Monday’s road game against the Rangers marks the end of the November slate for the Hurricanes. After the usual October mostly away from home on the NC State Fair road trip, November set up favorably schedule-wise with a home heavy schedule and more games against teams in the bottom third of the NHL. 9 of the team’s 13 games were at home. And the second half of the month featured 5 games (Toronto, Philadelphia X2, Edmonton, Buffalo) against teams currently toward the bottom of the standings. In theory, if the Canes were going to push upward during the 2014-15, this was the time. But the best laid plans never really materialized. The Canes played the first game of the month trying to claw back to break even in terms of wins and losses and that minus 1 to start the month was as close as the team would get. Even if the Canes win on Monday, the team will finish the month 2 games below .500 at 9-11-4. And the 5 seemingly winnable games against other lower rated teams ended at 1-1-3.
And with that the Canes will wrap up November on Monday and push into December and a fairly challenging schedule that comes with it. December sees half of the 14 games on the road and tough match ups against NHL elite teams including Montreal, Chicago, Dallas, Washington X2 and Pittsburgh (yes I get that many would argue that the Pens are not elite right now).
I think the schedule ahead is interesting on a couple fronts. First, if the Hurricanes are going to suddenly figure it all out and go on a tear to play their way into a March that matters, it seems like the time would be now. Based on what we have seen so far in the 2015-16 that seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened over the course of a topsy-turvy NHL season. If that unlikely turnaround does not pan out, I still think the tougher schedule could be well-timed in terms of player development. Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin have both had some time to settle in. Jaccob Slavin is now coming up behind them as he gets acclimated to the NHL. The hope is that these players will be part of the Canes path upward, so exposing them to some of the league’s best provides a benchmark and target for them as they work to improve.
The most fun I am having watching Hurricanes hockey right now is watching the future of the team develop on the blue line. There are going to be learning shifts along the way, but Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin (and also Ryan Murphy if/when he returns to the NHL level) are providing hope and optimism right now and will continue to be what I am watching most closely as the schedule turns to a challenging December slate.