It doesn’t seem that a bye week helped the Carolina Hurricanes much. Our own Mark Shiver discussed the Hurricanes’ uninspiring display against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night, and after a tough 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Canes sit 10 points out of the playoffs. On top of that, Carolina has lost its last three games at PNC Arena, despite the fact that the Canes have been one of the most successful teams at home this season. This makes the Hurricanes’ upcoming road trips to Florida, for games against the Panthers and Lightning, and out west, to play the Coyotes and Avalanche, even more important if they want to make one last playoff push.
In all likelihood, the Canes will end up on the outside of the playoff picture at the end of this season, but Caniacs should be excited about the progress this team has made so far. Their special teams play has made great strides with the penalty kill being one of the best in the league, and few teams play as well on home ice as Carolina. However, if the Hurricanes want to be a serious playoff team each year, they must become a stronger team on the road.
Worst In The East
As of Feb. 22, the Hurricanes are tied for the worst road winning percentage in the National Hockey League at .241 (7-16-6), and the Canes’ seven wins are tied for the fewest in the league.
In its last 10 games away from home ice, Carolina has only mustered two wins, and the Hurricanes watched as they fell further and further behind in the playoff race. In fairness to the Canes, they faced some of the best teams in the NHL during that stretch, including Washington, Columbus and Chicago, but now that their road slump seems to be carrying over onto home ice, winning on the road goes from important to vital to their playoff hopes.
Currently, the four division leaders are the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks. Of those four teams, only the Canadiens have lost more road games, including overtime losses, than they have won, and the division leaders aren’t the only teams that perform well on the road. All eight teams that currently hold playoff spots in the Eastern Conference have more wins than regulation losses away from home.
Not So ‘Fair’
The Hurricanes have more reason than most to be a good road team. Since the franchise began playing in Raleigh in 1999, it has had to deal with the North Carolina State Fair. For Carolina, this means spending most of the first two weeks of the season away from home, which has created issues in recent years.
This season, Carolina played its first six games on the road, posting a 1-3-2 record. This start was only a slight improvement from the prior two seasons in which the Canes went a combined 2-9-1 in their first six road games. If the Hurricanes can’t produce points outside of PNC Arena, this unique situation will put them in a hole to start every season, making a playoff push that much more difficult.
The Playoff Road
Getting into the playoffs is only half of the battle, and with a wildcard spot being Carolina’s best shot at a playoff berth this year, away games will be even more important. Whether the Hurricanes make the postseason this year or any time in the next five years, they will more than likely be a lower seed with divisional opponents like Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus and the New York Rangers showing few signs depeletion across their rosters. They will not have home ice advantage. In which case, the only way to be successful in the playoffs is to win on the road.
Home ice advantage does not always protect you from danger on the road either. Take the Hurricanes’ experience with the Canadiens in 2006 as an example. After dropping the first two games of the series at home, Carolina won all three games in Montreal, coming back to win the series, 4-2. The Canes’ ability to win on the road, and in one of the most hostile environments in playoff hockey, saved their season and kept their Stanley Cup hopes alive.
Overall, this year’s Carolina Hurricanes have made great progress towards becoming a consistent playoff contender, but they still lack some of the characteristics of a playoff team. Most notably, the Hurricanes must become a better team away from the friendly confines of PNC Arena. It will significantly improve the start of their season, making a push down the stretch much easier, and it will give Carolina a much better chance of being successful once they finally reach the postseason.