Eight seasons doesn’t sound like a long time, but when that’s how long it’s been since making the playoffs for an NHL team, it can seem like a lifetime. The last time the Canes made a playoff run was at the end of the 2008-09 season when they lost in the conference finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
But there has been some improvement this year, and that has raised the possibility of breaking the playoff drought. After a loss to Florida on December 31, Carolina had 39 points, which was six points out of the final wild card spot.
“We talked about it [the playoffs] this morning,” says Carolina coach Bill Peters, who is now in his third season with the Canes. “When you think about it, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played. There’s no doubt, that’s a goal of ours. The standings are up in the locker room each and every day.”
So, will the Hurricanes make the playoffs? While the season isn’t even halfway done, there are key statistics and trends that can provide some insight to help answer that question.
Power Play Percentage
The Hurricanes currently only score 19.4 percent of the time when they have a power play, ranking 14th in the NHL. An improvement in their power play would obviously increase their scoring so taking advantage of these opportunities could be a key to the playoffs.
Veteran goaltender Cam Ward has been solid, but not spectacular. His 2.29 goals against average are good for 12th in the league, but the two other goaltenders (Eddie Lack and Michael Leighton) that have been worse. In the game on December 31, the Hurricanes signed equipment manager Jorge Alves as the backup goalie due to Lack being ill. Alves played the final 8 seconds and didn’t allow a goal.
Carolina currently averages 2.6 goals per game, which is only 18th in the league. All of the top five scoring teams are among those with the best records. The Hurricanes must improve in this area to have a chance at the post season. The good news is that four of Carolina’s top five scorers are young (24 or under) and should continue to get better as the season progresses. “I would like to see us get a little more consistent offensively,” Peters says. “We’re kind of a little bit sporadic right now. We want to be dangerous on a consistent basis.”
Penalty Kill Percentage
This is one area where the Hurricanes have excelled and lead the league with a penalty-killing percentage of 88.8. However, they gave up two power-play goals during that final game of 2016. With a penalty killing unit playing so well, it leads to the question of why the Hurricanes are protecting the net so well down a man, but are still giving up 2.6 goals a game? Could it just be the goaltending or do they also need to improve their defense? “I think we can still be better 5-on-5 defensively and be a little harder at the net,” Peters says. “We’ve got areas we know we can improve on.”
Potential Playoff Prediction
Good, but not great. While the young players have stepped up when they’ve had the chance, they must continue to improve and deal with the mental and physical demands of a long NHL season. In addition, the Hurricanes are counting on a 32-year-old goaltender to stay healthy and keep them in games. And the fact is, they play in the Metropolitan division, which is arguably the toughest in hockey.