With their 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes completed what many Caniacs are calling the clubs best road trip since moving to North Carolina. To be on the road for 12 consecutive days and come home with 9 out of a possible 12 points was beyond what anyone could have expected. The Canes left Raleigh around the playoff cut line and returned in third place in the eastern conference. Putting aside the 3 power play goals allowed in a 5-3 loss to the Flyers and the 4 given up in Mondays 6-4 win against the Islanders, the trip was filled with positives that will hopefully lead to the Canes first playoff appearance since 2009. Here are a few that stand out.
Top Line Dominance
For the first time in years, the Canes appear to have a first line that stacks up with any team in the Eastern Conference. For the last few years, fans have bemoaned the fact that Eric Staal needed a top line winger. It has been the #1 priority for Jim Rutherford for the last few years. With the addition of Alexander Semin and the emergence of Jiri Tlusty, the Canes, (at least through the first 12 games), have that top line. Monday nights game in Long Island was one of the most dominate performances in years. The Islanders had no answer for Staal and company. Thus far the trio has 16 goals, 19 assists and is +30. The hope is that as teams are forced to stop the top line, it will open things up for the second and third line.
4th Line emerges
This could be the most under the radar development of the trip. With the call ups of Tim Wallace and Andreas Nodl, the team might have found an honest to goodness energy line. This line, centered by Tim Brent, only played together for two full games on the trip. You might not find their contribution in the stat sheet, dispite Wallace scoring the Canes first goal Monday on Long Island. The 4th line can not be a liability. Brent/Wallace/Nodl is a combined +4. They played more minutes Tuesday than the line of Jokinen/LaRose/Bowman. They also provided half of the hits credited to the Canes. In a condensed schedule, having a 4th line Kirk Muller can count on will be a must.
Positive Goal Differential
The Canes left on their 12 game roadie at -3 but came back +2. In 2011-2012, every team in the Southeast Division gave up more goals than they scored. In fact, every team that made the playoffs was on the plus side of goal differential except Florida (-24),and Washington (-8). No team that was plus missed the playoffs. If this trend can continue, the playoffs become more and more likly.
The Canes still have a number of problems to fix. Tim Gleason looks as if he is still fighting a lockout hangover. Jussi Jokinen has but 1 point for the entire season. The Canes blueline is still the teams weakest link, and the penalty kill can’t continue to give up multiple goals, can they? Even with these questions, the Hurricanes are off to the start that every team in the league said they had to be off too. Let’s hope that the Canes bring that home magic back to PNC Arena.