If the Canes were going to push up the standings, it made sense that it would be in February when the majority of the team’s games were at home. That partly happened until the team gave back whatever it had earned in a devastating last 3 games of the month losing all 3 games to finish the month at a disappointing 5-6-2. The skid led right into the trade deadline and the departure of 3 key players via trade right after losing 2 others to injury. That stretch of 4-5 days seemed to spell the end of the 2015-16 season.
But behind the leadership of Coach Bill Peters, the team just continues to play the games that are on the schedule and even win.
The March schedule looked unfavorable on paper by virtue of the fact that 9 of 14 games are on the road, but so far through 4 games with 3 on the road, the team is an impressive 3-0-1.
When you look at the remaining 14 games, it breaks down like this:
The gauntlet (4)
After a road game against a draft lottery leader in the Buffalo Sabres who should not be taken lightly given their young talent, the next stretch is tough. The Canes play 3 more on the road against Washington, Pittsburgh and Minnesota. If the team can survive that stretch and get enough points to tread water, then it gets really interesting.
2 winnable games (2)
After the gauntlet, the Canes get a home match up against Buffalo and then a road game in Columbus. By no means do I think these are gimmes, but both are winnable games.
Ohhhh…the tailgating (5)
After that comes a run of what could be tremendous tailgating days. The Canes are at home Saturday (Islanders) and Sunday (Devils) on Easter weekend, the following Thursday (Rangers) and also the following Saturday (Blue Jackets) with a Tuesday road game (Islanders) in the middle. These games are during spring break for Wake County Public Schools which makes for a number of opportunities to tote the family out for spring hockey and tailgating.
The finish (3)
The final week has the Canes at Boston, at home against Montreal and finishing on the road in Florida.
Other than having more road games than home games, the rest of the schedule is very reasonable in terms of travel and rest. There is only 1 set of back-to-backs and both are at home, so neither requires traveling the night before. And in general, the Canes schedule is lighter by 1-3 games compared to most other teams with a nice spacing of mostly playing every other day with an extra day of rest thrown in here and there. Finally, except for the trip to Minnesota, all of the travel is up and down the East Coast and without any of trips to Canada that add the extra travel time getting through customs.
Regardless of what’s ahead and how it all turns out, through 68 games I would rate the Canes 2015-16 season as more of a pleasant surprise and cause for optimism for the future more than anything else. I also think that we are deep enough into it that it would be really hard to push me off this positive stance for the season overall.