This year, when most people bring up the subject of hurricanes,
the discussion is usually centered around Mitch and Georges on
the Weather Channel. But, guess who's quietly leading the
National Hockey League's Southeast Division...yup, it's the
While many felt the defending Eastern Conference champion
Washington Capitals would run away with the division and Carolina
would be second, the Caps have struggled terribly. This has
allowed the Canes to jump to the top of the heap.
Okay, so the division isn't exactly made up of the most talented
teams in the world and finishing second would be nothing to boast
about. However, finishing first will be huge.
Sure it's only November, but should the Hurricanes win the weak
division, it's going to mean a free ride as one of the top three
seeds for the playoffs. Compare this to a much lower one (if one
at all) should they finish second. As you recall, Carolina was
just two points shy of the playoffs last year so it's never too
early to be playoff hungry. Stay tuned...
He shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath with such great
artists such as Manet or Monet, but goaltender Arturs Irbe
painted himself and Carolina fans a pretty nice picture over the
past several weeks. The Carolina netminder took home Player of
the Week honors (Oct. 26 - Nov. 1) and was dubbed Player of the
Month for October, as well.
The numbers were pretty impressive: 4-1-2 record, two shutouts, a
goals against average of 0.76 and a save percentage of .970
during the first month of the season. Not bad for a guy that is
supposed to be the backup to Trevor Kidd. Irbe is showing signs
of a goaltender that was expected to be the star in San Jose.
Don't get too excited, though. Chances are Irbe isn't going to be
able to keep this up and Kidd is going to be counted on at some
point this season. How quickly we forget that Kidd enjoyed his
finest season last year with a 2.17 GAA and a .922 save
So far the Hurricanes can say they don't mind missing out on
signing Sergei Fedorov - at least right now. Fedorov has been
nothing short of a dog this season for the Red Wings scoring just
six points (2G, 4A) and accumulating a minus-6. Maybe he's been
too concerned with counting all his money with Anna.
Unfortunately, Fedorov's "replacement," Ron Francis, hasn't
exactly been much better - at least statistically. Francis also
has two goals (one an empty net), four assists and is a minus-1
on the year.
So who wins?
Fedorov is without a doubt the more skilled of the two players,
but Francis will pay off more behind the scenes in the locker
room. The Wings are talented enough to survive with a slumping
Fedorov in the lineup. But, while Francis isn't producing in the
boxscores, he's still a key factor in the locker room and that
could end up being his most valuable trait.
One glaring weakness in the Hurricanes' game this year has been
on the power play. Carolina is currently ranked 25th out of 27
teams and has managed just six goals in 65 chances with the man
advantage. That also includes an 0-for-15 performance at one
point this past week.
The Hurricanes are one of the least penalized teams in the
league, so producing with the extra man can really make a
difference in the win column at the end of the year.
Francis was supposed to be a key addition in that department but
thus far hasn't managed to score. However, what is more of an
obvious hole is the team's lack of a scoring defensemen, or
"quarterback" to run the power play.
That job was supposed to belong to Al Iafrate who signed as a
free agent in the off-season. However, Iafrate opted to retire
instead. So, if a move has to be made this is definitely it.
Suggestions? It's easy for anyone to say "We should trade for
Darryl Sydor" but let's be realistic, that isn't going to happen.
Edmonton and Los Angeles are both stacked with some
offensive-minded defensemen like Boris Mironov, Janne Niinimaa,
Roman Hamrlik, Garry Galley and Steve Duchesne.
Stats and Stuff
The Canes are 4-3-0 in their last seven contests including
shutouts against Chicago and Boston and a game in which they
scored six straight goals before downing the New York Islanders.
Carolina will have a golden opportunity to extend its division
lead a bit in the next two weeks. Starting Wednesday (Nov. 11),
they'll play three games in four days as they make the West Coast
trip. Games against Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles are all
After two days off, they'll once again play three in four
beginning on Tuesday, November 17. Those three games are going to
tell a lot about this young team as they'll take on Montreal, New
Jersey and Philadelphia.
So far the Canes have been able to hold their own against teams
with winning records, posting a 2-1-2 record. What might be most
impressive is a 2-2 tie to Dallas and a 1-1 final against Philly
- two teams who are expected to be playing this summer.
Every year you hear how scoring three goals seems to be the
"magic" number for success in the NHL. This certainly holds true
for Carolina which happens to be 4-0-1 when scoring three or
more. On the flip side, they're 2-5-2 when scoring two or fewer.
While the power play has struggled, the penalty killing has been
outstanding. The Hurricanes are currently fifth and have
successfully killed about 89% of short-handed situations.