The Carolina Hurricanes are so hot at the moment, it seems only the weather might be able to slow them down.
That's right, a large snowstorm is on its way into North Carolina offering the potential for seven to 10 inches of snow and another significantly large portion of ice.
And the way the 'Canes are playing at the moment, perhaps its only a game cancellation due to an ice storm that can stop them. On their current three-game win streak, the 'Canes have outscored their opponents 14-3 despite being out shot 67 to 93 during the span.
The hot week has provided yet another bright spot in a month that's only been cold and dreary in Raleigh, NC on the weather report. The Hurricanes are 8-5 so far in January, with six of the eight wins coming on two separate three-game win streaks and three of the five losses coming on a three-game losing skid.
January also brought a change in captaincy for Carolina, when GM Jim Rutherford switched the "C" from 39-year-old, 5-year captain Rod Brind'Amour (-47 over the past two seasons) to 26-year-old, superstar Canadian center Eric Staal (no introductions necessary here).
Not only has the change worked out very well in the short run (the 'Canes are 4-1 since), but Staal has taken absolutely no time at all getting adjusted to his new label. In the five games since the switch, he's earned a whopping eight goals (one hat trick), a +3 rating, and an additional assist. Those stats have just continued an eight-game point streak he had begun before the captaincy change.
Staal's recent point streak has also refueled the top-scorer battle between Staal and Ray Whitney, which was neck and neck in the 2008-2009 season. Staal (18 goals, 24 assists) and Whitney (16 goals, 25 assists) are now separated by one scoring point, with Jussi Jokinen (16 goals, 22 assists) three points back.
Another interesting note is defenseman Joni Pitkanen's appearance at fifth on the scoring rankings for Carolina, who has recorded 28 assists already, most on the team, from the blue line.
Goaltender Cam Ward has also been on fire during the run. The latest stretch of his current streak of 21 consecutive games played has included several impressive statistics.
Ward has stopped 142 of 149 shots, a 95.2 save percentage, over his last five games (only four starts; Manny Legace started in the one 4-2 loss to the Flyers). He also has a 1.40 goals-against average during that time and an impressive 2.07 GAA over the entire month.
Shorthanded goals have also become an asset for the 'Canes, one of just a few statistics that have radically improved from last year. Carolina currently sits with six shorthanded goals, two each from Matt Cullen and Tom Kostopolous, one from Chad LaRose, and another from Stephane Yelle against the Islanders Thursday night. That production has gotten the 'Canes into a four-way tie for third place in the NHL, with Chicago (eight) and San Jose (seven) occupying the top two stats in that regard.
From all angles, January was a successful month for the Carolina Hurricanes. They've now pulled ahead of the last-place Edmonton Oilers by three points and are one point back with one less game played and a 2-1 record against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who currently control 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
However, a large question remains: how long can Carolina keep this success up? About one more game, or for the rest of the season? One thing is certain; the eight games they have remaining before the two-and-a-half week Olympic Break will be crucial in determining if the 'Canes still have hope of reaching the playoffs. And, with that note, that brings us to the 'Canes Report monthly schedule preview.
The Hurricanes are scheduled to play next on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, who trail the Sharks for the NHL lead by just a single point. The contest should be an excellent measuring stick for the 'Canes players and team play as a whole, but it's definitely possible the weather might interfere.
Carolina will then open up the shortened month of February with a rigorous four-game road trip. They'll begin on Monday the first against the Oilers, currently the one team below Carolina in the standings.
They'll then stick around for two more days in Alberta, Canada, for a game on Wednesday against the majorly-inconsistent and currently-slumping Calgary Flames. The Hurricanes will then open the weekend with a New York State Friday-Saturday doubleheader, facing the Sabres at 7:30 p.m. on the fifth and the Isles at 7 p.m. on the sixth.
Carolina will then return home for three games heading into a lengthy Olympic Break, where Carolina will be sending off three players to Vancouver (Eric Staal-Canada, Joni Pitkanen & Tuomo Ruutu-Finland) but also trying to get Eric Cole and Tuomo Ruutu back from injured reserve.
The Florida Panthers will be in Raleigh on Jan. 9, and then the 'Canes will meet the Sabres for the second time in six days before finishing off the pre-Olympics schedule with a home match that Saturday against New Jersey.
As you can see, it's a rigorous yet important two weeks for Carolina, who will either have a chance to keep hope in a run that would go down in the history books or will establish themselves as a legitimate (if you could say that) first overall pick contender.
The Olympic break might be just as helpful to Carolina as any team in the NHL. They hope to be fully healthy heading into March with Cole and Ruutu still recovering and top defenseman Joe Corvo, who's been out since a Nov. 30 game against the Washington Capitals, likely returning in the next several days.
But first they have to get there, and it will be huge to see if they can carry the cold, yet solid, momentum generated from the month of January until the break. Hopefully, small, overlooked, but steady statistics for Carolina like solid goaltending, great top line production, shorthanded goals, and an on-fire powerplay can allow them to, for once, keep up with any team in the NHL.
But let's not get too overconfident. Because, basically, that's what all of this season's struggles and losses have been about.
Overconfidence. It's a bad word. But, at times, it can also be backed up with some real fire. And, perhaps, that is the case at the moment for the Hurricanes.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 17 months so far with the site, he has written over 150 articles and received over 100,000 total reads.
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