What a difference one week makes. At this point last week, the Hurricanes were in a five-game losing skid and many fans were trying to figure out what was wrong with the team. Four wins later, and the Hurricanes are now only two points out of the last playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division and two points out of the Wild Card spot in the East. We've seen the Hurricanes go through stretches like this before and they haven't lasted long, so many are going to be entering the next slate of games with a sense of guarded optimism. However, with the Hurricanes facing Buffalo, Toronto, Columbus and Calgary (i.e. teams with similar or worse records than the Canes), this is a very good chance for the Hurricanes to start to get some separation from the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Right now, the Hurricanes find themselves knocking on the door of a playoff spot but a few losses can send them right back to where they started. This is a chance for the Hurricanes to really turn a corner in their season and here's to hoping that they take advantage of it. Going up against weaker opponents may help this cause, but a closer look at their last four games tells us that they have some work to do before they get ready to jump in the playoff race. Not having captain Eric Staal for at least the Buffalo games only adds to that concern.
Team Performance (Five-on-Five)
Goaltender Anton Khudobin is a big reason why the Canes got out of this week with a perfect record. He did a lot of work to keep them in the Washington game and also had to come up big a few times against the Islanders to preserve a regulation victory in that game. His performance in the Nashville game shouldn't be overlooked either, although the Canes played much better defensively that night. Carolina is still making improvements from where they were early in the season, but they're still struggling at even strength and had to have their goaltending bail them out in three out of four games. I'm glad that Khudobin appears to have no rust after missing so much time, but he can't win every game for the Canes.
Individual Performances (Five-on-Five)
– What else can be said about Jeff Skinner at this point? He is on an absolute tear right now and showed no signs of slowing down this week, scoring six goals and playing a huge role in all four wins. His scoring chance differential is a little weak for the assignments he gets, but Skinner is leading the way for the entire offense right now when you factor in what he does on the power play. He is also heavily tilting the ice in Carolin'as favor on the first line, which is nice to see because that's one area he was struggling in. He is currently on pace to score over 45 goals. I knew that he was due for a bounce-back year, but I did not see this kind of outburst coming at all.
– Alexander Semin is slowly racking up the points, starting the week off by scoring in overtime against Montreal and finishing it with a goal against Nashville. Add in his assist against Washington and his contributions in the territorial game, and Sasha has himself a very solid week. The only blemish on his record being his penalty late in the Islanders game. The Hurricanes have needed him to start producing for awhile and he is coming around.
– Secondary scoring has finally arrived with Manny Malhotra scoring in three consecutive games and having his first multi-point game in nearly three years. To add to that, the Hurricanes were even in scoring chances and won the possession battle with him on the ice. That's impressive considering he has to swim upstream whenever he takes a faceoff.
– Speaking of players doing well with tough assignment,s Nathan Gerbe had himself a solid week in terms of driving the play. Has only an assist to show for it, but he is contributing well.
– Brett Sutter scored his first NHL goal in almost six years and had solid performances against the Isles and Predators. Nice to see because he has struggled so much in the NHL in the past.
– Eric Staal is now on the shelf and it's a shame because he had two very good games against Montreal & Washington.
– Jordan Staal had an uncharacteristically bad week in the possession department and it was strange to see. He's had good chemistry with Gerbe & Dweyr in the past, so I'm not sure why he struggled to drive the play so much these past four games. This is where they need Jordan to excel and it's going to be even more important with Eric injured the next couple of weeks. Maybe it's time to put him in a more offensive role?
– Decent first week for John-Michael Liles, who was on the ice for seven Carolina goals despite not recording a point. He's been getting sheltered minutes so far and has at least managed to break even in possession and scoring chances. I'd like to see him do more and give the power play a spark but his first three games weren't bad at all .
– Brett Bellemore is making the decline/loss of Tim Gleason expandable because he is crushing second-pair minutes right now and has drawn some tougher assignments on a few nights. He saw a lot of Ovechkin on Thursday night and played a fair bit against Nashville's first line last night. His performance was up and down but as a whole, Bellemore's body of work has been nothing but impressive.
– Ryan Murphy starting to win the possession battle, which is progress from where I'm sitting. He also had a big night against Washington with a pair of assists, including one on Skinner's overtime winner.
– Sekera/Faulk were on the ice for a lot of events and ended up taking a lot of damage in their own zone. They're relied on to do a lot and are going to have up-and-down stretches, so I expected them to stumble. Thankfully, that's all this appears to be because the duo had an impressive game against Nashville.
– Ron Hainsey ended up being a positive player in terms of possession and scoring chances, but I thought he struggled at times this past week. He was on the ice for three goals in the Washington game and had one go off his glove. Hainsey was also on the ice for Nashville's only goal of the game last night and had some trouble defending the front of the net on it. He still had a decent week overall, especially when taking his workload into consideration, but it's a small step back from where he was at earlier in the year.