The Carolina Hurricanes… in a way, I can’t wait to see them because our first game of the season as Bolts fans will be at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. On the other hand, they’ve done a very good job rebuilding the one time Stanley Cup champion team by adding players like Jeff Skinner. I can easily see the six regular season games between the Lightning and Hurricanes not being enough to settle the score. There just might be a playoff series in the cards for these two teams, and the staff of Cardiac Cane has done a fine job breaking down the division rivals in today’s 30/30 special.
The Carolina Hurricanes have pretty high expectations coming into the 2011-2012 season. Considering how they lost out on the playoffs in the final game of the season last season, and have missed the playoffs 4 out of the last 5 years, it might be a “playoffs or bust” year for Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice, captain Eric Staal and the rest of his teammates. During the off-season, the Hurricanes added several key pieces that were needed from last year including a fourth-line center in Tim Brent, a back-up, veteran goaltender in Brian Boucher and some scoring to replace Erik Cole in Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart. They also added Tomas Kaberle to help the struggling power play (ranked 24th in the league last year) and provide even more offense to what is already a solid set of offensive defencemen.
To go with the new additions, there are higher expectations for the members of the Hurricanes who were with the team last year. Many want to see Eric Staal make that jump and have a season closer to the point production like he had during the 2005-2006 season, where he had 100 points (45G, 55A). There are also hopes that the Canes’ young rookie phenom from last year, Jeff Skinner, is able to avoid the “Sophomore Slump” and improve on his 63-point performance from last season. The defensive core will have a microscope on it most of the season as well, looking to improve the amount of shots that goaltender Cam Ward will have to face. Last season, Ward faced 2,375 shots, highest in the NHL. I expect new assistant coach Dave Lewis, who spent 14 years coaching in the league, to strengthen the defense and, in turn, help Cam Ward have an extremely strong season. Don’t expect the Hurricanes to make the playoffs if Cam Ward has an off year.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for a preview of the Western Conference powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks.