On December 14, I looked at the next month of schedule for the Hurricanes, broke the schedule into 3 chunks and set targets for what I thought the Hurricanes needed to accomplish record-wise for each of the 3 sets of games to push up into the playoff chase. With a tiny adjustment for the postponed game against Detroit, the Hurricanes almost exactly matched my targets and sure enough are basically sitting in a playoff spot. That article is HERE.
With that stretch of games completed, here is an attempt to break down the next 45 days leading up to the trade deadline and just before a fast and furious pace starting in March.
The 4-game gauntlet (Will accept 2-2)
The Hurricanes next run of 4 games is a tough one. The Hurricanes play 4 games against the top of the Metropolitan Division with 3 of those games on the road. The gauntlet goes at Columbus, at home against Pittsburgh, at Columbus and then at Washington. I would be thrilled if the Hurricanes can ride their current momentum to a couple more wins, but a 2-2 record would be an acceptable round of ‘treading water’ (which beats drowning) before an easier stretch of schedule.
Refueling run (Target 4-2)
After the gauntlet, the Hurricanes embark on the strangest stretch of schedule for the 2016-17 season. After the Capitals game on January 23, the Hurricanes play only 6 games over the next 24 days. The stretch of calendar features a few days off for the NHL All-Star Game (except for Justin Faulk) and another extended and mandated lay off for the new NHL bye week. But sprinkled amidst some valuable time to recuperate, recover and ready for an intense March are 6 games. Those games are obviously no less important than any others. It could be difficult to both use the rest time but also maintain any kind of rhythm and readiness to pop into the rink for a game here and there and be ready to go. The front part of the run is 3 home games against the Kings, Flyers and then Oilers followed by 3 road games against the Islanders, Capitals and Stars. The 3 home games should still sort of be in rhythm and I think therefore are critical before the second stretch of intermittent games around long layoffs. Best to collect some points early to keep the pressure off and the off days non-stressful.
Home Sweet Home – Third verse same as the first (and second) (Target 4-1)
The second half of February sees the Hurricanes return to action in earnest but with a very friendly schedule of 5 home games and nice spacing that sees no back-to-backs. This nice cantor of play/rest/play/rest with all of the games at home is perfect for running off wins. The Hurricanes have been incredibly good at home in 2016-17 and have used home stands to climb the standings. The season’s first extended positive burst came during a 5-game home stand in November. The Hurricanes lost the first game but then proceeded to reel off 4 straight wins to get the season on track. Just before the end of year holidays, the Hurricanes converted a stretch of 5 games with 4 at home into a 4-0-1 run. And the Hurricanes just completed another 4-game home stand with a 4-0 record. With an incredibly busy March that will inevitably test energy levels, this run of games at the end of February is a stretch that the team MUST capitalize on. Just like I set an aggressive 5-2 target for the last chunk of my previous post, I think 4-1 is reasonable and just what it takes to keep climbing. The 5-game stretch of basically every other day home hockey features Columbus, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Calgary.
If you add it up, my targets make for a 10-5 record. That is a big ask, but I think the schedule allows it. (A small step down to 9-6 would also not be catastrophic.) A 10-5 mark would also put the Hurricanes on pace for 97-98 points. My general target is 95-96 points for the last playoff spot. That pace would also make the Hurricanes very clearly playoff contenders at the trade deadline and allow some cushion heading into a crazy stretch of schedule.
Speaking of schedule, with the Detroit postponement chucked into the the middle of it, the next stretch of schedule starting on February 28 has 18 games in 31 days with no more than 1 day off before a game, 4 sets of back-to-backs and travel before 12 of the 18 games. Needless to say things will be frantic. Best to capitalize on the slightly friendlier stretch of schedule and not enter the whirlwind March sprint needing to make up ground.
What say you Canes fans? Is 10-5 asking for too much?
Does the 4-game gauntlet to start the next stretch concern you?
If the Hurricanes do hit 10-5 will that be enough to hit the trade deadline clearly in a playoff spot and possibly spur Francis to make at least a small move to bolster the lineup?