Carolina Hurricanes New Year's Team Report: Jan. 1st

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IJanuary 1, 2010

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 28:  Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes makes a save against Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on December 28, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

It was a crazy, exciting, and sometimes depressing year for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Last spring was as hot of a stretch there could be for the 'Canes, who came back from 10th place last New Year's Day to finish sixth and then make a miraculous run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

But the most recent season, autumn, didn't bring a lot of success for the 'Canes. Once again, they enter the New Year of 2010 in a tough spot, in last place and 10 points out of 14th. The Hurricanes have just 27 points and only 10 wins in a whopping 40 games.

December was a slightly better month than the previous two were, as the Hurricanes recovered a bit to finish the month with a record of just 5-6-2, good enough for 12 points in 13 games.

Just as the standings point production picked up a bit in December, so did the team chemistry and morale. In recent games, there have been little things clicking for Carolina that have earned them a bit of success and some hope that the New Year could be a sign of better things to come for Carolina.

In the three-goal comeback in the third period against Philadelphia on Saturday the 26th, as well as the 6-3 win in Washington last Monday, it was the unusual but effective line of Matt Cullen, Jussi Jokinen, and Eric Staal that produced six goals and 11 assists in just over four periods.

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You can read more about that in another recent article of mine .

Also, the interesting combination of Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Tuomo Ruutu, and Joni Pitkanen on a four-on-three man advantage against the Rangers on New Year's Eve ended up producing three scoring chances in just 1:30, and eventually, the Hurricanes' only goal of the contest, which ended in a 2-1 loss.

These little bits of achievement that have gone overlooked in an very overall depressing season could be the spark that gets the 'Canes at least up into the mix a bit more by the end of the season in April.

Things like Andrew Alberts now ranking in the top five in hits, and having a speedy, up-and-coming youngster on the top line like Brandon Sutter. Maybe Eric Staal's recent scoring streak could bring back his leadership of last season. In the big picture, who really knows what 2010 will bring?

However, we do know that in order for the New Year to bring new success to the Hurricanes, they are simply going to have to win more games, starting right now.

The Hurricanes are not going to have a very easy time with that either, as their upcoming January 2010 schedule is no piece of cake.

Carolina will play 14 games in the next 30 days in January, beginning tomorrow night in Madison Square Garden, where they will face the Rangers, who did defeat the 'Canes 2-1 in Raleigh last night, but are just 1-7 in their last eight games at MSG.

They will then take most of the week off before going on a Western Conference back-to-back, playing at Nashville on the 7th and then hosting Colorado. The game against the Avs will begin a stretch where Carolina will play a game every other day for their next six games.

That run continues early in the next week with games against Ottawa and Toronto, and will then lead out to Detroit to face the injury-laden Red Wings. The Hurricanes then return to the East with three straight division games, facing Atlanta on the 16th and Tampa Bay on the 18th at the RBC Center before going to the home of the Thrashers on the 21st day of January.

The Hurricanes will finish out the month with some testing games against some solid but not overwhelming teams, with home dates against Boston and the Islanders and road games at the Flyers and Rangers. The Canes then wrap up their month in Chicago for a huge battle with the Blackhawks on Jan. 30.

As you can see, January will be quite a testing, but not overwhelming, month. The Hurricanes have a balanced schedule, with seven home and seven away games, and no streaks of more than two games at the RBC Center or on the road.

If there's any time the Hurricanes need to set their goals reasonable but not too easy, it's this month. The Canes have been (it's really hard to say it, but it's true) pathetic through their first half of the season.

It would be incredible to see how even just an 8-4-2 month would affect them, and how much confidence it could restore in the fact that "this is just a rebuilding season", and not the beginning of an ugly decade for Carolina.

Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 16 months so far with the site, he has written over 150 articles and received almost 100,000 total reads.

Visit his profile to read more.

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