RALEIGH — At the halfway point of their season, the Carolina Hurricanes have probably met, if not exceeded, preseason expectations. They led the Southeast Division by three points going into Mondays games, theyre scoring goals in bunches and theyve managed to soldier on even after a rash of injuries culminated with Cam Ward getting hurt.
Its a low bar to clear, but this has to rank as one of the Hurricanes best first halves in recent years, even if its a smaller sample size.
Which isnt to say all is sunny. The defense still needs help and still turns the puck over too much, the power play has been dismal despite all the firepower brought in over the offseason that has had no trouble producing at even strength and theyve struggled to generate the kind of scoring depth the Hurricanes desperately need to take advantage of opponents overloading against the Brothers Staal.
Yet as the Hurricanes sit at this moment, awaiting a trip to Washington to play the Capitals on Tuesday, theres as much to be happy about as there is room for improvement.
Were starting to develop a team identity, Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison said. All these things that we looked at as important when establishing goals, were well on our way to accomplishing those. Weve always felt that we have the talent and ability in this room that when we play our way, the way we can, we have a good chance to win every night and I think were showing that.
The most promising developments are at opposite ends of the rink, where the additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin have had the expected impact on the Hurricanes offensive firepower and the loss of Ward hasnt hurt the Hurricanes yet.
The chemistry between Eric Staal and Semin has developed about as well as possibly could be expected, and the same can be said of Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Just as important has been the ability of Jiri Tlusty to be a productive left wing on the Staal-Semin line and a rotation of players, most frequently Patrick Dwyer, to do the same on the right wing of the Skinner-Staal line.
Its what Jordan Staal expected when he was traded here this summer to join his older brother, if not more. Eric Staal (30 points) is tied for sixth in the NHL in scoring and Tlusty is tied for eighth in goals with 13. Only five teams are scoring more goals per game than the Hurricanes.
I had high expectations for this team and, offensively, I knew that we had a great group of forwards that could find a way to put the puck in the net, Jordan Staal said. With Erics line leading the way, the way were creating offense and skating and creating turnovers to get goals, its a big part of our game.
The power play hasnt followed suit, limping along at 14.3 percent, 27th in the NHL, and scoring only 13 goals in 24 games. It has cost the Hurricanes points, most recently Thursday in a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and theres no excuse for such a lackluster conversion rate given the talent assembled and how well that talent has been performing five-on-five.
The one (area) I thought was going to be a real strength is the one where we havent connected, Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. Theres reasons why. We dont play at a high pace on it. We dont shoot enough. Not enough traffic. Theyre all easy things to resolve.
Its clearly fixable, just as Dan Ellis and Justin Peters have so far filled the void left by Ward and Riley Nash has shown signs of stabilizing the third line and energizing Jussi Jokinens offensive game by allowing him to move to the wing.
Its been a good first half for the Hurricanes. Theres no reason why it cant be a better second half, but theres no guarantee either.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947