With the Carolina Hurricanes’ NHL bye week coming to an end, it’s back to the grind Saturday.
With 37 games remaining in the season, the Canes (20-17-8) sat five points out of playoff position, and last in the Metropolitan Division, after Thursday’s games. Can they make up that gap and reach the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009? It’s complicated.
Five reasons the Canes can make the playoffs …
1. Tom Dundon
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The Hurricanes’ new owner has brought new energy and new demands and will continue to shake things up. If there’s a trade or two at the NHL deadline that could help the team at the right price, he seems willing to spend the money to make it happen. Remember, Dundon said he’s not a patient person. He wants to win now.
It’s loaded with home games. Of the 12 games in the month, 10 are at PNC Arena. The Canes finish January with a home game against Ottawa and play the first seven of February at PNC Arena, their longest homestand of the season. Dundon wants to put more butts in seats, and the Canes have some ticket promotions ongoing – a “Fanuary Flash Sale” with $40 lower-bowl tickets – to help create a better game atmosphere.
3. Justin Williams
The veteran forward offers many intangibles, a big reason the Canes invested $9 million in signing him for two years. His voice often is heard, and his teammates listen. When the Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, he was there. He has two other Cup rings. He’s a winner.
4. Jeff Skinner
The forward, one of the league’s best snipers, has 14 goals and yet to have a real Jeff Skinner hot streak. He was sixth in the NHL last season with 37 goals, scoring 17 in 21 games from March 1 to the end of the season. Another run like that – and having Lee Stempniak back from injury and on Skinner’s line should help – would give the Canes what they need.
5. Sebastian Aho
It may be too early to say if the Canes dodged a bullet with Aho, but the fact no surgery was needed for his lower-body (knee) injury has to be a positive. Had there been surgery, the season could have been over for the dynamic Finnish forward who leads the Canes in goals and points.
… and five reasons why they won’t
1. The Metro
The NHL’s toughest division could claim five of the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots, including both wild cards. Meaning the Canes, currently last in the Metro, have to finish fifth.
The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins held the two wild cards after Thursday’s games. Also in front of Carolina were Philadelphia and the New York Islanders. It’s all uphill from here.
2. The math
If it will take 95 points to have a shot at the playoffs – usually a good target – the Canes need 47 in their last 37 games. That would mean something like a 21-11-5 finish. Is that doable? The Canes’ longest winning streak this season is four games, and they’ve left a number of points on the table (the late-game collapse and loss to Washington last week quickly comes to mind).
Everyone talks about sample sizes and here’s one: The Canes’ Scott Darling, playing in 29 games, ranks 31st in save percentage (.895) among the goalies who have played 20 or more games. He’s 25th in goals-against average (2.94). Cam Ward has better numbers, but it’s not enough.
4. Team defense
The Canes still give up too many goals and not all of that is tied to goaltending. They’re allowing 3.04 goals a game, 22nd in the NHL, after 2.80 last season. The Canes, in losing four of their past five games, gave up 21 goals. That’s too leaky.
5. Sebastian Aho
How effective will Aho be after recovering from his concussion and lower-body injury. He has been very adept at slipping attempted big hits by opponents, but Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames didn’t miss. Others will challenge him, as well.