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Carolina Hurricanes Must Work to Fix 1st-Period Problems

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 28: Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens, fights for the puck against Justin Faulk #27 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the NHL game on January 28, 2014 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images
Mark JonesSenior Analyst IJanuary 29, 2014

After weeks of fast finishes covering for slow starts, the Carolina Hurricanes' poor first-period play finally caught up to them in a 3-0 loss to Montreal on Tuesday.

The 'Canes have fallen behind 2-0 in five of their last nine games and have conceded at least the first goal in six of nine.

They've managed to rally for a 5-4-0 record in that stretch and a 10-4-0 record since New Year's Eve, holding on to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the team won't be able to overcome deficits so regularly as pressure grows in the coming months.

MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 28:  Andrei Markov #79 of the Montreal Canadiens challenges Riley Nash #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the NHL game on January 28, 2014 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty
Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

Carolina's slow starts in January are more concerning when considering that the trend is hardly a new one.

Over the first 53 games of the 2013-14 season, the 'Canes have trailed by two or more goals at one point in 24 of them. On seven occasions in the first 30 games alone, the 'Canes rallied from 2-0 down to tie, but eventually walked away with the win only twice.

Only lowly Buffalo has scored fewer first-period goals than Carolina's 25. Only three teams—Buffalo, Calgary and Floridahave a worse first-period goal differential than Carolina's minus-18.

Hurricanes' Goal Differential by Period
PeriodGoal DifferentialLeague Rank
1st PeriodMinus-1827th
2nd PeriodPlus-125th
3rd PeriodMinus-518th
Per NHL.com Stat Database

It seemed that the problem had perhaps been solved...until the latest back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday. Eric Staal and Co. were able to fight past Columbus' 2-0 advantage Monday in Raleigh, but the lack of home crowd support and the early 3-0 deficit were too much to overcome Tuesday in Montreal.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

The Hurricanes can't expect to be able to launch so many successful rallies over the season's final third, as opponents will field a healthier roster after the two-week Olympic break and tighten up in the face of growing playoff bubble intensity.

In fact, 12 of the NHL's 16 playoff teams from last spring finished the regular season with a first-period goal differential ranking in the upper half of the league. Four of the last six Stanley Cup champions were among the top five in the league in first-period scoring during the regular season.

The opening 20 minutes are a critical part of hockey game—20 minutes that, too often, the Hurricanes waste away fruitlessly. Only once in 53 games (Jan. 9 vs. Toronto) have the 'Canes scored multiple goals in those 20 minutes. Early fireworks have been all but nonexistent at PNC Arena this season.

To put it simply, the Hurricanes' postseason hopes cannot live on if the team continues its lackluster starts.

First-period improvement must be made a priority for the entire remainder of the 2013-14 campaign.

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more or follow him on Twitter.

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