Sometimes stating the obvious is the only way to make a point. With the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s easy to write about the things the Hurricanes “must do” if they want to contend for the playoffs next season. These things fall into the category of stating the obvious. There’s no algorithm of advance analytics or study of puck possession metrics. It boils down to a few simple things that could make a huge difference.
Out of the Gate
For as long as most Hurricanes fans can remember, October has set the stage for yet another trip to the sofa in May and June. For whatever reason, the team has been dreadful out of the gate in recent years, and it has put them in the precarious position of climbing uphill for the remainder of the season. A look at a post by Brett Finger at Cardiac Cane from a year ago regarding their start in October 2015, summarizes the typical sentiment:
The team got off to an 0-3-0 start with losses to the Nashville Predators, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers. That immediately put the ‘Oh, here we go again’ thoughts into the minds of many surrounding the team.
The Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer published an article on October 2014 about that season’s start for the ‘Canes. Describing their loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the article from the Associated Press stated:
Jiri Tlusty scored on the power play for the Canes, who are still looking for their first win of the season and had been coming off back-to-back overtime losses. The Canes, 0-3-2, are the only winless team in the league.
Most recently, The ‘Canes started October 2016 with two overtime losses and wound up with a 2-4-2 record for the month. The albatross on the Hurricanes’ back is October. Just looking over these past three years under head coach Bill Peters, it is easy to see that they must do better out of the gate.
On the Road Again
In defense of their October records, Carolina usually has a schedule weighted with road games at the start of the season. In 2016-17, they started with six road games. Many of those games were far from home, versus the Jets, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. It was not until their fourth game, against the Flames in Calgary that the ‘Canes notched their first win.
In 2015-16, the team played eight of their first 11 games on the road. In 2014-15, they were on the road for six of their first eight games.
Playing on the road is a fact of life in the NHL. Every team does it, and every team has pieces of their 82-game schedule that they wish they could adjust. But, starting out thousands of miles away from your home arena, not getting a taste of hometown support from your fans, makes the beginning of a season all that more difficult.
Hurricanes GM Ron Francis addressed the opening schedule in the end of season press conference with Peters. Francis said:
This year was a little bit out of the norm because the World Cup sort of got everything backed up a week and we had to start with six on the road. We do think looking at dates and the start times next season we can hopefully get two or three home games in earlier in the year and not have to wait so long.
Part of the problem is logistical, as the NC State Fair is in the early part of October, and the NC State University football team is playing, as well, right across the street from Raleigh’s PNC Arena where the Hurricanes play their home games. Trying to mitigate traffic seems to get resolved by simply having the ‘Canes out of town during that peak traffic week. Francis exuded some confidence that the scheduling might be better for his team this season.
Whatever the reason or excuse, the Hurricanes must play the hand they are dealt when it comes to their schedule. If they have an urge to be a playoff-contender, they must get off to a better start than they have in the past three seasons. Again, it’s not advanced analytics, it’s just a reality that if a team starts poorly, climbing up the playoff ladder is very difficult. A 6-2 start versus 2-6 would be a big help. It would not guarantee them a playoff spot, but it would help.