If one looks at the ins and the outs for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, an interesting cut line emerges.
Every one of the eight teams currently in a playoff spot has a road record above .500.
Every one of the eight teams current out of the playoffs has a road record below .500
In addition, the standings pretty nearly follow the road records as well with only one team out of place in each division. Detroit would leap frog Florida in the Atlantic Division, and Columbus would jump two teams in the Metropolitan Division. Otherwise, the road record standings exactly match the actual standings. The upshot is that many teams can take care of business at home, but the real cut line for the playoffs is the ability to win on the road.
On topic, the Hurricanes start a critical five-game road trip in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. The Hurricanes enter the trip with a sub-.500 11-12-2 road record. If the Hurricanes sink farther below .500 on this trip, the team could emerge from it with only 25 games remaining in the season and out of the playoff chase. If instead, the Hurricanes can reel off some wins against beatable competition, the team could return home back in the playoff chase in earnest.
The first road opponent is the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens right now are within the group of playoff teams that the Hurricanes are chasing. My bet is that the Hurricanes are chasing the Canadiens and Blue Jackets and that the Penguins will find a rhythm and push up higher in the standings.
On the Hurricanes side, the team is looking to bounce back from a spirited but unproductive outing on Sunday that saw the Canes lose to the former-Canes-led Flames 4-3 on Sunday. At a basic level, the Canes mostly need to keep doing what they have been doing for multiple weeks now which is compete hard for 60 minutes and at least have a chance. The Flames game did feature a bit of lesser play from a blue line that had been a strength of late, so there is that to clean up.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Pittsburgh Penguins
1) Tighter defense
One of the things that stood out to me from Sunday’s game was how many grade A scoring chances the Hurricanes gave up. Petr Mrazek did a decent job covering up a few too many errors on Sunday, but that is not a great recipe for sustainable winning. On Tuesday night, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can tighten things up defensively or if instead Sidney Crosby and company run rampant.
2) Sound play throughout the lineup
On the road where the opposing coach can more so dictate match ups, the Hurricanes will need to sound and solid across the entire lineup to avoid being picked on. So on Tuesday, I will be watching to see if Brind’Amour can continue to roll four forward lines and keep ice time reasonably even.
3) Heroes rising up
At this point in the season and with a deficit to make up, the Hurricanes must continue to string together batches of wins to move up the standings. Especially against good teams, that often takes a hero or two rising up to lead the way. There are obvious candidates like Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, the top defensemen and whichever goalie is in net. Will those players step up and lead? Or could an unlikely hero or two rise up to do the work? That too is a watch point for Tuesday’s game.
4) Special teams
The Hurricanes allowed both a power play goal and a shorthanded goal on the way to to a 4-3 loss. Special teams have bounced up and down a bit during the 2018-19 season, but more recently has been a strength. On Tuesday in Pittsburgh, I will be watching to see if the special teams play can bounce back quickly.
The puck drops at 7:3opm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.