Wins Are Crucial in Carolina Hurricanes' Brutal Upcoming Road Trip

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IDecember 6, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 26:  Rod Brind'Amour #17 of the Carolina Hurricanes handles the puck against Sidney Crosby #87 and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs at RBC Center on May 26, 2009 in Raleigh, North Carolina.   (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After Saturday afternoon's 5-3 victory at home over the Vancouver Canucks, the 30th-place Hurricanes have snapped their five-game losing streak and may have regained a bit of confidence with Eric Cole's hat trick.

In the new month of December, the Hurricanes are 1-0. However, the schedule is going to really toughen up for Carolina this week.

The Hurricanes will enter a four-game road stretch by the start of the work week, and will end up playing four games in six days against four of the top five Eastern Conference teams at the moment.

Carolina Hurricanes Upcoming Schedule

Monday, Nov. 7 - @ Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30)

Wednesday, Nov. 9 - @ New Jersey Devils (7:00)

Friday, Nov. 11 - @ Washington Capitals (7:00)

Saturday, Nov. 12 - @ Ottawa Senators (7:00)

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Just at a glance, you can see how brutal it is. First up is the Penguins on Monday, who defeated the Hurricanes 3-2 in the sixth round of a shootout in Raleigh in mid-October.

Then the Hurricanes will travel into Jersey on Wednesday for a rematch against the Devils, who defeated Carolina 2-0 there earlier in the year.

The weekend back-to-back is nearly as difficult, with the Hurricanes facing off in the nation's capital on Friday night against the Caps, who won 3-2 last week in Raleigh. That game is then followed by a trip to Canada against the upstart Ottawa Senators, who have rebounded very considerably since an off season in 08-09.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Hurricanes need to pick up some true quality wins on this extremely tough road trip. But first, they need to pick up their first road win of the season.

Yes, that's right, even after 13 tries, the Hurricanes are just 0-10-3 away from the RBC Center.

Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington, or Ottawa may not be the ideal opportunities to earn it, but it's crucial to the Hurricanes' stumbling season that they pick up considerable points in the standings against highly-ranked conference opponents.

One benefit is that the Hurricanes unbelievable bombardment of injuries is beginning to wear off. Despite losing Joe Corvo for practically the rest of the season earlier in the week, the Hurricanes got Scott Walker back against the Canucks and should have Jussi Jokinen returning against Pittsburgh, and, even more importantly, should have backbone goaltender Cam Ward finally returning this week as well.

Cam Ward, after missing over a month of games since his thigh laceration from Rick Nash's skate in the Hurricanes meeting against the Blue Jackets on November 7th, has now been downgraded on the injury report all the way down to day-to-day .

However, even with several important players returning, the Hurricanes are really going to have to dig deep and earn some hard-fought victories the tough way.

They can't blow multiple-goal leads, take stupid penalties, or allow un-opportunistic defensive "shy moments" (i.e. defensive breakdown).

All of those things have already caused problems for the Hurricanes in the first two months of their season, but they will be even more costly against high-powered, elite Eastern Conference teams like the Pens, Devils, Caps, and Sens.

Carolina will just have to play as a team, and make sure to put three, not two, solid periods together. The special teams will be crucial, as the penalty kill and powerplay have both lost the Hurricanes plenty of tight games this season.

If the Hurricanes can keep the penalties-against total under 20, which may be harder to do than it sounds, they need the kill to to keep the conversion rate under 15%. Also, a 25% powerplay scoring rate would also be very helpful in getting that very-important third goal, something that has made a difference in many Canes games this year.

All in all, it's going to be tough, but the Hurricanes are just going to have to be confident. Four points will be a success, and will give the Hurricanes a fair amount of confidence going in the holiday run, with four out of five games at home and just one match against a team with a winning record at the moment.