By Michael Smith
RALEIGH, NC November 30, 2013 – Taken as a whole, the month of November was a mixed bag for the Carolina Hurricanes.
There were some good elements – stringing together a 4-0-1 homestand, topping some of the league’s best teams, finding ways to grind out low-scoring games, battling through injuries to key players and playing well defensively in front of goaltenders who were playing well. And, there were some not so good elements – streaky play, struggles on the power play and not putting together 60-minute efforts.
“I think it was kind of an up-and-down month for us,” defenseman Jay Harrison said. “There were some tough times where we lacked the conviction to play our game, and there were other times where we really showed what kind of team we can be and played really well against some great teams.”
“It was kind of up-and-down. We started off with a few of those games where we didn’t pull off points,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Every night, everything has to align to pick up points. I think we’ve had some moments of good hockey, and we’ve pulled off wins.”
|NOV. 1||vs. TAMPA BAY||3-0 L|
|NOV. 2||at NY RANGERS||5-1 L|
|NOV. 5||vs. PHILADELPHIA||2-1 W (OT)|
|NOV. 7||vs. NY ISLANDERS||1-0 W|
|NOV. 9||vs. MINNESOTA||3-2 SOL|
|NOV. 12||vs. COLORADO||2-1 W|
|NOV. 15||vs. ANAHEIM||3-2 W (SO)|
|NOV. 16||at ST. LOUIS||4-2 L|
|NOV. 18||vs. BOSTON||4-1 L|
|NOV. 21||at DETROIT||4-3 L|
|NOV. 23||at BOSTON||3-2 OTL|
|NOV. 24||vs. OTTAWA||4-1 W|
|NOV. 27||at NEW JERSEY||4-3 W|
|NOV. 29||vs. NEW JERSEY||5-2 L|
Past the quarter mark of the 82-game regular season, the Hurricanes sit in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with 25 points (10-11-5), just a hair under .500. Yet, the team is just three points back of second place in the division; though the Canes aren’t content with being a .500 team, they are right in the thick of the playoff picture.
“It’s that reflection that there are great things ahead if we’re willing to put the time and work in,” Harrison said. “You sense there is a feeling that we’re on the cusp, as well.”
Snapping the Skid
Carrying a three-game losing streak into the month of November, the Canes dropped the first two games of the month to Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers, being outscored 8-1.
Even still, the team believed there were facets on which they could build.
“Our situation … is just really focusing on ourselves. I thought we had a really strong game in New York,” Muller said on Nov. 5. “Looking at the last game and the way we came out, shows me that the guys are working and focused and that they care.”
The Canes subsequently rattled off points in five straight games, accumulating two divisional wins and victories over Colorado and Anaheim, two of the league’s best teams.
“There’s no secret recipe to snapping a skid. It’s head down and hard work. You get through it by putting in good efforts,” Harrison said. “You play hard and you play the right way, and it will turn. When it doesn’t turn is when you look for other ways to do it, and that’s the problem. That’s what exacerbates a bad skid.”
Though there might not be an invariable method to snapping losing skids, the Canes snapped theirs with a few notables. Though they didn’t score much, they didn’t give up much, either; the team played a more complete and tighter defensive game, emphasizing protecting the house with all five skaters. During the five-game homestand, Justin Peters stopped 138 of 144 shots (.958 save percentage), posted a 1.16 goals-against average and did not record a regulation loss in five straight games, a new career high.
“Working through the tough times is very important,” Harrison said. “You reflect on the good times better, and it can shorten them (the tough times) in the future, as well.”
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The Search for Consistency
After accumulating points in five straight, the Canes dropped three games in a row. That was followed up with a two-game winning streak, and the team ended the month losing 5-2 to the New Jersey Devils.
Winning streaks are certainly a positive, but they lose their luster when sandwiched by losing skids.
Consistency is what the Canes will need to find to transcend the .500 realm.
“If anything, we just have to learn that if you want to be better than a .500 team, you have to be good all the time,” Muller said. “You get out of it what you put in.”
“That’s a test to the mental toughness and the effort required night in and night out,” Harrison said. “It’s more than a physical feat. It’s a mental feat as well. The good teams are the ones that do it often. We’re working to become that.”
Finding Offense in Different Places
The Hurricanes rank 29th in the NHL with a 2.08 goal per game average. Their 2.77 goals against per game average is more middle-of-the-road, but they proved early in the month that they could regularly win low-scoring, one-goal games.
In the final week of the month, the offense came alive, as the Canes scored eight goals in two games, something that had taken them four games prior.
Eric Staal led the team in scoring in November with 10 points (3g, 7a) in 14 games. Muller said that when Staal raised his level of play, the team followed suit.
“Eric’s really picked up his pace. His pace is quicker now. He’s going more direct. He’s faster, he’s hungrier and he’s got his confidence again,” Muller said. “When he’s going like that, now he looks like a power forward who’s tough to contain.”
Defenseman Andrej Sekera ranked second in team scoring with four goals and three assists (7 points) in 13 games. In Sekera’s last four games of November (he missed the team’s last game of the month with an upper-body injury), he tallied five points (3g, 2a) and was a plus-6.
“He was playing really good hockey, eating up a lot of minutes and playing effectively on the power play, on the penalty kill and against the other team’s best players,” Muller said.
Patrick Dwyer, who ranked tied for fifth in November team scoring with four points (3g, 1a), scored two shorthanded goals in less than a week. In 12 days time, the Hurricanes went from having zero shorthanded goals to leading the league with five.
A Peculiar December
As in November, the Hurricanes will play 14 games in the month of December, but the spacing is rather odd.
In the first 14 days of the month, the team will play eight games, including two back-to-back sets and a four-game road swing through western Canada and Phoenix.
There is then a five-day gap before the team finishes the month with six games, including four at home, in 12 days.
“Playing on the road, sometimes that’s even better to further emphasize the simple game, the straight up-and-down kind of game that has led to our success,” Harrison said. “That’s kind of the prime environment for us to get on a roll and turn the corner, so to speak.”
The month is also a tale of two conferences, as the Canes will play seven of their first eight games in December against Western Conference opponents; their final six games are intraconference match-ups.
“We’ve had a couple tough stretches, and we’re still right there. We want to get to a place where those are behind us,” Harrison said. “It’s about surviving the bad times and not allowing them to completely deflate the progress. We’re close. We can be better. We think we can be better than a .500 team.”
|ERIC STAAL||14||3||7||10||-3||ERIC STAAL||26||6||12||18||-11|
|ANDREJ SEKERA||13||4||3||7||-1||ANDREJ SEKERA||25||5||8||13||-3|
|JORDAN STAAL||14||3||3||6||4||JEFF SKINNER||15||4||7||11||3|
|JUSTIN FAULK||14||1||4||5||-4||NATHAN GERBE||26||5||5||10||-3|
|PATRICK DWYER||14||3||1||4||4||JUSTIN FAULK||26||1||9||10||-5|
November record: 6-6-2, 14 points
Overall record: 10-11-5, 25 points, 5th in Metropolitan Division (For full standings, click here.)