The RBC Center's goal horn is getting a good workout so far in 2010. The Carolina Hurricanes (22-16-6, ninth in Eastern Conference) are 4-0-1 at home this year and have scored 25 times in those games, an average of five goals each.
They've also scored 23 games in their last five overall and gone 4-1-0 in those, only adding to a streak that now stands at 7-1-2, including points in nine of their last ten matches. The run has pushed the ninth-place 'Canes (with 50 points), within one point of eighth-place Atlanta with three fewer games played, within three points of seventh-place Montreal with one game in hand and within five points of the sixth-place Rangers with two fewer games played.
It also puts Carolina on pace for just over 95 points on the season, which should be enough to make the cut in a weak conference like the East, which had two teams with 88 points make the postseason last year (oddly enough, they were Philadelphia and Montreal, the two eventual combatants for the Eastern Conference title).
A 5-3 win in Florida on January 7th followed by a 4-3 overtime win against Atlanta on the ninth and a 6-5 shootout victory over the Flames on the 11th composed another three-game winning streak for Carolina, only to see it end in a 3-2 defeat in Buffalo on the 13th. The Hurricanes responded with a 6-4 victory over Tampa Bay in their last game on Saturday night.
Last time we posted our Carolina Hurricanes report, it was now-All-Star goaltender Cam Ward who was the star of the article. This time around, it's the 'Canes offensive leaders who take the spotlight.
The frenzy of flashing red lights has been led by the same players who have been the biggest contributors up to this point. Captain Eric Staal leads the team in points with 46 (10th in the NHL) and goals with 22 (eighth in the league), but he's been even better lately, posting three goals and four assists in Carolina's last five games, capped off by a three-point night against the Bolts.
Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner, who are tied for second on the season with 36 points each, have been ever hotter than Staal, though. They both have eight points over the span, with Skinner recording five goals compared to Ruutu's five assists, and are plus-four and plus-five, respectively. It's not like they've both been only one-dimensional, though; Skinner has begun to show up more and more in physical game, while Ruutu is second in the NHL in hits.
Since returning from an injury had kept him out since December 28th in Toronto, Jussi Jokinen has been dynamite his past three games. The Finn scored twice and added an assist against both Calgary and Tampa Bay, sandwiching his one-point game in Buffalo. Jokinen is also a plus-four over that span, jumping him from a minus-one to a plus-three in his season statistics.
The fifth and final key to the Hurricanes' scoring run, Erik Cole, has been perhaps the most unheralded of the five this year. Cole has three goals and three assists in the five-game period and had three points (all assists) against the Lightning.
The defense has also been chipping in on the offensive end. Joe Corvo has four assists in five games and rookie Jamie McBain, who has been steady but not nearly as star-like as he was in his 14-game tryout last spring, scored against the Lightning and had three assists in the previous four games. Ian White, a minus-11 on the season heading into the stretch (most of those negatives came in Calgary), has put up three assists in five games, in addition, and is a plus-four.
The only star that we haven't seen a lot of is Joni Pitkanen. The 2010 Olympian and All-Star ballot contestant has no points in eight games in a row and missed five more games not included in that streak to injury. He's also a minus-four over the span and a minus-three in his last three appearances, a stat that needs to improve quickly.
As for some other youngsters in the organization getting recalled to Carolina, a turn-of-the-decade injury streak that took out Jokinen, Pitkanen and penalty-killer Ryan Carter for at least a week each gave prospects like Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe and Jon Matsumoto chances to play in the big leagues. They all auditioned well, with Dalpe scoring three times in seven games and Boychuk putting up three goals and two assists in 14 games and counting.
Back on the other end of the ice is Cam Ward, who's been stellar all season, but has come off of his game somewhat lately. Ward allowed five goals on 32 shots against Calgary (a .844 save percentage) and four goals on 34 shots versus Tampa Bay (.882). Part of the problem has been the defense, which has allowed an average of 34 shots against over his last four starts.
24-year-old backup goalie Justin Peters has been on the rise lately, after starting the year 0-3-1. Peters has won three of his last four starts and has a .904 save percentage during his last five games, a vast improvement over his .855 mark during his first six appearances.
Analyzing the Statistics
After beginning the year almost unimaginably bad in faceoffs, the Hurricanes have climbed, albeit slowly, up to 43.5 percent as a team. They trailed the second-to-last team, usually Edmonton, by as many as four percent at times, but are now only 0.2 percent away (the Oilers are at 43.7 percent). They still trail the 28th-place Rangers by two whole percentage points.
A four-for-five outing against Tampa Bay was a rare occurrence for the Carolina power play, which has had some great games but has been, for the most part, not very opportunistic. They sit at 12th right now at just a hair over 19 percent, a statistic that's even surprising to us, but after doing the math, it appears that they would have been 19th heading into Saturday evening's game.
The penalty kill remains poor, though, killing only 78.6 percent of opponent man advantages. The 'Canes do not take a lot of penalties, fortunately, but their average PIM per game (10.1) has fallen from second-least in the NHL to fifth-least in less than a month and increased by nearly two minutes.
A big factor in the recent upturn has been the sudden outburst of comebacks that fans didn't see much over the first couple months. While staying one of the best teams in the league with the lead (10-0-1 when leading after the first period and a remarkable 14-0-0 when leading at the second intermission, one of only four teams that are undefeated in this category), the 'Canes have now earned at least a point in five games while trailing after the first and in four games when trailing after the second.
As has been the case for a good portion of the season, Carolina is injury-free. Injuries were a big problem in their up-and-down 2009-2010 campaign, and it's good to see the team stay so healthy this year.
Charlotte Checkers Check-In
While the Hurricanes have been tearing it up in Raleigh, Charlotte has gone through a bit of a slump over the first two weeks and change of 2011. The Checkers are only 4-5-0 this calendar year, uncharacteristic of the first-year squad, which has been surprisingly successful compared to the typical results of Carolina AHL affiliates.
At the time of his recall, former first-round pick Zach Boychuk was second in the AHL with 32 points. Jerome Samson has since taken his spot, now leading the team with 20 goals (tied for second in the league) and 42 points, fifth in the AHL. Underrated left wing Jacob McFlikier is second on the Checkers with 17 goals and 36 points, in addition to a plus-nine rating, and Oskar Osala (35 points) and Chris Terry (32 points) are right on their tails.
The defense has been led by Brett Carson (a plus-10) while he's there, but Casey Borer (plus-nine) and new signee Michal Jordan (plus-three) have easily handled the job during Carson's recalls. The goaltending has been rotated between Justin Pogge (27 starts) and Mike Murphy (21 stars), with Pogge posting a .915 save percentage and 2.88 GAA (goals-against average) compared to Murphy's .906 save percentage and 2.99 GAA.
In addition, there's now proof that moving the Hurricanes AHL team from Albany, NY to Charlotte has been a major success. The Checkers have averaged an attendance of 5,687 per game at the Time Warner Cable Arena, the eighth-best number in the AHL, while the Rangers AHL team, taking the River Rats' place in Albany, is dead last with only 2,724 per game.
Next up on the schedule for Carolina is a home-and-home with the Boston Bruins (24-13-7, third in the conference). The 'Canes will visit Boston at 1 PM today, the third straight game between the two foes that has been played as a matinee in TD Banknorth Garden. Boston will then visit the RBC Center at 7 PM tomorrow.
The Hurricanes will then play once every two days for the rest of the month, hosting the Rangers (26-17-3, sixth in the East) on Thursday in a must-win affair and then visit Pittsburgh (28-14-4, ranked fourth) on Saturday the 22nd. They'll then return home to host the Maple Leafs (18-25-3, sitting at 12th) and then visit the heating-up New York Islanders (14-22-7, 14th in the conference). A five-day rest period will close out the first month of 2011.
Two more games against familiar opponents Boston and Toronto are set at the beginning of February. We'll need to re-assess the situation at that point, but one can only hope that the recent goal-scoring trend can continue that long.
If you haven't heard it enough lately, here it is again, Caniacs. "...That's another Carolina Hurricanes goal!..."
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 245 articles and received over 235,000 total reads.