The Hurricanes climbed up in the Metropolitan Division standings by earning nine out of a possible ten points in their latest home stand and winning two out of three games this past week. They were also able to get their first two wins against the Western Conference this week by taking down the Colorado Avalanche & Anaheim Ducks, the latter of which being an ultra-rare shootout victory. The week ended on a sour note with the Canes getting thumped by the Blues on Saturday night but overall, the general feel is that the Hurricanes are starting to head in the right direction.
Despite a tough schedule, they have managed to tread water in the division and with the team slowly getting healthier, things should continue to get better. At least that's how things appear at first glance. A deeper look at their last three games tells a slightly different story.
Team Performance (Five on Five)
Carolina took a beating against St. Louis and that drags down their overall numbers, but they were still outchanced at evens in all three games this past week. They barely won the possession battle against Anaheim, but they still struggled to generate chances and this has been an ongoing problem all season long. They did well in the Colorado game but they were stuck defending for most of the following two games and it really burned them against St. Louis. Against Anaheim, the Canes were at least able to defend well and keep most of the Ducks opportunities to the outside despite playing most of the game in their own zone. The Blues performed a blitzkrieg on them and the fact that the Hurricanes were able to stay so close in that game was kind of amazing.
The Blues are one of the best teams in the NHL, so they are going to make a lot of their opponents look bad but that game sort of reinforced some of my concerns about the Hurricanes. They aren't a strong possession team and have forward depth issues, so deeper clubs like the Blues are going to have their way with them, especially if they continue to play 55-60% of the game in their own zone. Granted, that game was on the second night of a back-to-back and the Hurricanes weren't playing with an optimal roster but that wasn't the first time this team has had trouble staying afloat at even strength, so I'm a little concerned. Things aren't going to get easier this coming week with another road back-to-back and games against the Bruins & Red Wings coming up.
- Drayson Bowman had one of the best games of his NHL career last Friday against Anaheim, producing nine shot attempts and scoring a big goal in the third period. He was also one of the few players on the team who won the territorial battle and managed to do it while getting some rough assignments. Bowman has been very inconsistent and underwhelming for most of his time in Carolina, but he is starting to find his legs as a bottom-sixer in Kirk Muller's system and I think it's a good spot for him. Although, he may end up getting a look on the top line with Jiri Tlusty being in and out of the doghouse on a regular basis.
- Tuomo Ruutu & Chris Terry have been fine in a third line role so far. You want to see more from Ruutu with the salary he commands, but these two did a fine job in their role last week.
- The Gerbe-JStaal-Dwyer line was responsible for most of Carolina's even strength offense and Dwyer had a pretty impressive week offensively. He was on the ice for more 5v5 chances than any other Carolina forward and finally got his first goal of the season. With Skinner out and Lindholm in Charlotte, these three are the "checking line" for now and they are doing a fine job at it. They also produced two goals in the win over Colorado.
- Jiri Tlusty has never been a play-driver but I can not recall him ever being this bad in his NHL career. He isn't creating any offense and the Hurricanes are getting pummeled territorially whenever he is on the ice. This is why he has been bumped off the first line a few times because with the assignments he gets, he should at least be treading water at even strength and he is failing at that pretty badly.
- The rest of the first line needs to be a lot better with the minutes they are getting. Eric Staal did have two goals, but they were both at special teams and his even strength chance production is in line with what Jordan's line is producing. Taking their territorial assignments & linemates into consideration, that should not be happening. They are still creating a lot of shots but they aren't doing much in terms of producing chances and are giving up a lot in their own end to boot.
- Ron Hainsey leads the way on defense again, as he was one of two players to have a positive shot differential at even strength and him and Belelmore were the only ones to have a positive chance differential, as well. Not only that, but these two were on the ice for only seven even strength scoring chances despite being forced to take a lot of tough draws. They're the one thing that has stayed consistent this year, in a good way at least.
- Faulk/Sekera had a good week relative to the rest of the defense and their territorial performance was a little better than normal. They are still giving up way too much for a "shutdown pair" but they are at least driving the play and doing enough to make up for it at the other end. These two are usually the team's strongest pairing in terms of breakouts, so it's not surprising that they are able to drive the play well. They just need to work on being more aggressive in the neutral zone and not allowing the opposing top lines to carry the play so much.
- Jay Harrison was destroyed in all three games he played in this week but his worst performance came on Saturday night when he was paired with Tim Gleason. With Gleason playing his off-hand, Harrison was the one leading most of the breakouts for this pairing and the results speak for themselves. He has played soft, third pairing assignments all year and has ended up on the losing end of the shot & chance battle in every game despite that, so I would not be surprised to see him in the press box soon.
- Tim Gleason looked very, very bad in his return to the lineup and this was after the team was patient about getting him back in. I don't want to read to much into this because even Ryan Murphy had trouble staying afloat alongside Jay Harrison, but Gleason's play declined a little last season and I can't help but wonder if he is still a top-four defenseman in the NHL.