What's the key to the Hurricanes turnaround?

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Yesterday one of our faithful readers asked why the Carolina Hurricanes weren’t getting much attention, despite being the hottest team in the NHL over the past month. Since we are doing our best to give equal love all around, we’ll oblige that request.

After enjoying something of a Cinderella run before being swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was hopeful that the Hurricanes would take the next step this season. They won just three of their first 20 games, putting themselves in a hole that is nearly impossible to pull out of in just the first part of the season. Now the Hurricanes are 13-3-0 since January 21st, and have started to pull away from the worst start imaginable for a team that had high hopes coming off a playoff year. They have an outside shot — still near impossible, but not unthinkable, 7 points back with 19 games remaining — of making the playoffs.

Even if they don’t complete a magical comeback, their latest streak combined with stellar all-around team play still makes for a remarkable story on the season. What is that changed, what happened with the Hurricanes to take them from worst in the NHL to a team that none want to face right now?

I decided to ask the experts. I turned to Bob H. Waeghe of CanesCountry.com to get his take on what’s been the key to the Hurricanes’ turnaround.

While the Carolina Hurricanes are presently riding a seven game winning streak, the successful stretch is really just an extension of much improved play since the first of the year. What is the club doing differently now than they were before? For one thing, the leader of the team is finally healthy.

It’s probably no secret that the Hurricanes go as Eric Staal goes. The center started out the season with a bad groin issue and things deteriorated from there. He eventually had to sit out 10 games, ruining a period of over three years where he hadn’t missed a game. When he returned to the lineup, he still was not 100% and had to be moved to winger because he was unable to take faceoffs. But on January 21st, that all changed.

Staal was named team Captain, he moved back to center, and he went on a career best 11 game point streak. Since that fateful day when Staal was given the captaincy, the Canes are 12-3-0 and have out-scored their opponents 51-29. The center has 19 points, (10G 9A), during that 15 game span.

Of course hockey is a team sport and it takes more than one man to be successful. The entire team has picked up their energy. The defense has improved, the goaltending has been solid, (even without an injured Cam Ward), and the special team play has been excellent. There are several heroes who have contributed.

The Canes have gone from being dead last in the league to being within sight of an eighth place playoff spot. The odds certainly indicate that they will not make it, but they have not given up. Their new Captain won’t let them.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Hurricanes, and they’ll have to find some way to continue this incredible streak to even get close to a playoff spot. Even if they can’t, it’s still could be one heck of a wild ride to the finish.

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Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.