Before the CBJ puck drops: Carolina Hurricanes

Jan 13, 2014; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson (7) celebrates a goal during the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nationwide Arena. Columbus beat Tampa Bay 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Russell LaBounty/Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sport

COLUMBUS, Ohio – GAME 52: Carolina Hurricanes

23-19-9 — 5th place in the Metropolitan Division

7-3-0 in last 10 games

SINCE WE LAST MET (On January 10):

Folks, you’ll have to bear with me for the next few games. Two weeks off (accompanied by an eight-game undefeated streak for the Columbus Blue Jackets) has set me back quite a bit. Thus, I’ll be learning what happened as we go along. Lots of catching up to do.

The Blue Jackets whitewashed the ‘Canes 3-0 back on the 10th of the month at Nationwide Arena. While that by itself is great to see, it’s made more impressive by the fact that Carolina’s been on a bit of a hot streak: 7-3-0 in the last 10 is nothing to sneeze at. So to see the CBJ not only beat Carolina but shut them out…that’s very notable.

It’s hard to find a pattern with Carolina’s post 1/10 record. They were shut out by Calgary in the successive game, 2-0. They beat Florida and Philadelphia in a pair of 3-2 squeakers. They lost, 5-3, to Atlantic Division co-leader Tampa Bay but beat Buffalo and Ottawa by scores of 5-3 and 6-3, respectively. Perhaps the most important thing to note from that batch of games is that the Buffalo and Ottawa wins were their most recent couple of games. Does that mean that the Hurricanes are heating up, when they’re one standings point behind the Blue Jackets? Perhaps. We shall see tonight.

Top scorers on Tobacco Road are as follows:

– Forward Eric Staal (12 goals, 30 assists, 42 points)

– Forward Jeff Skinner (22 G, 14 A, 36 pts.)

– Defenseman Andrej Sekera (8 G, 22 A, 30 pts.)

– Forward Alexander Semin (12 G, 14 A, 26 pts.)

– Forward Nathan Gerbe (11 G, 14 A, 25 pts.)

I gather that Carolina’s general manager is particularly displeased with Semin, who signed a five year, $35 million contract and then didn’t demonstrate the productivity that such a large paycheck suggests. To quote: "He’s a guy who is paid to score goals and put up points, and he hasn’t done that" (Interview with WTVD, 1/17/2014). That kick in the pants seems to have helped, as Semin has at least a point a game in the five games since getting called out by Rutherford…and six goals to boot.

On the flip side, one can’t help but be impressed with Skinner’s goal scoring – the kid’s nearly at a goal every other game. When the story on the 2010 NHL Entry Draft is written, one of the biggest storylines will be how he slid to Carolina and their seventh overall pick. Six teams whiffed on Skinner, who has been playing great hockey since entering the league straight out of the draft. I’m not trying to belittle Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or even Ryan Johansen – all of whom were drafted before Skinner – but Skinner is one special player.

We also have an interesting situation in goal, where Anton Khudobin will be getting the start. Khudobin, you might recall, was the same guy who the Blue Jackets beat back on the 10th. He’s also the smallest "head" (13 starts) of Carolina’s three-headed goalie monster, if you will – Justin Peters has 20 starts, and the injured but recovering Cam Ward has 18. So hey, why not put your weakest link in when the possibility of leapfrogging a division rival is ripe? Ask Canes coach Kirk Muller, because I can’t explain it. Perhaps Peters is tired?

WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:

It’s important for a couple of reasons. First, a regulation win for the Blue Jackets would extend their one-point lead over Carolina to three. That can’t be underestimated (On the flip side, a regulation Carolina win would put the Canes in front by one point).

Second, there’s the rebound factor after seeing the Blue Jackets’ team record-setting winning streak end over the weekend against Buffalo. These long, 82-game seasons are built on streaks. You get hot and build upon the momentum. You go cold and endure a lot of soul-searching. Rarely are we "treated" to a win one, lose one scenario – which made Columbus’ November-December stretch so odd. Thus, it’s important to not let that loss snowball and instead be an aberration.

WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:

Candidly, I’ll be trying to watch the entire team scheme tonight to try to divine what made that winning streak possible. I haven’t watched an entire Blue Jackets game in two weeks, and clearly they’re doing something right. Was the insertion of Nathan Horton into the lineup the impetus for the team’s success, or was it something else? I’m very curious and can’t wait to see.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:

With the game coming to us live from Raleigh, expect the following:

– Brian Giesenschlag and company deliver a new "Blue Jackets Slap Shots" at 6PM.

– Brian and Dan Kamal are on deck with "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" at 6:30.

– The puck drops at 7PM, with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with insight and analysis.