Welcome to the first weekly installment of the Carolina Hurricanes 2016-17 NHL playoff race check in!
How cool is it that this is even a possibility starting the second half of January?
I wrote sort of a precursor to this hopefully extended series back on December 14 when I outlined what I thought the Hurricanes needed to do in 3 sets of games covering a month to climb into the playoff hunt. That article is HERE. In short, I called for a 3-1 record in 4 home games to start things, a 3-2 record in a difficult road-heavy middle segment and finally a big 5-2 run in a home-heavy stretch to finish the 30ish days of hockey. The Hurricanes were minus a point but also minus a game with the Red Wings postponement in the first segment and then perfectly matched the 3-2 middle segment and the 5-2 final segment. And lo and behold, the team is currently sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference based on an standings that adjust for games played.
Let me say that again – The Carolina Hurricanes are currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (using any kind of standings that adjust for games played).
Current Hurricanes playoff position
Using simple ‘games above .500’ math to rank teams with an adjustment for games played, the Hurricanes are currently in 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
The short version is that the requirement that the top 3 teams from each division make the playoffs combined with a collection of teams far ahead right now in the Metropolitan Division means that the Hurricane are battling for the eighth and final playoff spot i the Eastern Conference.
Right now, it looks like this
In the playoffs unless they falter massively
Columbus, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, Washington, Montreal
Last 2 in from Atlantic Division
Chase for the last Eastern Conference wild card slot
Tampa Bay +0
New Jersey +0
Below .500 and out of the mix unless they surge
Buffalo, New York Islanders, Detroit
Last week’s work
Last week, the Hurricanes did all they cold do with a perfect 3-0 collecting 6 points.
It was also a great week for getting help from and gaining on other teams. The 6 points were 4 better than the Flyers who netted only 2 points with an additional game even going 1-3 on the week and limping into their NHL-mandated week off. The Flyers limed into their bye week with a beating at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Sunday and will emerge from it out of a playoff spot and also searching for answers for how to turn things back around. Of the competition, only the Panthers matched the Hurricanes 6 points but took 4 games to do it going 4-1. The Bruins had a solid week at 2-1 and the Maple Leafs even better at 2-0 but still lost 2 points to the Hurricanes perfect 3-0 mark. The Lightning and Senators both were 1-1 in light weeks. The number of records at or above .500 show how important it is to keep winning to keep pace and slowly push ahead like the Hurricanes have.
The week ahead
It took a full month and a 10-4-1 stretch to make up for a slow start and claw up into the eighth spot. The 2015-16 season is another reminder of how hard it is to get where the Hurricanes are right now and more significantly how hard it is to get back to there if you fall from the pace. As the season pushes into the third of 4 quarters, it is critical that the Hurricanes avoid any extended losing streaks that have them again trying desperately to make up ground late in the season.
The Flyers are another front and center reminder of how quickly things can go badly if you take your foot off the gas. After a 10-game winning streak vaulted them up into a playoff spot with a nice cushion to boot, it has taken only a couple weeks of losing to give it all back and be trying to quickly correct a downward spiral before it is too late.
With those realities, the Hurricanes are up against a short burst of very tough schedule. This week, the Hurricanes 3 games feature 2 road games against the top team in the NHL in the Columbus Blue Jackets and a match up against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins with a back-to-back with travel element to boot. Then coming out of that tough week, the Hurricanes face the surging Capitals on the road to start next week.
Here is hoping that the Hurricanes can do some combination of riding their current momentum or if necessary scratching, clawing and fighting for points to keep the trajectory pointed upwards in a short gauntlet run of schedule.
Quick hitter assessments
Tampa Bay scares me. More than any other team, I think they are capable of reeling off a run of wins and pushing above the cut line fray. Because of that I keep rooting for them to lose and also for other teams above them in the Atlantic Division to sputter so that if they get hot, the Canes can catch someone else.
In that same vein, I think Ottawa could be the next Flyers to take a fall. The Sens record exceeds the team’s advanced stats and they have played a disproportionate number of games at home. Here is hoping they spiral down and maybe make room for an Atlantic Division riser like Tampa Bay or Florida to take a division playoff spot and not the wild card spot that the Canes are battling for.
The goalie situation continues to loom. If you missed it, check out this detailed (i.e. long) article on Cam Ward and the Hurricanes’ goalie situation from Friday. And also check out the reader polls from Saturday on how the team should address the goalie position.
I think the Canes face a “survive and advance” stretch of schedule. Obviously, the goal is to win each and every time you take the ice, but I really think the next stretch of games is more about surviving than surging. My hope is to write another 1-month target type article. If I do, the target for these next 4 games would say that 2-2 is perfectly acceptable and something like 2-1-1 even would be a win.
But February is favorable. Other than being light on total games, the Hurricanes February schedule is favorable in terms of opponents, home vs. road and calendar spacing. I think that is the time for the next leg up.
The mathematician’s say…
And on January 16, that is good enough for me!
And I will finish with a link to my post from January 4 – “10 reasons why the Carolina Hurricanes will make the playoffs”. Keep it handy for the inevitable ups and downs on the path to mid-April tailgating and Canes hockey.