It is the halfway point of the 2016-17 season for the Carolina Hurricanes, and they are holding on. Holding on in the sense that they still have hopes of making the playoffs. Every game is crucial, even though there is literally half of the schedule remaining. Last Tuesday’s NHL action is a prime example.
The Points Swing
The ‘Canes were hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Philadelphia Flyers were visiting the Buffalo Sabres. The scenario’s possible points differential based on game outcomes was huge. Had the Flyers won and the Hurricanes lost, Carolina would have been seven points out of a Wild Card slot. As it turned out, Philadelphia lost and the ‘Canes won, and they are only three back in the Wild Card chase with two games in hand. (The Flyers won last night so they are now five points ahead of the Hurricanes).
The point is that even with half of the season still to be played, every game is important. If Carolina wants to have any type of legitimate chance at making the playoffs, they are going to need to approach each game with serious intensity and desire to win.
Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said after the win over the Blue Jackets, “We’re part of it. We believe we’re part of it and that’s what’s important. I think our guys get energized by the fact that they know they can play with anybody.”
This has been a characteristic of this team during the season, they have shown they can “run with the big dogs.” Unfortunately, they still have times when they don’t seem to do as well against a team “they should beat.” Peters said all the teams are tough and acknowledged that the team’s tough start in October is hard to overcome: Peters said,
At some point we’re going to have to go on a big time continuous streak. We really are. And in a perfect world you get that done in regulation so they’re not three-point games.
‘Skinny’, Rask and ‘Doc’
Hopefully, the ‘Canes will be able to hold onto the line combination of Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Derek “Doc” Ryan. They have been smooth of late, clicking well together and putting up points. Against the Blue Jackets, the trio combined for eight points, including this blast by Skinner:
The line is sweet right now, and Skinner said that “they are feeding off each other well.” They sure are, and they look very unselfish together on the ice. Holding onto this chemistry would sure be sweet as the team moves through the second half of the season.
The Hurricanes are close to becoming a team that is playoffs-ready. They may make it this year. If not, they are certainly on the right track for the future.
At the halfway point the Hurricanes are 19-15-7, and three points in back of Philadelphia in the Wild Card. They have played exceptionally well at home, winning their last two games. (Update: The ‘Canes beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 Friday night to extend their home winning streak to three games, and look to make it four tonight against the New York Islanders).
The team is definitely in the mix for a playoff spot, but as Peters said, every game matters. It is encouraging to see great confidence among the individual members of the Hurricanes’ team, I think being funneled through a renewed, on-fire Skinner. Skinner has 15 goals at the halfway point, and is playing like he can score every night. Rask is close behind with 12. As mentioned above, Skinner, Rask and Ryan are the latest of Peters’ line combinations that is clicking well, and at the rate they are going, will make this team formidable going forward. Also, continued chemistry on this line will help with the challenges the ‘Canes have had in putting points on the scoreboard.
The one area of concern for the second half of the season has to be at goalie. Not that they are getting bad goalie play. On the contrary, they are getting outstanding goalie play from Cam Ward. But, they are lacking depth at the goalie position, with backup Eddie Lack out for a second time with a concussion. Michael Leighton has been called up again from the Charlotte Checkers, but his readiness is questionable at best. The ‘Canes must have a healthy Ward going forward, and they must get to the place where he can get a night off.
Peters tosses aside questions about Ward in post-game times with the media, saying that Ward is strong and ready. But, if the Hurricanes are going to stay in the mix for a playoff spot, they will need a good, healthy backup goalie. For now, it’s all Ward all the time. As Peters said a couple of years ago, he’s gonna pick a horse and ride him. So far, Ward hasn’t shown to be any worse for the ride.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.