Power Play: No rust for ‘Canes as red-hot January rolls on

Carolina Hurricanes' goalie Anton Khudobin has now won his last six starts and is red-hot in that stretch, much like his team in January.

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes (17-25-5) returned from the All-Star break by picking up right where they left off — winning. They knocked off Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay (30-15-4) by a final of 4-2, holding off a charge from the Lightning in the second and third.

1. Hot January continues for the Hurricanes

Big-picture wise, is it good or bad that the Hurricanes are getting hot now? Some would say it’s bad, because this puts them further down the totem pole in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

But first-year head coach Bill Peters is trying to establish something with this team that he can build off of going forward, and his team has responded — they’re 7-2-1 in January so far with two more to go.

Peters has talked about establishing a culture of playing hockey a certain way, and certain things — like being tough to play against at home, and getting off to good starts — are already starting to improve drastically.

That happened in this one, as Carolina led 2-0 in the first six minutes and 1-0 in the first 22 seconds.

"Playing with a lead is a lot easier in this league. Playing catchup hockey in the National (Hockey) League is losing hockey. We know that firsthand," Peters said. "And we want to start on time. That’s part of the culture we want to establish. We’ve done that here recently."

He’s not satisfied just with that, obviously. After a fast start for the team, Tampa Bay took the lead in shots quickly and at one point led 18-9 with 15:22 remaining in the second. The Hurricanes clawed back and it finished 27-16 in favor of the Lightning, but the Hurricanes were much more active in the second and third.

Still, the way they played in the first after the two-goal lead was disheartening to Peters.

"Once it was 2-0, I don’t know if we even got a shot again the rest of the period. I thought we got to standing around watching," Peters said. "I thought we got better after the horn went to end the first, but maybe a little false sense of security when it was 2-0. There shouldn’t be."

As he continues to try to instill his values into this team, the team itself is getting more and more confident with each win. It also gives management and the various decision-makers a chance to see what this team, when healthy, looks like. Then they can make decisions about the future.

But for now, they’re enjoying the present.

"It’s been fun. A lot more fun being on the right side of the games and playing pretty solid right now. We’ve got a good feel with that lineup, guys knowing their roles, knowing where they’re situated and what’s being asked of them and they’re contributing," Eric Staal said.

It’s a good feeling coming to the rink and the results are the biggest thing. They’re there right now, so hopefully we keep that going."

2. Justin Faulk continues to shine as a bright young star

He was the Hurricanes only all-star, and he returned with a flourish, finishing with two points (a goal and an assist) and a team-high in ice time (23:30).

The 22-year-old defenseman has done a lot already in his career — he made the U.S. Olympic team, now the All-Star Game — but he’s still got plenty to learn, his head coach said.

"He does it all for us — plays big minutes, plays against everybody else’s top players each and every night. There’s a little more both ways, defensively and offensively, I think he’s got more to give," Peters said. "He’s a young guy, he likes the game and he’s getting better."

3. Anton Khudobin is still a hot goalie

Sometimes, a break can mean a hot goalie cools off. Not so for Anton Khudobin, normally the Hurricanes’ backup goalie — although he’s started the last three games now dating back to before the All-Star break.

He was starting to get a little antsy during his time off.

"Three days was all right and fourth I’m like oh, I kind of miss hockey already," Khudobin said. "So right now, it’s like, I didn’t have my legs definitely today but a lot of energy, though."

Khudobin may not have had his legs, but he had just enough as he stopped 28 of the 30 shots he saw. It’s his sixth straight win in goal, the longest winning streak for a Hurricanes’ goalie this season.

It wasn’t always like that, though — in his first 10 starts, the Hurricanes were 0-8-2. He was a little shaky in the very beginning of the year, but as it went on, it was bad luck more than poor play that was the problem.

"Well he’s not doing a whole lot different, to be honest with you. He’s getting a little bit of support offensively," Peters said. "He was very good during that streak. He did a good job keeping his head up and kept playing.

"He lost some 1-0 games, 2-1 games, and probably deserved better. If you look back, I think now it’s six straight for (Khudobin) and the one he lost was in New York, 1-0. So he’s given us good goal-tending for a long period of time."

Cam Ward was the mainstay in goal, and the Hurricanes may have a decision to make there at some point with Khudobin playing as well as he is and Ward being relatively steady (if not excellent) during most of his starts.

Right now, though, Khudobin just savors every game that he can get.

"As a goalie, you always feel more comfortable as you’re playing more and more," Khudobin said. "Maybe when you play 20 in a row, you kind of get tired or whatever. I’ve never played 20 in a row in this league, so. But at the same time, you always feel comfortable as you’re playing more."

Anton Khudobin — See above — 28 saves on 30 shots, and he was under siege most of the night. The first goal he allowed bounced off of a teammate and deflected in the net. He’s as hot a goalie as you’l find, holding opponents to a 1.44 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage during this winning streak.

Eric Staal — The captain was a +2 on the night and scored the Hurricanes first goal 22 seconds into the first period. He also had an assist on the final goal of the night that gave the Hurricanes a bit of a cushion.

Justin Faulk — In addition to the two points he had — a goal and an assist — he took four shots, doled out a hit and registered a takeaway.