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If the Hurricanes are to make a push for the playoffs in 2018-19, I think October is critical. Sure there is a chance that the Hurricanes dig the same early season hole as always but actually manage to climb out this time. But I think more likely if the team is to make the playoffs, one driver is a faster start that sets the season on a different course, builds confidence and hopefully leaves past fragility behind.
Building on the importance of October and dovetailing with the season preview series that I started earlier this week, below is a short wish list for October that would increase hope.
1) Steady goaltending
Goaltending will be critical to the team’s success. If neither Scott Darling nor Petr Mrazek can find a significantly higher gear than their 2017-18 seasons, I think the deficit to be overcome quickly becomes too much. (I guess Curtis McElhinney now presents a third even if unlikely possibility.) I also think because of the recent history of goalie struggles, that at least being steady and sound early on is important. A team playing in front of a goalie it does not trust is a bad thing. Players trying to compensate for someone else not doing his job well enough almost always ends badly.
As such, at the top of my wish list is stead even if not spectacular goaltending.
2) A fast start from Sebastian Aho’s line
With so many forwards just beginning their NHL careers, it is reasonable to think that there could be some lag for a few players getting up to speed that also that the talent is there for these players to contribute offensively.
Ideal would be for Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen’s line to start quickly and lead the way offensively in October to take a bit of pressure off the kids who are just getting up to speed and also Staal’s line that has a different top priority.
If the top scorers do not score early, I fear the results could be scoring woes and a bunch of players squeezing the stick too tightly trying to make something happen.
Note: If the Hurricanes want to just continue having a lethal power play, balanced scoring and a nice push from the blue line, I would gladly accept that instead.
3) A blue line that dictates play and tilts the ice into the offensive zone
For a team to be successful over the long 82-game NHL, it usually helps to have an identity and what I call repeatable formula for winning. After a couple years when the blue line was alleged to be a burgeoning strength but fell short, the Hurricanes might finally have a defense that is a strength and capable of driving wins. Ironically, it took adding two defensemen from outside the organization, but if it works out, it counts nonetheless.
A strong defense has the potential to lift multiple areas of the team’s game. Most significantly, strong defense will make the goalies’ job easier. In addition, strong defensive play could take the pressure of the young forward group defending in transition and in its own end. Finally, just maybe a strong blue line is capable of generating transition chances that boost scoring without adding a replacement for Jeff Skinner.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you had to prioritize my three wishes, how would you rank them?
2) If you had only three wishes for October what would they be?