There is a storm brewing in the Eastern Conference and it is coming from an unlikely source.
The Carolina Hurricanes are making quite a splash in the standings and around the league. At 19-13-5-5, the Hurricanes are off to the best start in franchise history with 48 points in 42 games, bettering their previous best 42-game point total of 46 in 1986-87 when they were still the Hartford Whalers.
The ball got rolling for the Hurricanes last April, when Carolina slipped into the postseason as the No. 8 seed with the reward of facing top-seeded New Jersey. The Hurricanes battled the Devils tooth-and-nail, fighting back from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 4 at home and Game 5 in New Jersey before falling to the eventual Eastern Conference champs. Such support was stirred by this improbable postseason run that the ‘Canes’ season-ticket base spiked above 12,000 for the first time.
The Hurricanes are doing it with perhaps the most balanced offensive attack and a goaltending platoon that features two veteran netminders. Carolina has eight players with 20 or more points and already has six players in double-digits in goals.
It all starts with the old fella wearing the C, one of the league’s great quiet superstars. Ron Francis is fifth in league history with 1,659 points, trailing only Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Marcel Dionne. Not a bad neighborhood to live in.
Francis is one of best pass-first players ever, ranking third all-time behind only Gretzky and Ray Bourque with 1,163 assists. Francis trails Bourque by just six assists and will likely pass him sometime in January. And he can put the puck in the net, too. He is just one goal (through Monday's games) from becoming the fourth player in NHL history have more than 500 goals and 1,000 assists -- Gretzky, Howe, Messier and Dionne.
Though Francis is the team leader, right winger Sami Kapanen is the go-to guy. Kapanen has 19 goals and 21 assists through 40 games, leaving him tied with Alexei Yashin and Mike York for second in the scoring race with 40 points. Kapanen’s career highs of 26 goals, 37 assists and 63 points from the 1997-98 season in Carolina look easily reachable.
But all of this wouldn’t be nearly as intriguing if their coach hadn’t been on the hot seat as recently as three weeks ago. After Carolina lost four in a row in late November/early December, Maurice nearly was relieved of his spot on the bench after seven seasons, the second-longest tenure in the league behind Detroit's Scotty Bowman. But the ‘Canes have responded by winning seven of their past 11 to move into a tie for the third-most points in the Eastern Conference.
Fans in Raleigh are hoping their team’s run lasts a little deeper into May and perhaps even into June if this bunch of Hurricanes can whip up the perfect storm.
Come back soon Mario Lemieux is almost a week away from returning and he can’t get back soon enough for the rest of his Penguins teammates. Pittsburgh is only 7-10-2 in the six weeks Lemieux has been sidelined. The Penguins desperately need a return to Lemieux's 2000-01 form (35 goals in 43 games) rather than his form pre-injury this season (one goal in 11 games). The likely dates for the return of Super Mario are either Jan. 8 against Boston or Jan. 10 at Buffalo.
Alexei’s midnight runners
After a disappointing return to Ottawa in which the Sens down the Isles 5-2, Alexei Yashin bounced back and scored twice in New York’s 6-5 overtime victory against Montreal on Saturday, including netting the game-winner. Yashin is tied for second in the league with 40 points and is tied for eight with 19 goals. Making Yashin’s productive season all the more impressive is that he is paired with right wing Mariusz Czerkawski and underachieving left wing Oleg Kvasha. The Isles’ playoff hopes will remain solid as long as Yashin continues carrying his linemates and scoring the clutch goals like he has been.
Boston @ Carolina -- Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST Though the old Bruins-Whalers animosity has waned in the five years since Hartford moved south, the quality of this matchup has improved significantly. Boston and Carolina are among the best teams in the East this season with each team sporting an offense among the top dozen in the league.
N.Y. Rangers @ Colorado -- Thursday, 10 p.m. EST The Rangers ripped the Avs 5-3 on Nov. 20, ending Patrick Roy’s three-game shutout streak in a bad way. This is the final meeting this season of these two glamour franchises and should be a freewheeling affair with nine potential Hall of Famers dotting these two rosters.
Colorado @ Detroit -- Saturday, 3 p.m. EST Round 2 of this season’s Claude Lemieux Memorial Cheap Shot Bowl takes place back in Hockeytown where the Avs took the first meeting on Dec. 5. However, the teams totaled only 18 PIM in their first meeting and have cleaned it up for the most part since their bloodbaths of several years ago.
Plus: Rob Zamuner
With one goal in his first 19 games, Zamuner looked like a free-agent bust for the Bruins. But with six goals in his past five games, Zamuner is one of the hottest forwards in the league. That is a good thing because Boston needs a scoring boost from its third line to force opponents to lighten up on the hits levied against its talented top two units.
Minus: Roman Turek
Roman has been in ruins since signing his new four-year, $19 million deal just before Thanksgiving. After an amazing start, Turek is 2-7-4 with a 3.32 GAA and a .891 save percentage since putting his John Hancock on that lucrative extension.
Plus: Bret Hedican
Never regarded as a scoring defenseman, Hedican was plodding along with five points in 22 games before burning the Leafs for two goals and two assists Saturday. Hedican promised to retrace his steps of his Saturday afternoon routine in the hopes of repeating his career-best four-point game.
Minus: Vyacheslav Kozlov
Kozlov had tallied 16 points in his past 12 games since getting benched in late November, but he will miss two months with a severed left Achilles’ tendon. His attitude and play were rounding into shape following his benching, but now the Sabres will need to look elsewhere for an offensive spark while he recuperates.
Plus: Jan Hlavac
The change of scenery has done wonders for Hlavac’s confidence. After scoring just 10 points in 31 games with Philadelphia, Hlavac has five points in five games since coming to Vancouver in exchange for Donald Brashear. A spot on the Canucks’ top line with Andrew Cassels and Markus Naslund will only help Hlavac’s numbers.
"I shoveled and re-shoveled it and re-shoveled it. It's just part of the winters in Buffalo, and something you have to go with the flow."
-- Sabres center Stu Barnes after the city of Buffalo received a record snowfall of seven feet in a four-day span.
"That's a lot of goals, especially when you can't shoot."
-- Thrashers captain Ray Ferraro after becoming the 66th player in NHL history to score 400 career goals in Atlanta’s 5-4 win against Toronto on Friday.
"Best NHL game I ever played. I could have had seven, eight, nine goals. When I had 21 goals in the first 21 Oiler games that year, people started talking about 50 in 50, and I said, 'Hey, let's not jump to conclusions, I've got a long way to go.’ Then when I got to 45 goals in 38 games, I knew if I didn't do [50 in 50 or fewer], I'd have a lot of critics.''
-- Wayne Gretzky to the Edmonton Journal, on the 20th anniversary of his five-goal game against the Flyers on Dec. 30, 1981 to give him an amazing 50 goals in 39 games.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, blah, blah, blah -- no one knows the rest of the lyrics anyway. As 2002 opens, Dave Wallace outlines New Year’s resolutions for five NHL players in his latest Puck Amok column.
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Well, this isn’t really what we had in mind when we named this section of the Glance “Head Games." In truth, we were hoping that Lindros would avoid that annoying ringing sensation in his ears for the entire season and keep up his amazingly high level of play. But that was surely too much to ask.
There’s not much to report on the Lindros front this week, as Big E sat out the final two periods of Friday’s 5-3 win at San Jose after getting his bell rung in the first. Lindros initially thought the headaches resulted from a hard collision with San Jose’s Mark Smith less than four minutes into the game. But The New York Times reported that Lindros told people close to him the headaches could have come from a collision with a teammate during a line change.
He did record an assist and two hits in 4:41 of ice time on six shifts. The team claims he doesn’t have a concussion, though they sat him for Saturday’s game in Los Angeles. If it was a concussion, it would be Lindros’ sixth in the past 27 months.
Lindros won’t play in Monday’s game in Phoenix, but could return Wednesday in Edmonton or Thursday in Denver as the Rangers continue their six-game road trip.
Follow Lindros' progress this season here in the Head Games section of the Glance every week.
Last week's topic: What move does your team need to make to compete for the Cup?
To win the Cup the Avs need a one-way ticket from Sweden to Denver and a healthy Peter Forsburg to use it. Jeff Thompson, Grand Junction, Colo.
The Islanders are good enough right now but Tony Amonte or Bill Guerin would be a big help. It would be a heavy cost though. Max Auricchio, Garden City, N.Y.
Detroit needs another quality defenseman, someone like Darius Kasparaitis to give the older guys a break. He could play the role that Vladimir Konstantinov played. Bill Taggart, Newfoundland
The Rangers need to ship Igor Ulanov out of town and give us a defenseman who doesn't turn the puck
over in his own zone. Geoff Wolinetz, New York, N.Y.
The Lightning needs to trade Kevin Weekes and a draft pick to the Devils for Bobby Holik. New Jersey needs a backup goalie and Tampa Bay needs a proven winner with grit. Corey Brookhouzen, St. Petersburg, Fla.
For the Edmonton Oilers to compete for the Cup, the Canadian dollar needs to make a remarkable comeback. Oh, and Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, Glen Anderson, Esa Tikkanen and Kevin Lowe need to come back too. Raja Gill, Burlington, Ontario
For out adult team in Jackson to compete for the Cup, we need to: 1. Join the NHL; 2. Quit our day jobs; 3. Eat lots of vitamins and spinach; 4. Locate and bathe in the fountain of youth; and 5. PRAY!
. Chris Todd, Ridgeland, Miss.
This week's topic: Who will be the best six players (name three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie please) in the NHL five years from now?
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for CNNSI.com. "Week at a Glance" appears each Monday during the season.