Carolina's season comes to an end (again)
Posted April 27, 2013
It wasn't supposed to end like this.
The Carolina Hurricanes added a highly-skilled winger to play along side Eric Staal. The organization traded for a rugged center to make them tougher up the middle and brought in a back-up goalie that had No. 1 experience.
A young coach with a winning pedigree and system that led to a big turn around last year was ready to take another step forward. A 48-game sprint to the playoffs would favor a young team.
But it comes to an end in Pittsburgh, with no playoffs yet again for the Hurricanes. The reality is the franchise will miss the post-season for the fourth straight year.
The front office will have extra time to address the concerns that this season exposed – the fact that there is not a lot of scoring depth and a lack of hard edged play from this team. The one dimensional offense made the Canes an easier team to play against. When the opponents only had to worry about the production of the Eric Staal-Alexander Semin-Jiri Tlusty line, their numbers cooled from record pace.
The trio, in just over half a season, put together one of the more impressive years from a top line in the organization's history. The second line that had visions of Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner providing even more goals never clicked and third and fourth lines lacked consistent offensive punch. The defense lacked intimidation, and the goaltending without Cam Ward was inconsistent.
This is revisionist history, but if number one goalie Cam Ward doesn't sprain his MCL, this team is fighting for a playoff spot against the Penguins in the last game of the regular season. Justin Peters and Dan Ellis couldn't grab hold of the chance to be the steady number one with Ward on the shelf. The Ward injury should prove how valuable he is to the franchise and that having a top netminder makes a huge difference night in and out in the NHL.
Ward's injury also that pointed to the flaw in how the blue line was constructed. The Canes back end was supposed to be puck movers that cleared the puck from danger and started the rush. It never developed. Injuries to this group did hamper the performance, but the team needs to have a tougher identity in front of whoever is stopping pucks.
Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison tried to provide that nastiness, but it was clear that something was missing. There has to be a fear factor going to the front of the net, and the Hurricanes have to find someone that can provide that.
Moving into the high rent district next season, a division that pits Carolina against teams that have been elite in the East like the Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Devils and yes the Capitals still face-off against the Canes, making the defense a harder group to play against is a must.
The third line scoring might be answered with a single move. Jeff Skinner goes to center, a position switch that the organization would be reluctant to do if in playoff contention. This strengthens the club down the middle and should keep Skinner away from those huge hits he absorbs by the boards and in front of the net. Three lines have become a must in today's NHL. Skinner paired with a scoring winger could turn him into a player that he was on the fast track to being his rookie season.
The schedule made it tough to put the brakes on things going sour, especially in the middle of the year. This not an excuse, Kirk Muller made that clear a week ago, professional players have to deal with it. Would it have been different if there was practice time in between games? Maybe the extra month to tinker with Jeff Skinner at center and find some scoring punch? Would Jordan Staal have found more of an offensive touch with more games? Could the power play with all that top end talent have found a rhythm? Again, ifs and buts...
But the reality is this is how it ends for the Hurricanes, another year without the playoffs in the Triangle.