Canes trudge through a challenging season

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 28, 2013 

— The Carolina Hurricanes were thankful to break for Thanksgiving off a 4-3 road win against the New Jersey Devils.

“We put a good, solid 60 minutes together,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said after Wednesday’s game.

The game was the Hurricanes’ 25th of the season. With a 10-10-5 record, they’re fourth in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division with 25 points, a point behind the second-place Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Carolina will face the Devils again Friday at PNC Arena.

Scoring goals has been difficult for the Hurricanes but they’ve had an offensive explosion the past two games, beating the Ottawa Senators 4-1 on Sunday. Carolina had eight goals total in the four games before playing the Sens.

Why 10-10-5? Here are five reasons, for better or worse:

Never-ending injuries

All teams deal with injuries, but how many teams lose both goaltenders in a span of 11 days?

Or their No. 1 goaltender and top scorer in the same game?

The Canes’ Anton Khudobin, signed in the offseason to back up Cam Ward, injured an ankle Oct. 13 against Phoenix. On Oct. 24, Ward went down with a groin injury in the road game at Minnesota. Later in the game, forward Jeff Skinner appeared to injure a hand.

Ward was out for 10 games and Skinner for 11. Khudobin has yet to return.

Winger Alexander Semin left the Nov. 16 game against the St. Louis Blues with a concussion after taking a big hit from the Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo. He has been out the past five games although he could begin skating again next week.

Justin Peters

Peters was an emergency recall from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL when Khudobin was hurt. Soon, “emergency” aptly fit the situation as Ward, too, was injured.

Hastily jumping into the net against the Wild, Peters allowed goals on the first two shots. The Canes lost that game and the next four as the losses of Ward and Skinner seemed to shake the team’s confidence.

But Peters was a rock in a critical five-game homestand. The Canes were 4-0-1, including victories against the Colorado Avalanche and Anaheim Ducks, both off to strong starts. Peters stopped 138 of 144 shots (.958) in the five games.

General manger Jim Rutherford says the Canes will soon face a tough decision – whether Khudobin or Peters will be Ward’s backup.

Special teams

As passive and indecisive as the Canes have been at times on the power play, they’ve been just the opposite when shorthanded.

The penalty killers have pressured all over the ice. They’re disrupting the other team’s breakouts and aggressively forcing turnovers once in the zone.

Before the Nov. 16 game at St. Louis, Carolina did not have a shorthanded goal. It now has an NHL-best five after Patrick Dwyer scored against the Devils.

The power play, which ranks 26th in the NHL, still needs work but has shown signs of progress. Skinner’s return and the recall of rookie Elias Lindholm from the Checkers have helped.

Defense steps up

The Canes call the area around their net the “house” and have done a good job protecting it, blocking shots, limiting second chances and putting sticks on sticks.

There’s good blend of youth and experience on the back end, as rookies Ryan Murphy and Brett Bellemore have benefited from being with Ron Hainsey, Jay Harrison, Tim Gleason and Mike Komisarek. Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera have been a solid top pairing.

And now the D-men are scoring. Sekera had three goals in two games last week. Faulk knocked in his first of the season Wednesday against the Devils and Hainsey picked up his third.

Getting a second chance

Nathan Gerbe, Radek Dvorak and Manny Malhotra all went into this season not quite sure what to expect. All three found a new team to play for and have been key contributors.

Gerbe signed a two-way contract with the Canes and now finds himself on the top line with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. Dvorak had a professional tryout in the Canes’ training camp and Malhotra a tryout with the Checkers, and both earned contracts.

Malhotra quickly reversed the Canes’ problems on faceoffs and has helped make the fourth line formidable. Dvorak does the little things Muller wants. Gerbe has pestered opposing teams while also scoring five goals.

The Buffalo Sabres bought out Gerbe after last season and traded Sekera. The Canes are glad they did.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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