The Carolina Hurricanes are six points (adjusted for games played) above the Eastern Conference playoff cut line.
The Carolina Hurricanes are in third place in the toughest division.
And the Carolina Hurricanes just completed a franchise record road trip with nine points in five games.
Based on the results one might assume that the team is firing on all cylinders. While much is going right, and maybe more significantly the team just has a ‘find a way’ attitude that is garnering results right now, there is still significant room for improvement.
I say that not as a way to nitpick at the goodness or suggest impending doom. Rather, I say that out of optimism that this team could really be on the brink of taking its place among the very best in the entire NHL if it can find the next gear.
In that vein, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a short list of areas for potential improvement.
1) Reducing penalties
The Hurricanes have been shorthanded 127 times during the 2019-20. Though that technically ranks third behind San Jose and Ottawa who have both been shorthanded 129 times, if you adjust for games played, the Hurricanes have been shorthanded more times per game than any other team in the NHL. The team’s stellar penalty kill that was second in the league entering Thursday’s game has minimized the damage, but the team will still be better if it can clean up its act in terms of taking unnecessary penalties. Thursday’s first period is a good example of how intermittent penalties can stunt momentum, and in the long run taking too many penalties will usually bite a team.
2) Top half of the lineup players with upside
Despite the team’s success, there are still players who have scoring upside from their contributions thus far. Nino Niederreiter has doubled down on determination spending a lot of time in/around the crease lately which bodes well for scoring. His four goals and 82-game pace for nine goals obviously has upside. Similarly, Ryan Dzingel who topped 20 goals in each of the past two seasons is on pace for only 14 goals in 2019-20. Finally, Jake Gardiner who has scored at 40-point pace or higher in each of the last three seasons is currently only pace for only 19 points. Worth noting is that each of these players is a veteran who posted much better numbers more than once and is not declining because of age. If one or two or better yet all three of these players can find a higher gear, they present scoring upside to what we have seen so far.
3) Winning in division
For as good as the Hurricanes record and place in the standings are, the team has actually struggled against teams in its own division especially the teams below them. Interestingly, the Canes are 2-0 against the teams above them having beaten the Capitals and Islanders once each. The Hurricanes are 0-6-1 against the teams below them in the Metropolitan Division. Let me say that again — The Carolina Hurricanes are 0-6-1 against the teams below them in the Metropolitan Division. With a whopping 19 games remaining against divisional foes, righting the ship in this regard would be a boost to an already good record.
4) 60-minute consistency
The Hurricanes have come closer to posting solid 60-minute efforts recently, but in general much of the team’s success has been attributed to rapid fire scoring bursts. Many of the team’s wins have been characterized by 20-30 minutes of either great hockey or sometimes just opportunistic scoring with the remainder of the game being ‘meh’ or worse. If this team can dial up its focus and avoid the lapses that have been fairly common so far despite the winning record, the team becomes even tougher to beat.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these potential areas for improvement has the greatest potential to see the Hurricanes climb higher yet?
2) Do you see other areas for potential improvement despite the team’s success so far?