The Carolina Hurricanes (18-15-4) extended their win streak to three games and started the new year with a solid effort at home on Saturday with a 6-3 win over the struggling and last-place New Jersey Devils (10-26-2) at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC. With the Winter Classic being played in Pittsburgh, PA, and with what seemed like the attention of the entire NHL focused there, local NHL fans were treated to a fast offensive start from the Hurricanes that forced Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur out of the net early. Tuomo Ruutu led all scorers with four points (1 G, 3A) while Jeff Skinner and Sergei Samsonov potted two goals apiece and recent call-up Zac Dalpe scored his first NHL goal and the eventual game-winner.
Quick off the start
With continued line changes and placement of players in different positions, coach Paul Maurice continues to shape the roster to create scoring output that begins early in the game. It comes as no surprise that during the team's current win streak that the Hurricanes have outscored their opponents in the first period and have won each game whereas during their previous three-game slide, they did not. With more contributions coming from the team's younger players who have been afforded much time to develop and produce, it seems that the coaching staff and management have now set the tone that winning must become the norm in order to make a strong run at a playoff spot this season.
Rutherford throws a boulder into the pond
Zach Boychuk paid attention when team president and general manager Jim Rutherford entered the dressing room to address the team during the second intermission of the Hurricanes' recent road game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Boychuk was alluding to the fact that as a recent call-up this season, "it was pretty intimidating" to hear Rutherford talk about breaking up the team if they didn't start "battling and competing". The ripple effects of the shock waves sent into the water with Rutherford's speech had an impact as the Hurricanes finished with a 4-3 win over Toronto and played the next day to a 4-0 win over the Ottawa Senators, a game in which Boychuk scored the game's and his first two goals of the season since he was called up from Charlotte.
“These are the signs that as a manager you wait for and hope for. You wait for that break,” said Rutherford of Boychuk, who was tied for the American Hockey League’s second-leading scorer at the time of his recall. “He didn’t see as much ice time when he first got called up, but when the injury (to Jussi Jokinen) happened, he got that opportunity. He played a real complete game and did good things in the defensive zone to get the puck out. I think he has some chemistry with Brandon (Sutter), and if he keeps going he’ll only be back in Charlotte to visit.”
Note to Hurricanes prospects
With all four of its defensive prospects still in contention for a medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships (WJHC) taking place in Buffalo, NY, the Hurricanes have more pieces to fit into place for the future. Team USA's Brian Dumoulin and Justin Faulk are playing solid defense and supporting the power play while Team Finland's Rasmus Rissanen and Tommi Kivisto are providing consistent play on the blue line that can help get their team to the medal round. The possibility exists for a Team USA/Team Finland gold medal match-up if the Fins beat Russia and Sweden and Team USA beats the winner of Canada/Switzerland. Once these players get back into the system, they will realize that opportunity exists with the Carolina Hurricanes, but not without expending sweat, tears, and productive results.
Cap space and opportunity
With ample cap space available, Rutherford does have the ability to make moves that other teams in the league could use for financial relief if the right player(s) are available. The Hurricanes must be commended for investing considerable time and patience in building the foundation of the team to make it a viable playoff contender with its younger players. However, in doing such a good job developing their prospects they may need to move a few if it means bringing in some productive players to make that playoff run successful. As all Hurricanes fans know, if the team can make it to the 'dance', they are capable of anything.
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