of dangerous turnovers two weeks ago in a close loss to Boston.

The longer the rotation lasts, the more instability grows within the Hurricanes' already fragile defensive unit. Kirk Muller needs to make a decision (and stick with it) soon.

 

Special Teams Play

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Special teams, one of the Hurricanes' year-in, year-out struggles, has hurt the 'Canes significantly this winter.

Carolina's seven goals on 45 power-play attempts—a 15.6-percent conversion rate—ranks 21st in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Canes' 10 surrendered tallies on 44 opposing man-advantage situations—a 77.3-percent kill rate—places 23rd.

Fortunately, both units seem to be trending in the right direction. The PK hasn't allowed a goal in three consecutive contests, going 11-for-11 over that span, while the power play has four goals in just as many games.

 

Physicality

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
The absence of Tuomo Ruutu—who is unlikely to recover from a January hip surgery before May rolls around—has been felt nowhere more than the 'Canes' toughness.

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Ruutu placed among the NHL's top three hitters for two of the last three seasons, and the Hurricanes, sequentially, ranked among the league's five most physical teams for two of those three seasons.

Now, Carolina falls 28th with 199 hits to date—in addition to 25th with 136 blocked shots.

They've been out-muscled badly in many of their losses.

In two defeats in Philadelphia over the last nine days, the Flyers topped the 'Canes 57-32 in hits and, even more incredibly, 52-18 in blocked shots. At times, the Hurricanes looked afraid to even make contact.

The only solution to a brutal shortage in the intimidation department may be the trade market, where a number of hard-hitting but low-scoring depth forwards are always available at reasonably cheap prices.

 

Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009, receiving almost a million views on his 450-plus articles to date. 

Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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