Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a small collection of random Canes notes.
Stumbling into the playoffs?
With a tough 0-2-1 record last week and a three-point deficit for a playoff spot, Canes fans could wake up feeling like the situation is dire given the current trajectory. No doubt, the team’s inability to find any repeatable formula combined with the recent injuries is a problem, but the situation is not as dire as last week’s record.
Given that a couple other teams have also hit their own rough patches, it is not inconceivable that the Hurricanes could stumble into the playoffs even with an up and down finish.
The Islanders who are up only three points on the Canes (no games in hand) have sputtered to a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 games. The Blue Jackets who are decimated by injuries are 2-4-4 in their last 10 games. The Florida Panthers are only 3-6-1 in their last three games. Even with their 0-2-1 mark last week, the Hurricanes are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games.
At least one of these teams will make the playoffs.
Further, the Rangers are actually below this group but recently seemed destined to fly past the cut line based on their recent surge. But with an injury to Chris Kreider and two straight losses, is it possible that the Rangers are hitting a wall and destined to come back to Earth and also get struck in the fray? The Penguins until very recently were well above this group and headed upward but have since lost six straight.
Normally the teams that emerge this time of year are the ones that find a rhythm and a winning stretch to go with it, but with so many teams in or close to the fray and not playing particularly well, the possibility could exist for one team to grind their way to the last playoff spot even without a particularly strong finish.
Trouble on the wing magnified
Since the All-Star break, the Hurricanes have allowed 3.57 goals per game and have held opponents to fewer than three goals only twice in 14 games. Usually when NHL teams struggle defensively, the focus is on some combination of goaltending and the blue line. While I do think the blue line has a role, I think more so the problem might be more so a combination of two things. First is the defensive play of the team’s wings. Second is that this problem is magnified by a decrease in ability to hide these things.
First on the wings, the Canes group of wings right now does not have defense as a core strength. Teuvo Teravainen has become a strong two-way player, but past him most of the rest of the key players are average or less defensively. I like the trajectory for both Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas, but both players’ games are more mature offensively, and both players are subject to occasional lapses in focus and errors in judgment. In addition, I think it is fair to say that Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel are similarly players whose strengths are on the offensive side of the puck. More recently, Dzingel has logged some minutes on the fourth line, but for most of the season, that group of four has been two-thirds of the team’s top 9 wings.
A contributing factor has also been a decrease in the team’s ability to cover up some weaknesses. The bread and butter of the 2018-19 team was its ability to forecheck so well that on good nights, the strategy for playing defense was mostly just not to play a whole lot of defense. Fast forward to 2019-20 and the forecheck is not the at times dominant strength that it was in 2018-19. Further, in years past Jordan Staal had the ability on many nights to keep his line out of trouble by winning possession and driving the puck into the offensive zone. Finally, the injuries to Dougie Hamilton and especially Brett Pesce has recently weakened the last line of defense. When one adds it up, the defensive play by the team’s wings are probably down a notch at a time when the ability to cover it up is reduced.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With a number of other teams in the playoff fray also struggling right now, could this be a year where it is possible to grind out a playoff berth even with up and down play down the stretch? Or as is usually the case, will enough teams find a higher gear and repeatable formula and emerge?
2) What do you think about the suggestion that the root cause of the Canes intermittent defensive woes could actually be the team’s wings who lean offense over defense?