The Carolina Hurricanes entered the 2014-15 season knowing they had to play well if they wanted to do well. They play in a tough division and have to deal with two extra teams in the conference vying for a playoff spot. At the end of the 2013-14 season, Carolina finished in seventh place in the division with a 36-35-11 record. Carolina hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008-09, and at the moment it doesn’t look good for them.
From the start it looked like the 2014-15 campaign was going to be a long one. Star center Jordan Staal broke his leg in a preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres. Staal only returned a couple of weeks ago, but his presence has helped the team and they have been playing better as of late.
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The Hurricanes have gone 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and have won their last two leading into the break. Carolina is entering the All-Star break with a 16-25-5 record and find themselves last in the division. Their record is tied for fourth worst in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes.
The aspect of the Hurricanes game that has been hurting their chances has been their offense. They are averaging 2.1 goals a game, which is second worst in the league. One bright spot of their season has been their penalty kill as they have an 87% kill rate, which is the fourth best. Overall, their defense has been good as their goals against average is just outside the top 10. Goalie Cam Ward has been playing well, given the lack of support he gets from his team, as has backup Anton Khudobin as both players have a GAA under 2.50.
Player who is overachieving: Justin Faulk, D.
Faulk is entering his fourth season in the league and this is his best one yet. He has already tied his career high in goals with eight and is working on setting a new career high in assists with 18. What’s been so impressive about Faulk’s game is that he has been scoring when his team needs him to. He has three power play goals, two shorthanded goals and three of his eight goals have been game winners.
Faulk is young, under team control for a couple of years and is making improvements that the Hurricanes are happy about. He’s been seeing more ice time and has been valuable on the power play and the penalty kill. Faulk looks to be one of the building pieces for Carolina’s future along with forward Jordan Staal and it looks like they have good player in Faulk.
Player who is underperforming: Jiri Tlusty, LW.
A couple of years ago it looked like Tlusty was going to be one of the Hurricanes better players. While he is second on the team with 11 goals, people are expecting more from him. Over half of his goals have come on the power play, which is odd, because he’s never been much of a power play contributor.
He almost seemed to play better at even strength as in his best year, four of his 23 goals were on the man advantage. His defense has suffered as Tlusty is a -12 which is worst among the team’s forwards. Tlusty’s assists have also been down as his assists per game is a career low. While this could be the product of a weak line, Tlusty should be able to elevate the players on his line if he is a good player. Tlusty is a free agent after this season and could be moved.
Second Half Outlook
The Hurricanes don’t have the personnel on their team to climb out of the deep hole they are in. Especially after the break as six of their next seven games are against teams that are towards the top of their division. They start at home against Tampa Bay and St. Louis, before going on the road against the New York Rangers, Anaheim, Arizona (their only easy game) then San Jose before coming back to Carolina to finish the stretch with the Ducks again. After that it gets easier, but the Hurricanes have been playing so inconsistent it’s hard to see them winning consistently. Half of their games are against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today and it’s going to be a tough road for them, especially if they start trading away pieces.
The Carolina Hurricanes have made it halfway through the season and it’s going to be just as long of a second half. The Hurricanes look to be one of the sellers at the trade deadline next month and have some pieces that would be desirable. If the Hurricanes are to make a move, the most likely moves will be Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Andrej Sekera and Cam Ward. All of these players have contracts that are expiring either this year or next. No matter what Carolina does, they have to feel good about how some of their younger players like Faulk have been playing and they will try to surround them with talent in the offseason and through trade. Ultimately, the Hurricanes should, and probably will, finish near the bottom of their division.