RALEIGH — With the Carolina Hurricanes at the midpoint of their season, general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday he would rather discuss the possibilities of the second half than dwell on all the problems of the first.
That's understandable. The Canes were 11-23-7 in the first half, spending much of it in last place in the NHL after being touted as potential Stanley Cup contenders before the season.
How would Rutherford sum up the first half?
"We weren't very good," he said.
And the biggest reasons?
"There are many reasons why, but there's no use to list them all," he said. "It was just one of those things. It was the perfect storm - in everything, in every way. But it's time to move forward."
The reasons include scoring struggles, defensive lapses, puckhandling errors, penalties, third-period letdowns and a poor road record, to name a few. There also were injuries, including two of a freakish variety - goaltender Cam Ward and defenseman Joe Corvo had their legs slashed by opponents' skates.
"I think, for me, it is has been shocking," coach Paul Maurice said of the first half. "Some of our play, and then some of the situations around the team with the strangeness of the injuries and the length of some of them."
The Hurricanes did end the first half - and move into a new year - with a 2-1 overtime victory Saturday over the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden. It was only Carolina's third road victory of the season, but the Canes do have a two-game road winning streak as they begin the second half Thursday in Nashville against the Predators.
And hope. The Canes still have hope, Rutherford said.
"A hot streak in January could still give us a chance," he said. "We're fortunate we're in the right conference. If we were in the West, I'd say we were definitely out of it, but in the East, with a good January, we could make things interesting."
The Hurricanes ended the first half with 29 points and are 16 points behind the eighth-place Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference. But five other teams are within four points or less of eighth place and a playoff spot.
"I think once you get past the acceptance of where you're at, it can be a positive," Maurice said. "It doesn't have to be, 'Oh, my God, look how much trouble we're in.' You get to that point and say, 'Well, we have dug ourselves a hole here, but there's too much meat left on the bone to just walk away from the table.'
"We've got to get 'er going, and get that good feeling, and scratch and claw and find a way to win one game at a time and not be overcome by the size of the picture."
Rutherford indicated Monday that trades and other transactions will be coming, noting, "Things are starting to open up now as far as moving players."
"It's not like we're giving up on the second half, but there are some players we are developing who are closer to playing here," he said. "We won't just move someone out just to move someone out. We will try to build assets, whether it's trading for a player or for drafts picks or getting a spot open for a player from Albany."
Because of injuries to forwards Scott Walker and Sergei Samsonov, the Hurricanes recalled Zach Boychuk and Jiri Tlusty from the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League for the Rangers game Saturday. Rutherford said both had "good games" in the victory, although both were returned to the Rats.
Walker, who suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to the Rangers on New Year's Eve, is expected to have surgery today and be out for about a month, Rutherford said. Samsonov, listed as "day-to-day," could return this week.
Forwards Erik Cole and Chad LaRose also are close to rejoining the lineup after being sidelined with upper-body injuries. Corvo did some light skating and shooting Monday before practice, but his return date is uncertain.
As for the Hurricanes' first-half woes, the warning signs were there from the start.
In the season-opener, at the RBC Center, the Canes were shut out 2-0 by Ray Emery and the Philadelphia Flyers, going 0-for-8 on the power play and picking up 29 penalty minutes.
In the second game, at Boston, the Canes were hammered 7-2 by the Bruins, were 1-for-10 on the power play and had 44 penalty minutes. Late in the game, Cole broke a bone in a leg and was out of 19 games.
The tone was set. The Canes are 3-13-4 on the road. They finished the first half last in the NHL in goals scored (99) and goals against (142).
After giving up 72 third-period goals all of last season, Carolina has been outscored 58-30 in third-period play this season.
"It's confidence," Rutherford said of the scoring disparity. "Last year, we made our second-half run because we felt good about things and had that confidence. But when things start to unravel, players start to lose that confidence and it just multiplies."
The Hurricanes have shown improvement in the power play and in avoiding penalties - once 30th in penalty minutes per game, Carolina now is 18th.
But there's no avoiding the record, or the last-place standing.
"It's a matter of playing hard for 60 minutes," forward Tuomo Ruutu said. "It's always about playing hard for 60 minutes. Start games strong and finish strong."
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