The News & Observer posed five pressing questions about the Hurricanes before the season in gauging their playoff chances. After 82 games, the answers are in:
1. What about the start?
Again, not good. The double whammy of the World Cup of Hockey, which pushed back the start of the NHL season, and the annual N.C. State Fair date conflict resulted in the Canes being scheduled with six straight road games to begin the season.
The Canes were 1-3-2 on the trip. They were 3-6-4 overall after 13 games and always in the position of chasing the standings and playoff position, hovering around “NHL .500” much of the season.
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2. Can the Canes score enough?
Easy answer: not enough. Jeff Skinner had a career-high 37 goals, rookie forward Sebastian Aho had 24 and defenseman Justin Faulk 17, but there wasn’t enough scoring support elsewhere and too many players – including Skinner and Aho – had dry stretches offensively during the season.
The Canes were 21st in the NHL at 2.59 goals per game and 21st on the power play at 17.7 percent. The Canes were 14th in shots per game (30.4) but just didn’t have enough finishers.
3. What about overtime?
After leading the NHL with 16 overtime losses in 2015-16, the Canes had 15 this season, tying the Toronto Maple Leafs for the league high. Carolina was 8-15 overall, going 3-6 in shootouts after the 4-3 shootout win Sunday over Philadelphia.
4. Will the goaltending hold up?
General manager Ron Francis decided to stick with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack this season rather bringing in a new face. Among NHL goalies who faced at least 100 shots, Ward was 52nd in save percentage (.905) in 61 games and Lack, who missed considerable time with two concussions, was 58th (.902) in 20 games.
In terms of goals-against average, Lack was 36th at 2.64 goals per game and Ward 44th at 2.69 among goalies with five or more games. Both needed to be better and Francis said he will address the goaltending position in the offseason.
5. Sophomore slumps?
Much was asked of second-year defensemen Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin this season and they responded well. Slavin, perhaps the team’s most valuable player, and Pesce both finished with plus-23 ratings, leading the Canes by a wide margin. Both were durable, finishing among the 27 NHL defensemen to play all 82 games.
Hanifin, who turned 20 in January, was inconsistent at times but was in 81 games and played his best hockey late in the season after the trade of veteran Ron Hainsey.