While the Canes have been taking in their last extended break of the season with four days, off, the stretch run for the 2019-20 NHL season has rolled forward. When the Hurricanes return to the ice in Philadelphia on Thursday, they will be three points out of the last playoff spot held by the Islanders but actually closer to catching the Blue Jackets who are up four points but minus four games in hand. The finish will be a busy one for the Hurricanes whose 64 games played are the fewest in the NHL. That makes for 18 games in 31 days with five back-to-back sets and no breaks of more than one day.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe tries to answer the question, “What does it take?” to make the 2020 NHL playoffs.
1) A decent road trip
Up first is a long five game road trip that includes four games against Metropolitan Division foes. It is no secret that the Hurricanes have struggled in division during the 2019-20 season. Couple that with a three-game losing streak and injury issues including the goalie position, and having a decent road trip is critical. If the Canes cannot right the ship after an 0-2-1 mark next week and stumble to three or four losses, the the team will find itself in desperate straits when it returns home for game #70.
2) Health on the blue line, especially Jaccob Slavin
The addition of Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen (who has yet to play) brought some reinforcements for an injury handicapped blue line. But especially minus Brett Pesce, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour has been leaning heavily on Jaccob Slavin. If there is a straw that could break the camel’s back right now, I think would be more injury hardships on the blue line.
3) A stake in the sand and a consistent path forward
The trajectory of the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes even before the latest round of injuries and the recent losing streak was questionable. The team really has not found a repeatable formula nor has it recently been able to really string much together. Instead, the team has been up and down with some good to go with some bad. I am on record awhile back as saying that the team would need to find a higher gear in terms of defense and attention to detail if it was going to emerge from the regular season make the playoffs. With other Metro teams also being up and down, I do think it is possible to sort of limp into the playoffs, but the more likely path still includes finding a more consistent brand of good or better hockey.
4) Capable goaltending
During the final four and a half weeks of the 2019-20 the Hurricanes are destined to either be relying on recent AHL goalies or NHL goalies who have been out of the lineup for two weeks or more. Both of those are uncertain propositions. But to make the playoffs the Canes will need to get capable goaltending from that group. There is hope in that regard. Anton Forsberg looked more capable than not in his two starts. Alex Nedeljkovic had a tough first outing but was solid in stopping 18 out of 18 shots in relief in regulation before giving up a goal in overtime. And Petr Mrazek and James Reimer figure to return at some point to present more options. So the potential is there, but the situation is still a tricky one that cold decide the fate of the season.
5) Leaders leading
Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov have done all they can offensively of late. To make the playoffs, the Hurricanes must continue to get strong play from its leaders. Jordan Staal has not had the best of years, but he generally gets stronger not weaker in the later stages of the long NHL season. Justin Williams has been fairly quiet other than shootout heroics but did have a huge tip goal to get the Canadiens game to overtime to at least earn a point. In short, the team’s top forwards need to play some of their best hockey down the stretch.
If I had to name the biggest keys, I think first is whoever is in net on any given night, second is Jaccob Slavin because he will be asked to log 25 minutes plus many nights without falling off in level of play during a frenetic finish, and third is Jordan Staal. Picking Staal from among the forwards cheats a bit in assuming that Aho’s group will continue on its current path. If that does happen, getting more from Staal and his line will be critical to adding balance.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of my five keys to making the playoffs do you see as most important?
2) What, if anything, would you add to this list?