With it being a gift-giving time of year, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a list of Carolina Hurricanes gift wishes for the remainder of the 2017-18 season.
1) Steady goaltending
The version of the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes that gets inconsistent and on average sub-par goaltending looks to be a middle-ish team very likely to finish below the playoff cut line. This should be no surprise, as it was also the case in 2016-17 and to some degree 2015-16. I think it will be incredibly hard for the Hurricanes to push up the standings and into a playoff spot if the team does not receive at least average goaltending throughout the remainder of the season.
Ward has shown signs of finding a mid-season rhythm and having played only 11 of the first 35 games, he should be rested and capable of carrying the load short-term. Darling is better than what he has shown thus far, and I think it is reasonable to hope that a chance to reset will help him find another gear for the second half of the season.
2) Special teams improvement
In total, the Hurricanes’ special teams play has also been a detractor thus far in the 2017-18 season. With the power play scoring on 3 of 10 chances in the past two games, one can hope that the power play is finally ready to put things together. Except for a tough 0 for 3 in the Toronto debacle, the penalty kill has been perfect in the other seven games out of the last eight.
Is it possible that the special teams drag on the team through most of the first half of the season could reverse course and become wind at the team’s back in the second half of the season?
3) A couple scoring surges from the scoring leaders
Both Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner are tracking behind their goal scoring paces from the 2016-17 season. Justin Faulk scored twice on Saturday. Jeff Skinner has been buzzing around of late. Here is hoping that the two players simultaneously find their scoring touches while the team is still a going concern in the playoff chase and help propel the team upward.
4) That Ron Francis is given reason and makes a single difference-making deal
At a general level, the vast majority of the fan base is at least 90 percent on board with Francis’ master plan to build from within and eventually win with a model that is sustainable. But at the same time, the core fan base could really use even a small reward for its dedication. By no means am I suggesting that Francis needs to become a high bidder in what is usually a pricey market at the trade deadline, but if the team does it part and stays in the hunt into February, I think Francis owes it to the team and the fan base to make a modest investment in success for 2017-18.
5) Help from below from the ranks of the Charlotte Checkers
Thus far, the organization has been incredibly patient in terms of reaching to the AHL hoping to find a spark. A number of players at the AHL level are playing well and seemingly on the cusp of being NHL-ready. If the team continues with its current winning ways, there is no need to shake things up drastically, but I still thing there could be room for one difference-maker to emerge from the AHL level. If such a player arrives soon enough, he could even preempt the need for #4.
6) Playoff hockey
As one of probably four or five teams that could challenge for the two wildcard slots in the Eastern Conference and being on the outside looking in nearing the midway point of the season, there are no guarantees of course. But this team is good enough to make the playoffs if it can collectively put it all together and find a higher gear. After eight years of playoff misses and with a team that is young and improving, it is not unreasonable to ask for the return of playoff hockey as a gift this time of year!
What gifts would you add to this list for the remainder of the 2017-18 season and hopefully on a path toward playoff hockey?