Tickets are on sale to the public. A group has started the informal skates at Raleigh Center Ice. And the start of training camp is inside of a month.
Hockey is finally near!
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe longingly takes a look forward to the 2017-18 Hurricanes schedule on a couple fronts.
Key points in the Hurricanes 2017-18 schedule
Must capitalize on a friendlier start
The State Fair road trip at the beginning of the season has been a fixture on the Hurricanes’ schedule for a number of years now, but with the World Cup pushing back the start of the 2016-17 season, October of 2016 was a more extreme version. The Hurricanes did not get a couple home games before the road trip as in most seasons, and the trip was longer at six games and almost a full two weeks. When it was over, the Hurricanes had already dug a small hole at 1-3-2.
Fast forward to 2017-18, and the North Carolina State Fair and its companion road trip are still there, but the early-season challenge is significantly less. The Hurricanes play two games at home to start the season, and the road trip is a more modest four games.
Blame it on the road. Call the team slow starters. Pin it on Peters’ preseason preparation. But however you want to slice and dice it, the Hurricanes have entered November already in the minus column under Coach Bill Peters with 0-6-2, 5-6-0 and 2-4-2 October records in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively. The unimpressive 7-16-4 total and 54-point 82-game pace barely beats Colorado’s abysmal 2016-17 total of 48 points.
The Hurricanes need to find some combination of better preseason preparation, a greater sense of urgency a friendlier schedule or whatever else to get out of the gate without digging a hole.
A chance to make hay in November
If the Hurricanes do emerge from October in good shape, the front part of November could set up nicely for an early climb in the standings. Things can change significantly from year to year in the NHL and there are no ‘gimmes’, but based on the 2016-17 standings, the November schedule looks favorable. The Hurricanes play 7 out of 9 games against teams that missed the playoffs for the 2016-17 season and then finish the month with three home games around the US Thanksgiving holiday.
November represents an opportunity to enter December rising instead of seeing the season already on life support. This would be the first time that has occurred during Bill Peters’ tenure.
Biggest road challenge emerges in December
The Hurricanes faithful have a history of doing ‘Canes after Dark’ during a regular slate of Western Conference road games leading up to the end of year holidays. In 2017 between the conclusion of US Thanksgiving weekend and the week of Christmas, the Hurricanes play 10 of 13 games on the road including a 6-game western swing that represents the largest road trip of the season. The Hurricanes have only a couple of single home games in the middle of most of a full month of travel.
If the Hurricanes can chart a new course and NOT enter December already facing a deficit in the standings, the month might just require treading water to push into the new year still in good position. If the Hurricanes again start slow in October and November, December has the potential to deal another early death blow to the season.
“If you want to be the best, you need to beat the best” to start January
A scheduling quirk sees the Hurricanes play the Washington Capitals four out of their first six games to start the new year with a bout against the Pittsburgh Penguins thrown in for good measure. If Washington and Pittsburgh have rounded into mid-season form, the Hurricanes will need to be on top of their game.
The Metropolitan Division figures to be the best in the NHL again in 2017-18 which will present some tough stretches of games for the Hurricanes. If Washington and Pittsburgh return to form, the run at the beginning of January could be the worst of it.
‘It’s now or never’ the All-Star break in February
For teams on the fence, the difference between making and missing the playoffs often comes down to a handful of big streaks. The Columbus Blue Jackets rode a massive winning streak in 2016-17 all the way to the top of the competitive Metropolitan Division. And very often teams take themselves out of the running with one extended rough stretch.
More than anything, hot stretches come from a team finding a rhythm and just playing well and with confidence. In general, I think too much is often made of schedules. Often teams on a hot streak hit the road, suffer injuries, catch no breaks but just have that mojo going and find a way to win anyway. On the flip side and as Hurricanes fans know too well, teams that are struggling have an uncanny ability to lose home games to bottom teams.
But nevertheless, favorable stretches of schedule can help fuel the winning streaks necessary to push above the fray. Coming out of the All-Star break, the Hurricanes play eight in a row and 11 out of 12 at home.
February sets up as the most favorable stretch of schedule simply because of the volume of home games. If the Hurricanes need to make up ground in the second half of the season this might be the time.
A normal version of busy in March
The World Cup-induced schedule with the rescheduled Detroit game to boot pushed March of 2016 to a scheduling extreme that might never be repeated, but March of 2017 does offer a saner version of busy. The Hurricanes play five sets of back-to-back games and have a disjointed run of home and away that sees no more than two games in a row either at home or away.
March is usually a grind in the NHL, and the 2017-18 schedule looks no different.
As easy as 1-2-3 in April
If the Hurricanes enter April with playoff hopes still intact, the 2017-18 schedule closes out with a nicely spaced three-game slate for the first week of March. After playing in Florida on Monday and Philadelphia on Thursday, the Hurricanes finish with Tampa Bay at home on Saturday.
It’s time! Here is hoping that the Hurricanes are still playing hockey that matters in April this year!
Netting it out
If I had to pin the 2017-18 season on just one thing schedule-wise, it would be getting off to a better start. The Hurricanes have made a recent habit of proving the point that it is incredibly difficult to overcome an early deficit even with strong play during the winter.
In terms of thriving, I have November and February’s favorable stretches of schedule circled. In terms of surviving, December is tough with a bunch of travel largely on the West Coast.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as the most critical stretches of schedule?
2) Will a couple more home games early in October help generate a better start?
3) How much does schedule even matter? In the parity-filled NHL, is it really just a matter of playing well or not playing well regardless of schedule or other situations?