Make no mistake, the Carolina Hurricanes’ turnaround, from winless to three-game winning streak, starts with goaltending. Cam Ward has been outstanding, full stop.
“I don’t think you’ll find a team that’s complaining when their goalie’s playing well,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said.
It doesn’t end there, though. Not by a long shot.
The Hurricanes can point to several other factors that have led them from an 0-6-2 October to a 3-0-0 November, one highlighted Friday night when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While they didn’t face the toughest of schedules to start the season, especially on their long, zero-point road trip out west, they have started to benefit from some schedule relief.
They posted their first win Saturday at home against the winless-on-the-road Arizona Coyotes, caught the hard-to-handle Los Angeles Kings at the end of a long road trip Sunday and beat the injury-decimated Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Columbus will be without defenseman Jack Johnson on Friday as he feels three games of shame for his predatory, head-hunting hit on Jiri Tlusty.
(Johnson, the Hurricanes’ first-round pick in 2005 who refused to sign with the team and was subsequently traded, will apparently do just about anything to avoid playing in Raleigh.)
The past three games have been more about the Hurricanes than their opponents, though.
They’re as healthy as they’re going to be until Jordan Staal returns, and while Pat Dwyer and Nate Gerbe might not be superstars, they’re responsible players who are essential to playing the hard-working game new coach Bill Peters wants. The Arizona win was finally the positive reinforcement needed to make it stick.
“It kind of cemented in our heads. If you do the right thing, the game’s an honest game,” Dwyer said. “You’re going to get the results.”
That the Hurricanes started winning when they returned is no coincidence, although Peters said he could see the tide turning on the road trip, when the Hurricanes were tied at 2 at the Edmonton Oilers at the second intermission.
They collapsed in the third period and were behind the 8-ball at the Vancouver Canucks when a turnover ended up in the Carolina net on the first shot of the game.
Not only has Ward been stopping those shots since then, but there have also been fewer of those turnovers. Some of that can be traced to Peters settling on a defensive group that includes Brett Bellemore, with John-Michael Liles a healthy extra and Ryan Murphy in Charlotte, but a resurgent Justin Faulk has been as much of a factor, rebounding nicely from a poor start.
It should be noted, nevertheless, that not all is well. The Hurricanes’ two most dangerous goal-scorers, Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner, look lost on the ice and have combined for a single goal this season.
Semin was a non-factor in his return from a two-game scratching Tuesday and Skinner was demoted to the fourth line after failing to fit in Semin’s spot with Tlusty and Eric Staal (the latter has been a step slow returning from injury as well).
The decision to make Semin a healthy scratch against the Coyotes played no small role in this winning streak as well, making it clear no one was exempt from playing the same game that has brought the rest of the team success recently, both individually and as a group.
The Hurricanes desperately need Semin and Skinner playing prominent roles, but Peters has been firm in his stance with both. He’s taking the long-term view, a refreshing change for a franchise that has taken too many shortcuts in these situations in the past, but he’s getting short-term results at the moment.