On Mar. 12, the Carolina Hurricanes were 15-9-1, sitting third in the Eastern Conference with 31 points, looking good for a playoff spot.
Fast forward to today — just 23 days later — and things look decidedly less rosy.
The ‘Canes are in a tailspin, having lost nine of their last 10, and head into tonight’s game against Tampa Bay sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference.
That’s drawn the ire of GM Jim Rutherford, who said he’s “about as frustrated as you can get” over Carolina’s struggles.
“We’re not sitting here saying [the season’s] over,” he told the Raleigh News and Observer. “But the most frustrating thing is that in the first part of the season we showed what kind of team we had — and we played very well.”
Carolina’s slide has coincided with a number of crucial injuries. Starting netminder Cam Ward (sprained MCL) was lost for the regular season, and backup Dan Ellis missed time with a skate laceration.
Top defenseman Justin Faulk has been out with a knee sprain of his own, and the No. 2 defenseman — Joni Pitkanen — broke his heel bone on an icing chase this week, which ended his season.
Tuomo Ruutu’s only played in four games after undergoing offseason hip surgery, and checking forward Chad LaRose missed extensive time with a concussion.
Add it all up, and you’ve got a team struggling to overcome a massive stretch of bad luck and worse health.
Now, the Canes are four points back of Winnipeg for the Southeast Division lead and five back of New Jersey for the eighth and final playoff spot.
What makes this slide even more frustrating is that Carolina spent big bucks to assemble its current team: $35 million for Alex Semin, $60 million for Jordan Staal and $34.35 million for Jeff Skinner.
It’s something Rutherford alluded to in voicing his frustrations.
“We spent more money on our team this year. I believe we had a team in place that was a very good team,” he explained. “But when I talk about it coming at a worse time, this is a year we have decided to raise ticket prices and do different things.
“That doesn’t sit right with the paying customer, when they watch a team that was so good in the first half and a team that wasn’t good in the second half.”