After 5 consecutive losses and what felt like a free fall for Hurricanes’ playoff hopes, a single win on Tuesday breathed life back into the PNC Arena, the Carolina Hurricanes and fan base.
To be clear, there was significant damage done during the 5-game losing streak, and the Hurricanes still sit clearly beneath the cut lne in the playoff chase with both points to make up and teams to be passed. And 1 win does not make a trend. But Tuesday’s win does at least prove that it is still possible for the Hurricanes to play at a higher level capable of beating good teams.
So what does the team need to do to build off of Tuesday?
The biggest thing is to keep winning. On January 17, just before the recent collapse, I broke down the schedule through February and set goals for points. Unlike my similar post from mid-December that the team matched nearly perfectly, the latest plan was blown apart early with the 4-game losing streak during a tough stretch that had a 2-2 target. The next stretch of 6 games that started with the Kings game, targeted a 4-2 mark, so the 1-1 start is sub-par but goal is still possible.
But coming at it from a different angle, here is what I think the Hurricanes need to do both points-wise and style/level of play-wise to still be relevant for the 2016-17 season in late March when things get decided.
A BIG winning streak: There are literally 9 teams in the mix now for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Playing pretty well and churning through games at a reasonable winning pace will be enough to beat out most of the teams, but beating most of the teams will only net something like a 9th or 10th place finish. To push ahead of everyone, I think the Hurricanes will need at least 1 stretch of extended lights out hockey importantly both home and away. I think it will take something to the tune of a 7-8 game winning streak or something like a 10-1 record in 11 games.
Reaching the cut line (adjusted for games played) by the end of February: March will be a complete grind for the Hurricanes just as it will for many other teams because of how busy the compressed schedule is. With inevitable impacts of fatigue, travel, a bunch of back-to-back sets and just generally a whirlwind March, I think it will be incredibly difficult to string much together and make up a sizable deficit in the standings in Match. If the Hurricanes want to be a factor in the last week of the season, I think they need to reach that level (importantly adjusted for games played) by capitalizing on a favorable February schedule.
Style of play-wise
Consistently solid defensive play: Even minus the scoring outburst, I think Tuesday’s win is a model for the path forward. After an up and down month of January defensively, the Hurricanes played arguably their best game of the season defensively on Tuesday. That kind of play makes it possible to win or at least collect OTL points even on nights when things do not click or no breaks are found offensively.
Strong goaltending: The companion for the defensive play is the netminding. While I do not think stealing games is required, the Canes must get at least ‘good enough’ netminding that does not cost them points in the standings. I will be looking to get a read on Ward’s play on Friday. As I said in my game recap for Tuesday, I gave him an ‘insufficient data’ rating for Tuesday simply because of how well the Hurricanes locked things down defensively and gave up nothing until the game was mostly decided after 2 periods.
There are obviously a ton of other factors, but I really think these 2+2 factors are the most critical ones. The Hurricanes need to make at least the first push upward in February and need to find a hot streak at some point. Grinding out 2-1-1 kind of weeks will not be enough. And stylistically, it all comes down to tamping down other teams’ scoring. If the Hurricanes do this, they will have a chance every night which has a chance to yield wins but also to at least get to overtime many nights to collect a point.
What say you Canes fans?
What elements of the Hurricanes style/quality of play are most critical to building off of Tuesday’s big win?
Do you agree that February is critical?
Is demanding an extended winning streak necessary?
(Horrified look) Is it possible that Tuesday’s win was just a 1-game anomaly?