After such a dreadful October and November, the Carolina Hurricanes have come out quite a bit stronger in December.
Last week contained a brutal four-game road trip, where the Hurricanes got to have a nice tour of the arenas of many of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, as they went to Pittsburgh on Monday before eventually also visiting New Jersey, Washington, and Ottawa.
In those four games, the 'Canes picked up three points, winning a tight 3-2 game against the Penguins and also earning an additional tally in a 4-3 overtime loss to Washington.
Despite only picking up three points, it was a very successful road trip for Carolina, which (not counting empty net goals) was only outscored 12-10 against some of the NHL's best. The Hurricanes also got Cam Ward back from a six-week injury due to a thigh laceration.
However, after Ward's two opening debuts both ended in hard-fought losses, what does Paul Maurice do? Of course, he benches Ward in favor of Manny Legace, who plays decently but still can't pull out a win for the Canes against the Senators.
In addition to the inopportune and completely unreasonable benching of Ward, the Hurricanes also lost Eric Cole, Sergei Samsonov, and Chad LaRose for minor-to-moderate injuries late in the week. Just as things begin to get better for Carolina, injuries strike again, just like it's been all year.
Hopefully, though, a quieter, easier week for the Hurricanes leading into the holidays will help slow things down and continue to slowly but steadily right the Hurricanes' ship.
Carolina Hurricanes Weekly Preview: Dec. 14 to Dec. 20
Carolina will get several days off early this week before returning home on Wednesday to face the Dallas Stars, who defeated the Hurricanes by a 2-0 score less than a month ago at American Airlines Center, with Marty Turco shutting out the Canes for the fourth time this season.
Samsonov is listed is questionable for the matchup against the Stars, and the status of the productive, speedy forward will be a key factor for the Hurricanes, who have not had much success historically against Dallas and have struggled against Turco as well many times in recent years.
The Hurricanes then will have a back-to-back against the division rival Florida Panthers on Friday and Saturday, with the first game down in Florida before returning to Raleigh the next day.
The Hurricanes defeated the Panthers at the RBC Center in mid-October for their first win of the year, 7-2, but were then shut out down in Florida at the beginning of November, 3-0. The Panthers scored three crushing third-period goals in the second game, and Tomas Vokoun also completed his second shutout in a row at the time.
After that, the Canes are idle until they face the collapsing New York Rangers on the Monday of Christmas Week, which will start a very important four-game homestand for Carolina.
Roster and Injury Update
As I mentioned earlier, Samsonov is day-to-day for the Hurricanes, while Cole, who has already broken his leg earlier in the year, and LaRose, who has just one goal on the season, are out with slightly more significant injuries and will probably be out until Christmas.
Tim Gleason and Niclas Wallin also did not practice this weekend. Wallin has been out for two weeks because of several issues, while Gleason was cut by the stick of Alexander Ovechkin last Friday against the Caps and, despite receiving 30 stitches in the gash along his right cheek, is not expected to miss any playing time.
The questionability of all of these is yet another major problem for the Hurricanes' management, which has just not been able to find suitable replacements for the many open roster spots this season.
Michael Ryan has been out for most of season for Carolina with a concussion. Although he is improving, his contributions even when healthy have always been minimal.
Former backup goaltender Michael Leighton is on re-entry waivers and also playing down at the AHL level, as Legace, signed to fill in for Ward in November, has now taken his job as backup.
Struggling and aging defenseman Aaron Ward has also been placed on waivers, as the former Stanley Cup-winning Hurricane is at minus-15 and has just six points in 31 games for Carolina after being acquired from Boston during the offseason in exchange for inconsistent Patrick Eaves. According to ESPN, several teams are interested in Ward at the moment, although he clears waivers tomorrow at noon. The Flyers, Blue Jackets, and Hawks are all in the market for Ward at the moment.
Finally, it appears miserable team captain Rod Brind'Amour may finally be finishing off his NHL career. Brind'Amour has been a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes several times this December already, and his near-league-worst statistics are drawing concerns of him continuing to play at the NHL level.
Anyhow, with all the waiver wire players and injuries that have and still continue to plague the Hurricanes roster into a skeleton group, it's no wonder they're nine points into 30th place in the NHL at the moment.