A MATHEMATICAL…CERTAINTY? | Canes need to win division
There’s a scene from the movie “Titanic” that just about sums up where the Carolina Hurricanes are right now.
After the great luxury liner collides with an iceberg, Bruce Ismay, the head of the White Star Line – which owns the Titanic – is astonished to learn that his ship is going down. Designer Thomas Andrews has explained to the captain and his crew that the ship’s holds are filling up with water, and there’s nothing to be done to stop it.
“But she can’t sink,” says an incredulous Ismay.
“She is made of iron, sir,” Andrews replies. “I assure you she can. And she will. It’s a mathematical certainty.”
Back in early November, when the Hurricanes were second place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and had built a near double-digit point lead in the Southeast Division, making the playoffs seemed a mathematical certainty. Everything was adding up for the Canes. They led the league in scoring and they had one of the hottest goaltenders around. The rest of the division was foundering. The team had shaken off the post-Stanley Cup doldrums from last season and were spoken of as being a legitimate Cup contender.
Then came a shaky November, a depressing December and a see-saw January. Now, after having scored just a single goal in the two games (losses to Pittsburgh on Saturday and to Nashville Tuesday), Carolina is barely treading water.
The Hurricanes’ record has dropped to 26-26-4, essentially putting the team in the bottom-third of the league standings. They’re mired in a logjam in the Southeast, where two points separate four of the five teams. Even the division’s last-place Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of their last five road games going into Thursday’s game at Nashville, are within striking distance.
The only hope for rescue, and for the season’s salvation, is for Carolina to win the Southeast Division. But what seemed inevitable just three months ago is now barely imaginable. Division rivals the Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers have been surging and the Atlanta Thrashers have rebounded after an awful start, and they all have their sights set on the post-season.
The Capitals, who host the Hurricanes tonight, took over the division lead with a win on Wednesday. It’s hard to imagine that they were the last-place team in the league when they fired coach Glen Hanlon 21 games into the season. Since then, under new bench boss Bruce Boudreau, they’ve gone 20-10-4.
As for the Hurricanes, they’ve gone in the opposite direction, winning just 14 games in the same span. It has put the team in a very tenuous position, coming perilously close to the unthinkable.
The iceberg Carolina struck is made up of a myriad of elements: sub-par goaltending, shaky defense, injuries to key players, suspect special teams and a maddening inconsistency that almost defies belief.
They took on a bit more water in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the Nashville Predators, the second leg of a five-game road trip. Carolina had won four of its previous five games, and at Nashville played solidly. Cam Ward was great in net, but the team couldn’t solve Nashville netminder Chris Mason. On top of that, they lost sparkplug Chad LaRose to a broken leg just one shift into the game. (LaRose joins Matt Cullen, who missed his third straight game with vision problems, and Justin Williams on the sidelines.)
Earlier, in Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh, the Hurricanes played two solid periods and let 1-0 going into the 3rd, but gave up four goals to the Penguins in a dismal final 20 minutes in the loss. So after two nice wins following the All-Star break, the Canes have played five very good periods of hockey out of six, but have lost ground.
Tonight’s game against the Washington has additional meaning now after the Capitals took lead in the division. The Caps have won eight of their last 11 and are led by the league’s leading scorer, Alexander Ovechkin, who has 46 goals and 73 points.
The Hurricanes still rank 6th in the league in scoring (2.93 goals per game), but have dropped to 26th out of 30 teams in goaltending with a goals-against average of 3.16. Their penalty-killing is dead last in the league and the power play has scored just once in its last 16 chances.
With the Feb. 26 trade deadline looming, Carolina is definitely shooting off rescue flares and manning the lifeboats. The Carpathia finally came to rescue the Titanic, but by then it was too late. Without a lengthy winning streak during February, the same fate will likely befall the Hurricanes.