After a surge early in January, a brief setback last week and a strong finish with a 2-0-1 record in three games in Western Canada this week, the Hurricanes will have eight days to rest and recharge during the All-Star break and their bye week before the final 32 games of the 2018-19 season.
The Hurricanes surged to an 8-3-1 mark in January. Unfortunately, that was only the mirror image of the abysmal 4-8-1 record in December. Added together the team is a treading water 12-11-2 through the middle months of the season, but based on the January success is at least close enough that climbing back into the playoff chase is possible.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe asks, “What does it take?” to play games that matter at least in late March and early April.
The current status
Using a games above .500 methodology that adjusts for games played, the cut line for the Eastern Conference playoffs has Pittsburgh, Montreal and Boston all tied for the last three playoff spots at 10 games above .500. The Hurricanes sit at 4 games above .500 which puts them 6 points back of a playoff spot. That gap is significant but not insurmountable.
So what does it take to make up six more points and be at the cut line come late March?
At a general level
At the most basic level, I think it takes three things for the Hurricanes to climb back into the playoff chase.
1) Another big run
I think it will take at least one more big run like the seven wins in eight games in early January or something like a five or six game winning streak. Trying to make up six points with a bunch of 2-1 weeks likely will not do it. The other teams will win too, and too often a point gained is lost a day or two later. The team needs one more streak of some magnitude to close ground in a hurry.
2) No losing streaks
The Hurricanes will not be perfect for two plus months nor do they need to be, but because the team is already in a hold, it will not be able to survive another losing streak. The next time this team loses three straight, four out of five or similar could well spell the end of the season.
3) Consistency across the board without lulls
Critical will be a consistent run of hockey down the stretch that gives the team a chance nearly every night. The benefit of being in every game is immense in the NHL because it brings overtime into play regularly and the OTL points that can make the difference in the end.
Normally, the playoff cut line finds its way to 94 or 95 points, but currently the pace is significantly higher at 98 to 99 points. Though it is possible that teams cool off and push the total back down usually the opposite happens as a few teams go into tank mode and the good teams put it together and surge down the stretch.
If we assume that the playoff cut line will regress a bit closer to the norm, 96 points would be a reasonable target to make the playoffs. For the Hurricanes to reach that number, the team would need a 21-11 record in its final 32 games. That is the equivalent of a 108-point pace over 82 games and just a tiny bit lower than the team’s scorching 116-point pace in January.
In simpler teams, the team needs to do what it did in January for two months to play games in early April withe playoffs still in range. It is possible but also a tall task.
The grass really is greener
If one wants to be jealous, he/she needs look no further than the Western Conference standings. In the other conference, the Hurricanes four games above .500 would have the team in the first wild card slot. Ouch!
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is this team turning the corner and ready to sprint through the last 32 games of the regular season and into the playoffs? Or despite a strong January, do the high point totals in the Eastern Conference make the playoffs realistically out of reach?
2) What is your list of 1-3 things that need to happen for the Hurricanes to be in the playoff chase heading into the last couple games in the first week of April?