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The NHL and a Cat-5 Hurricane

The Carolina Hurricanes won five games in a row recently. Everyone should be scared.

The NHL and a Cat-5 Hurricane

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The Carolina Hurricanes won five games in a row recently. They haven’t lost more than one game in a row in a long time. In fact, they’ve gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Everyone should be scared.

The “win-for-points” system of ranking always makes the final weeks before the playoffs exciting in the NHL. If you’re unfamiliar with how it works, a win is two points, a loss in overtime is one point, a loss is zero points. If, for some god-forsaken reason, there is a tie, both teams get a point. A team is only guaranteed a point towards the total if they get to overtime or tie. Add those points up and teams are ranked in the standings by that number. That’s how a team knows where they stand in the race to the playoffs. Simple, right? Cool, here we go.

So if the Carolina Hurricanes won five games in a row, they just collected ten straight points during that win streak. They even took down the fierce Nashville Predators. What the what?

The Canes needed a win streak and they brought that maelstrom to us right on time.

In the Metropolitan division, the top two teams have been leading the rest by a decent margin all season. Those two teams are the Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders. Now, I could spend an entire article doing a psychological analysis of this moment with Barry Trotz and his two teams but that is another article. (Did I just drop a teaser?) That isn’t what we are here to talk about.

We are here to discuss the Canes and what they could potentially do to turn the Eastern Conference into chaos. The final spot in the Metropolitan division and the two wildcard slots are pretty much only available to four teams and three of those four are in the Metropolitan division. The Canadiens are the only Atlantic Division team that is sitting in the top of that pack. Those four teams are separated by four points.

Now, theoretically, of course a few teams are still in this mix. For the sake of argument, we are going to ignore that, especially given the Flyers can be touch and go while the Panthers have been falling slowly away of late.

So what do the Canes need to do to build up the wind gusts:

They have to keep winning. When you were on the outside of the bubble just a few weeks ago and are slowly pulling ahead of the pack, keep that momentum going! Not so small slip ups like an 8-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets is not something that can be afforded.

And that momentum is going to be really hard to keep up with their remaining schedule. The three teams they are really warring against are the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Montreal Canadiens. Four of their remaining fourteen games are against one of those three teams and those games are bound to be vicious. Add two games with the desperate Flyers, multiple games against teams that have either effectively clinched playoff berths and the Canes are losing out of easy wins fast.

Leading scorers like Justin Williams and Sebastian Aho have to lead that charge. Both goaltenders are letting in 2+ goals a game and often, the Canes are only winning games by those one or two goals. The first line is doing all of the heavy lifting in Carolina and it is very hard to rely on a set of three for entire squad. Without a solid goaltending core, it is just what they will have to do.

The next thing I’d look to would be tightening up the specials teams. They are almost 2% behind the league average in power play goals and barely a percentage point ahead in the penalty kill. In fact, they have allowed one more short-handed goal than the league average. Easy goals on either side of the power play make games and the Canes need that extra push to hold off their opponents.

The last is the key to any push to the end of the season: hitting. Taking away free ice and space minimizes the opportunity for skill based goals. Hitting is the quickest way to do that. Those skills based goals are not something the goal tending of Carolina can handle. Facing a Crosby or a Kucherov, the only way to beat them is to skate faster and keep the puck off their stick.

I’ll call it now, I think Carolina will make the playoffs.

But, I think they won’t make it past the first rounds. For all the reasons above, they will die out as quickly as a hurricane does. Once they hit landfall, they will disappear into thin air.

Sarah Jane, Sarah, or SJ-depending on the source-is a director, educator, theatre artist and now, sports blogger. She lives in Queens with her darling, not-so-sports-fan boyfriend. She played ice hockey growing up for the NJ Quarry Cats and various other teams. Being team captain her last two seasons is the most important achievement of her life to date. She proudly also was about a quarter of the size of her opponents and often led her team in both penalty minutes and enthusiasm. She's a Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers fan (thanks, Momma!) and a New York Yankees fan (thanks, Poppa?) and was given zero choice on all three of these teams. Other hobbies include reading non-fiction books, cooking, and being spunky. Check in with her for all your greater hockey needs!

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