Monday October 13th, 2014

This is how the season has started for the hard-luck Hurricanes: Just days after losing defensive whiz and alternate captain Jordan Staal to a broken leg, Carolina now finds itself without captain Eric Staal (upper body).

That unfortunate development leaves first-round bust Riley Nash as the Hurricanes' new No. 1 center.


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To be fair, Nash is a decent enough player. He's defensively responsible, and he puts in an honest night's work. But he's cursed with hands of stone—having scored just 14 goals and 35 points in 112 career games—and he only wins around 45% of his draws. Not the sort of mitts you want as the centerpiece of your offense.

And while things may change before Carolina's game against the equally hapless Sabres on Tuesday night, the Hurricanes still have plenty of other major problems.

Behind Nash on the depth chart are sophomore Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask, a promising but raw pivot with two games on his NHL resume. One of them will slot in as the center on the second line. Jay McClement, a serviceable player in his own end who scored all of four goals last season with the Maple Leafs, will move up to the third unit.

Who will lead the fourth line? Maybe it's Zach Boychuk, who was recalled from the AHL on Sunday night. The dire state of Carolina's centers might just be bad enough to make 51-year-old GM Ron Francis consider dusting off his skates.

Two games into the season might be a little early to raise the white flag, but that point may not be far off. After the game against Buffalo at PNC Arena on Tuesday, the Hurricanes will spend the rest of the month of October on the road. And while a swing through Western Canada (beginning on Oct. 21, Carolina finishes out the month against the Jets, the Flames, the Oilers and the Canucks) isn't the grueling gauntlet it once was, it's not a stretch to see things getting out of hand in a hurry.

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Aside from the team's crowded medical bay—which also includes Jeff Skinner (concussion) and Patrick Dwyer (lower body)—and its sorry group of centers, there are two more pressing problems. First, a penalty kill that was fair-to-spare last season (81.7%, 17th in the league) is now short four of its top-six forwards (by minutes played). The early returns on the revamped unit have not been strong. The Islanders officially went 4 for 8 on the power play while sweeping their season-opening home-and-home series with the Hurricanes, and scored a fifth goal seconds after a Carolina penalty had expired.

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Then there's the back end. The defense has looked old and slow and has struggled to clear the zone effectively. The unit's struggles have crippled the offense at five-on-five and put undue pressure on goalies Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin, both of whom were lit up in their respective season debuts. Khudobin has a 4.14 goals-against average and an .871 save percentage. Ward's numbers are even worse (5.08, .808). With stats like those, it's no wonder the Hurricanes have yet to hold a lead.

There's no telling when, or if, things will turn around in Carolina, but give the team full marks for good timing. If the Hurricanes keep this up there's a better chance that the No. 1 center they need might come gift wrapped for them in June in the form of a kid by the name of either McDavid or Eichel.


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