Hurricanes begin crucial season against Red Wings
Posted October 4, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes start one of the most important campaigns they've had since relocating to the Triangle Friday night when they welcome the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., FSN-Carolina, 99.9 FM The Fan) to PNC Arena.
The team has not made the postseason since the 2008-09 season, and that fact is not lost on the organization or the fans.
The word ‘playoffs’ has been said frequently in the preseason with coaches and players, but the road to get there has been made more difficult thanks to a move to the newly-created Metropolitan Division.
Out are the Florida teams and Winnipeg, and in come the Rangers, Islanders, Devils, Penguins, Flyers and Blue Jackets.
That is like going from Baltic Avenue to Boardwalk, with heavy-hitters and big spenders moving into the neighborhood.
The Eastern Conference had another big upgrade in the offseason by adding the Detroit Red Wings, who the Hurricanes will face twice more after Friday's opener.
While these outside factors will impact the team, it is the changes inside the walls of the PNC Arena that will determine if hockey will be played past April 13 this year.
General Manager Jim Rutherford stressed at the exit meetings this summer that his team needed to improve on defense, and he didn’t waste much time trying to do that.
At the NHL Draft, the team acquired Andrej Sekera from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for offensive-minded Jamie McBain.
On the first day of free agency, the team signed goalie Anton Khudobin to back up Cam Ward and then added Mike Komisarek to bulk up the blue line.
The organization announced the loss of Joni Pitkanen due to a heel injury, but quickly followed that news with the signing of steady veteran Ron Hainsey.
There was not a major addition to the forward ranks, which puts aded pressure on the top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty to duplicate the production that made the trio one of the top lines in the NHL last season.
Semin missed a majority of camp with a wrist injury and Tlusty was slowed at the start of camp with an ‘upper body’ concern, but that line should be able to keep up with the pace set a year ago.
Nathan Gerbe was the surprise of camp, earning a spot on the second line. Gerbe signed as a free agent on a two-way deal and made the most of his opportunity and in the preseason. He's now part of a potent line with Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer.
The consistent Dwyer and fiery Gerbe seem to be the compliment for Jordan Staal’s game that the coaching staff was looking for last season.
The postseason prospects for the Hurricanes aren't dependent on the stars as much as how the third and fourth lines come together.
Heading into the season opener there are still many moving parts to this puzzle.
If Jeff Skinner can perform like he did three season ago, the third line could become one that other teams must fear. Drayson Bowman and Riley Nash have a hand in how effective this group will be in the early going and both should be ready to take a step forward in their pro careers.
Rookie Elias Lindholm was beset by injuries as well this camp, and the team is not quite ready to make him the center of the third line as they had envisioned when he was picked No. 5 overall in the draft.
The early tests won’t be easy.
The Hurricanes open the season with Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Los Angeles, Phoenix and the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, a tough gauntlet to run at any point of the year.
This stretch might not be the determining factor in Carolina’s final grade, but it will give a good handle on the work the team needs to do to get to the top of the division and return to the postseason.