The NHL is inching closer and closer to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with every passing day. The playoffs are just over two months away and the playoff picture is beginning to reveal itself. As there are certain contenders in both the postseason and draft lottery, there is one team that is definitely a point of discussion and they haven’t made the playoffs in 8 years.
The Carolina Hurricanes are currently one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 59 points and a record of 25-21-9. Over the past few seasons the Hurricanes have been improving but are consistent in disappointment. This could be the year that they finally become a participant in the playoffs which has eluded them since 2009.
All of the noise and distractions off the ice haven’t helped their progress either. The constant talks of relocation, lack of attendance, being a hockey team from North Carolina of all places and recently changing owners seems to have taken its toll on the on-ice success of the franchise.
However, this season there is hope. This is a new year with new faces and as the NHL strolls through February, the Hurricanes find themselves on the cusp of a playoff spot for the first time in a while. The Hurricanes would probably tell you that they are trying not to get ahead of themselves as they still need to focus on the present but it certainly has to be exciting.
A team that has been the laughing stock of the Eastern Conference and maybe even the entire league for some years now is shedding that skin.
Carolina is one point out of a playoff spot and in order to put themselves over the hump of mediocrity, they’re going to have to become more consistent. Dating up to February 10, they are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. Carolina is 13-16 at home and 12-16 on the road which puts them in the middle of the pack no matter where they are.
The middle of the pack can be a dangerous place to be being the fact that being in the middle means the team not only doesn’t make the playoffs but then they are looking at most likely not getting some franchise player in the next draft due to the draft lottery.
Right now, the focus for the Hurricanes is not on the draft lottery. It’s also not on the playoffs. The focus is on their next game. They still sit one point out of a playoff spot and the division they belong to is the most competitive in the league. Only 5 points separates last from third place.
In this extremely tight Metropolitan division, every point is crucial and the Hurricanes are going to have to break this .500 style of play if they want to find themselves contending in April. There are just too many good teams in the Metro division to be squandering games that should be won.
The three biggest aspects of the game that the Hurricanes need to take control of in order to ensure that the playoffs are in their future is their offensive production, consistency and goal differential.
The Hurricanes offensive production needs to be better if they want to put more games in the wins column. The Hurricanes are currently scoring an average of 2.64 goals per game even though they have stars like Skinner, Aho, Williams, Hanifin, Faulk and Slavin. Hanifin, Faulk and Slavin are all defenseman but with their talent level they are more than capable of creating offensive plays and using their speed to jump up into the rush.
A bright spot to this is that the Hurricanes, even though are scoring just under 3 goals a game, are second in the NHL in shot attempts percentage at 54.1%. This is a good sign because even though the puck isn’t always going across the goal line, the chances are there. Creating chances for yourself and scoring goals are two very different aspects of the game.
Consistency is the second big factor to the success of the Hurricanes. As of now, it seems as if Carolina wins one and loses one and in that they are consistent. Those close losses need to be turned into wins or even at the very least overtime losses (to get the one point) so that the Hurricanes can break this coin toss like performance.
The lack of consistency goes back to the offense. The shot attempts are there and that is the positive. At this point in the season it comes down to converting those chances into goals. It is as if this Hurricanes team is just about to break through the wall and become a huge contender but again it comes down to the goal production.
The final key has to do with goal differential. This is a simpler idea but in the end, it tends to work out. The Hurricanes are at a goal differential of -17 yet they have a record that is 4 games above .500. Imagining what this team’s record would be if they got that -17 up to even by the end of the season is a pretty picture. Slowly chipping away at their less than ideal goal differential would result in a steady number of wins which could definitely put them in the playoffs.
This Carolina Hurricanes team has been the constant talking point of a possible turn around and I think this season was that turn around. If they make the playoffs, I don’t think much noise will be made but it will be a tremendous step in the right direction.
There are some small kinks that the ‘Canes need to work out as we get into April and if the Hurricanes can find a way to pull enough wins together, I truly believe we will be seeing those bright red jerseys flying across playoff ice.