Carolina Hurricanes Not Waiting 'Til New Year's To Turn Season Around

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2009

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 28:  Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates with teammates after scoring in the first period against the  Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on December 28, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

I was hoping that I could hold off until New Year's Day to write this article, so the "New Year's Resolutions" title cliche could be worked into the title, but it seems that Eric Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes aren't focused on catchy headlines at the moment.

After falling quickly down to last place in the NHL, the 'Canes have crept along in the standings for their entire season so far. But a recent jump in liveliness and offense has brought a little bit of confidence on the Hurricanes' bench.

In the past four periods of regulation time, the Hurricanes have outscored their opponents 9-4 and have been fully dominant on both ends of the ice.

During a stretch that began last Saturday and followed through to Monday night in Washington, Carolina came back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers (despite falling 4-3 in a shootout) and then went up to Washington to play the NHL-leading Capitals and came out with a 6-3 win after quickly jumping out 3-0.

Those four periods have also been the total time that offensive team leader and future Hurricane captain Eric Staal has been playing right wing. Staal's contributions during that time away from center include two goals and five assists, a rate that would be earning him over five points a game if he is able to keep it up.

The Hurricanes have also had several other players on fire over this stretch. Matt Cullen has earned four assists and is plus-five (after going minus-seven heading into this streak) in just over four periods, Jussi Jokinen has three goals and two assists in his team's last 80 minutes of regulation game time, and 22-year-old Brandon Sutter has two goals as well.

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Above the individual statistics, it's just clear that the Carolina Hurricanes we've seen in the last 85 minutes are not the same Canes that earned just 24 points through their first 37 games.

They were playing with a calm and coolness that hasn't been prevalent this season at all. The offense was productive but not hyper-reactive, and the defense didn't cheat early but rather finished their checks and began the transition when they needed to. The game might have been slower than the first three months of the season, but it was not affecting the Hurricanes players one bit.

Now, we'll get to see how Carolina fares in a home atmosphere where they actually haven't been that bad this season, having gone 8-9-3 in the RBC Center. Also, if you add in a upbeat, festive crowd who will be entering the arena from the annual Hurricanes' New Year's Eve Extravaganza party, it could be a fairly electric and season-changing game.

The matchup against the New York Rangers is also intriguing. The Rangers came into Raleigh two weeks ago and pulled out a hard-fought 3-1 victory, with Henrik Lundqvist clearly being the difference-maker. However, the Hurricanes' scoring offense wasn't nearly as high-flying heading into that game as it is now.

Cam Ward's play will also be crucial. The Rangers have not done an excellent job getting pucks into the net this season, and that's why they are currently losing the tiebreaker for the eighth spot in the East despite having such a strong goaltender in their net.

So, if Ward can give the home fans a small glimpse of his poise that he showed in the 2009 playoffs, it could be a very successful night for the Carolina Hurricanes. And it could be a high spot in what has been a year that began great and ended sour, at least until last week...

...because, who knows, but maybe this will turn out to be a major turning point in the Hurricanes season.

Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 16 months so far with the site, he has written over 150 articles and received almost 100,000 total reads.

Visit his profile to read more.

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