In recent years, the Carolina Hurricanes have found themselves trying to dig out of a hole by early December. Ironically, for the 2015-16 season, the same things that dug the hole almost helped the Hurricanes climb back out of it in the middle part of the season.
The first prerequisite to surprising the hockey world and pushing up into playoff contention is a much better start. To accomplish this, the team will need to right some wrongs from 2015-16 and avoid other pitfalls.
Stars are faster out of the gate
At least in a Hurricanes uniform thus far, Jordan Staal has been a slow starter not even counting the 2014-15 season in which he missed the first half due to a broken leg. The 2015-16 season was no exception. Jordan Staal was not horrible out of the gate, but by no means was he a difference-maker in a positive way early in the season. When the Hurricanes finally rose up in December it was upon Jordan Staal’s back. His line was the team’s best during its stretch of playoff winning-pace hockey from December through February. The Carolina Hurricanes desperately need Jordan Staal to find that gear early and provide a bunch of steady and solid minutes early in the season while the new combinations and even new NHL players are acclimating and getting up to speed.
Like Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk has a history of starting slow and then getting better. The 2015-16 season, especially early on, was an interesting one for Faulk. On the one hand, he scored power play goals at a torrid pace beyond anything that Canes fans could have imagined. But at the same time, he was mediocre at best defensively especially early in the season. While there are suddenly other players who are capable of being the Hurricanes best defenseman very soon, I think Justin Faulk needs to be the leader and the best defenseman in the lineup at least for the 2016-17 season for the team to be successful.
The right combinations are found more quickly
Yesterday, I wrote in some detail about some of the player combinations that Canes fans can expect to see early in training camp. Lost in the shuffle (pun intended) of the Hurricanes slow start but subsequent recovery in 2015-16 was Bill Peters inability to find working combinations in the first third of the season despite trying everything under the sun to do so. When he finally figured out the puzzle, it was incredibly good, but in the NHL results are scored not based on what is achieved only once you figure it out but also a tally of what you were able to scrape together when things were not clicking. For the Hurricanes to avoid an early deficit, Bill Peters must be significantly better in terms of finding combinations that work more quickly and also coaxing more production in terms of wins even out the stretches where things are not working well.
Better start in net
The Hurricanes 2015-16 season was a tale of 2 extremes in terms of netminding. Early in the season Cam Ward struggled and Eddie Lack had a really rough landing trying to transition from the Canucks to the Hurricanes. The result was goaltending that was frequently less than what the opponent received which creates and uphill battle to win points on a regular basis. I would not say that Lack ever really found a groove, but he has better as the season wore on. Cam Ward actually played his best hockey in a few years during the Canes surge in December through February. But about half of a season of reasonably good goaltending will not be enough especially if part of it is a slow start. The Hurricanes must get at least league average goaltending to make the 2016-17 season successful, and it must start early in the season.
What else do you think it takes for the Hurricanes to get off to a better start in 2016-17?