Question: Can Carolina’s defense take some pressure off Cam Ward?
The All-Star Game. Jeff Skinner. Those were just 2 good things that happened to the Hurricanes last year. But one bad thing that trumps all the good ones? Their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last game of the year that, had it been a win, would have meant the Canes finished 8th in the East, good for the last playoff spot. Instead, it went to the Rangers, who rolled over for the Caps in 5 games.
So, clearly, the Canes are not all that far from being a playoff team-and a quality one at that. I remember seeing some stat that every time they have gone to the Playoffs, they have advanced to at least the East Final (could have even been the Stanley Cup finals, I don’t remember). But that tells you something. Once they get in, Eric Staal and Co. can’t be stopped. Don’t let it be lost on you that they won the Cup in 2006, anchored by-you guessed it-current anchors Eric Staal and Cam Ward. Offensively, this team is a-ok. I think Eric Staal will get back to at least the 85 or 90-point level, possibly even 100, although that is a bit of a pipe dream. Skinner will be looking to improve upon his 63 (!) points in his rookie year, and Tuomo Ruutu and Alex Ponikarovsky will contribute, too. But, as the question suggests, I am concerned by the defense.
The Canes were last in the league in shots against/per game with 33.2. As good as Cam Ward may be, and as often as he’ll keep you in the game, he can’t be expected to win every game against that many shots every night. There were almost no changes in the defense except that the Hurricanes traded one offensive-threat-but-defensive-zone-liability-type defenseman for another in Joe Corvo for Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle was awful in the playoffs, too. Yeah, I’m not a Tomas Kaberle fan. For a defenseman, he doesn’t give enough offense to warrant the defensive brain farts he has.
In the end, that’s what it’s going to come down to-defensive performance. The offense will be ok (even though they lost Erik Cole to MY HABS), and Cam Ward will win them some games-but they’re going to need much, much better defense so that Ward can win them a lot of games. Ward is like Carey Price- they both play an obscene number of games each year, but in order for Ward to put up Price/holy-deity-like numbers, they’re going to have to play at least close to the kind of shutdown, lockdown defense the Canadiens play. But based on the makeup of this Canes D corps, I’m not sure that’ll happen. And if it doesn’t, look for another last-day heartbreak.