Carolina Hurricanes' 4-Step Plan to Revitalize 2013 Season
Five games and five losses later, that Amtrak of confidence has tumbled disastrously off the rails.
Yes, injuries have indeed taken their toll—Cam Ward, Chad LaRose, Justin Faulk, Dan Ellis, Joe Corvo and Bobby Sanguinetti remain out for the 'Canes, even as Tuomo Ruutu returns from IR—but at this point, excuses will only prolong the misery.
Over their last four games and two periods, the 'Canes have been outscored 16 to 4. They've scored one (and only one) goal in four consecutive games. They've allowed four goals in their past five shorthanded sequences. Over this five-game streak, their opponents have 95 blocked shots to their 66.
And now, having mustered just eight shots on goal in the final 52 minutes of Thursday's loss to New Jersey, the Hurricanes have a weekend to rest, recall and, hopefully, revitalize.
How can the crumbling 'Canes turn their once-promising 2013 campaign around? Our four-step plan to get Eric Staal & Co. moving forward again lies in the coming slides.
Take Advantage of Weekend Break
The Hurricanes' longest in-season break couldn't have come at a better time.
After falling 4-1 to both the Panthers last Tuesday and the Devils on Thursday, the 'Canes were off Friday and Saturday and will continue to relax for two more days before taking on the Jets Tuesday.
The break might ease a bit of the pain on the injury list, as Corvo and Sanguinetti—both regarded as day-to-day for the moment—have outside shots of getting healthy by Tuesday.
Eric and Jordan Staal, meanwhile, are taking the opportunity to get comfortable with helmet visors, an optional piece of equipment both will begin wearing in response to brother Marc's awful eye injury several weeks ago.
However, most importantly, the extended weekend off should put a cap on the losing streak and refresh the team for a successful final month. Head coach Kirk Muller pushed the beaten and bruised squad for several tough hours during Friday's practice in hopes of working off some frustration and reinstating a hard-working, motivated attitude among the ranks.
#Canes using today's practice to close the book on this five-game winless streak. Skated hard, worked hard and now they're moving on.— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) March 22, 2013
Trade for a Defenseman
When 24-year-old rearguard Brett Bellemore, a five-year minor league veteran, made his NHL debut Thursday, it seemed that Carolina's defensive situation couldn't get any more desperate.
Then Bobby Sanguinetti left in the third period with an apparent arm or shoulder injury, and—entering the second half of the four-day break—his loss has left another hole in the 'Canes roster.
Rasmus Rissanen and Justin Krueger of the AHL's Charlotte Checkers, who began the season as the Checkers' third-pairing defense and are former sixth- and seventh-round draft picks, respectively, would be next in line for a call-up. But neither are remotely near NHL-caliber players, and their move to Raleigh would only further deplete a ridiculously injury-laden Charlotte roster.
The other option is a trade, and that option appears to be one GM Jim Rutherford is pursuing diligently.
I'm told San Jose GM Doug Wilson in total "panic mode" so that team will be interesting to watch. Give him a call if u want Doug Murray.— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) March 17, 2013
Murray, 33, will be a free agent this summer and, with two assists in 23 games to date, would be a cheap add. Braun, 27, is signed through 2015, but has just three assists in 19 appearances this season and carries a cap hit of only $1.25 million.
Given the well-documented struggles of San Jose this season and the 'Canes' frantic need for defensemen, a cross-conference trade of Murray or Braun for a mid-round draft selection should be reasonable and worthwhile for both clubs.
Rejuvenate Second Line
As the Hurricanes' dynamic first line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty attempts to push through a quiet stretch, the team must finally find a solution to its year-long issue with depth scoring.
Thursday night, Tuomo Ruutu played his first game since April 2012, registering an unexpectedly high 14:20 of ice time and showing few signs of rust in the process.
He'll soon join a struggling second line along with center Jordan Staal and fellow winger Jeff Skinner, who have just three points and a minus-eight rating combined over their past six games. In even-strength scoring chances (h/t ShutdownLine.com), Skinner is minus-five and Staal is a disastrous minus-eight over merely the past three matches.
Including Ruutu, the threesome is certainly one of the better, if not best, second lines in the league. But they'll have to prove that on the ice if the Hurricanes' 10th-ranked offense is to get rolling again, especially while the team searches for stability in the bottom six and an upswing in production from the first line.
The Hurricanes will meet the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets in two of their three games during a crucial upcoming week of hockey.
Winnipeg will visit Raleigh on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET and then host the 'Canes on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, sandwiching a Carolina visit to Toronto on Thursday.
The 'Canes trail the Jets by two points but have two games in hand and could catch Winnipeg at a relatively opportune time. Since Feb. 19, the Jets are 10-6-1, yet they've lost three of their last four and were crushed 4-0 and 6-1 by Washington during a Thursday-Friday back-to-back at the MTS Centre.
Wins over Winnipeg in these two upcoming meetings would do wonders for the Hurricanes' confidence as well as position in the standings. Conversely, two losses would put the 'Canes in an even bleaker position heading into April.
The pair of games will be, simply put, season-defining.
If the Hurricanes do indeed revitalize their 2013 season and make a strong playoff push down the stretch, it absolutely has to start this week.
Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009, receiving almost a million views on his 450-plus articles to date.