Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis has digested and analyzed all the numbers with the stretch run of the season about to begin.
Twenty-nine games left to play.
Fifty-two days to squeeze in the 29 games.
Seventeen games at home and 12 on the road.
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Most importantly, going into Thursday’s NHL games, the Canes were eight points out of the second wild-card playoff position in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. That’s a lot to make up.
“Numbers-wise, it doesn’t look pretty but we do have the opportunity to make the playoffs,” Francis said Thursday. “When you look at our schedule, we’ve played less games than anybody in the Eastern Conference, from two to five games less. We have the 17 games at home.
“We have to come back rested and hungry. It seems like we play better the more games we play, and we have a lot in the next 52 days.”
The Canes, after the five-day mandated break, resume the season Friday against the Colorado Avalanche. It’s the first of five straight home games at PNC Arena, beginning a homestand that could determine the Canes’ playoff chances and personnel decisions Francis is considering.
Francis said, “I’m always open to anything that will make our team better.” Like nearly all GMs in February, he has been working the phone, although he has a lot more salary-cap flexibility than a lot of other GMs.
Given the defensive depth in the organization, Francis might look to deal a defenseman, if the trade makes sense. There are teams desperate for defensive help and might be willing to part with a top-six forward who could help the Canes.
If the Canes struggle in the homestand, Francis also might go in the other direction — perhaps look to deal some of the Canes’ pending unrestricted free agents.
“These next five games will give us a better understanding of where we are,” Francis said.
The Maple Leafs, through Wednesday’s games, held the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the one the rest of the conference teams are chasing. The New York Rangers, with 75 points, have a grip on the first wild-card position, 12 points ahead of the Leafs.
The Canes (24-22-7) lost five straight before the NHL All-Star break, then returned to beat the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders. The Islanders game was one of their seven road wins this season — Carolina’s 7-16-6 road record is an albatross that could, in the end, doom their playoff hopes.
The Canes lost their last two games before the bye week, both on the road, being shut out 5-0 by the Washington Capitals and then were beaten 5-2 by the Dallas Stars. They’ve allowed four or more goals in seven of their last 11 games.
“Going into the All-Star break I thought we looked tired as a team,” Francis said. “We came back from that break and played well but we’ve been up and down.”
Francis doesn’t place the brunt of the blame on goalie Cam Ward, who has shouldered most of the load in net with backup Eddie Lack sidelined with a pair of concussions. The Canes are 21st in the NHL with a 2.83 goals-against average — Ward, who has played in 45 games, has a 2.62 GAA after allowing the five Stars goals.
“We’ve struggled as a group defensively,” Francis said. “We need to be more consistent in our play. We need to have a playoff mentality the rest of the way and be prepared to win games 2-1 or 1-0 if we have to.”
Canes vs. Avalanche
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena