At the beginning of the year, before the puck had dropped to begin the season, the Carolina Hurricanes could have been declared a bubble team. A bounce-back season from Cam Ward, some jumps in development for some of their younger players, and Carolina could have been right there in that 7th-9th spot. March was pegged as the month the Hurricanes could make a possible playoff push. Playing 11 of the 15 games at home in March should have allowed the Canes to gain the precious extra points needed to turn their bubble appearance into a playoff spot.
Of course, everyone knows it didn’t play out that way. Injuries to Jordan and Eric Staal sank the month of October, as the team put up a terrible 0-6-2 record without their top two centers. The winless month put the team behind the eight ball and essentially eliminated any playoff chances for the season before they began. Now March serves as a reminder of what could have been.
A Rallying Cry Ignored
The Hurricanes started March with an 0-2-0 record and looked completely outmatched in both games. Losing against the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild shouldn’t have come as any surprise, given the difference in talent between the Hurricanes and the two teams, but it wasn’t the fact that they lost that bothered head coach Bill Peters.
“We didn’t look like we wanted to put the work in to be successful. We used to be this hard-working, honest group, and we haven’t been the last two times out,” Peters said. “We’re going to have to get it figured out because we’re not going to watch this 19 more times, I know that.”
The team responded…in a way. The next game was against the Edmonton Oilers, a game the Hurricanes eventually won 7-4. However, it took a 3-0 deficit before Carolina seemed fully invested in the result of the game. In the following game, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Hurricanes blew a 3-1 lead before losing in a shootout. Clearly, these were not the kind of responses that Peters was looking for.
The team’s play for the rest of the month hasn’t looked much better.
Staal-ing the Offense
At the moment, the Hurricanes hold a 2-5-2 record in March, a far cry from what could have been. One of the reasons for such a poor record is the play of the Staal brothers, who have seemingly disappeared from the scoresheet since the beginning of March.
Jordan Staal has only 1 point in the past 9 games. Eric Staal has 6 points in the same 9 games, though 4 of those points came in the blowout win against the Oilers. After having stellar performances in January and February, the brothers have struggled to find their game in March. It will be interesting to see if Peters handles the Staal brothers the same way he did with Alexander Semin early in the season. If Peters scratched Semin to hold him accountable for his poor play, there’s little reason that same accountability wouldn’t apply to Eric and Jordan.
With the Staal brothers noticeably absent, Carolina’s offense has instead been propped up by rookie players like Viktor Rask (7 points in March) and Andrej Nestrasil (5 points in March), who are getting better and better with each passing game.
Now Comes the Hard Part
A 2-5-2 record in March certainly isn’t what Peters wanted for his team, and unfortunately, it’s likely going to get worse. Though their next 5 games are at home, their opponents may make this the toughest stretch of the season for the Hurricanes. The Canes face off against the New York Rangers tonight, before facing Chicago, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Boston. They finish the month with an away game against Washington. Against those six opponents, the Hurricanes are 4-9-3 this season, with only two of those wins coming in regulation.
With the way the Staal brothers, and the team as a whole, are playing right now, it’s quite possible that Carolina finishes the month without winning a single game. It’s sad to say, but should that happen, the 2-11-2 record would only be the second worst monthly record on the season, beating the 0-6-2 record of October and finishing just behind the 3-10-1 record the Canes had in December. A 5-27-5 record in those three months would certainly explain why the Carolina Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs this year.
Of course, this means the play in November, January and February earned the Hurricanes most of their wins, and it was in these months that the team seemed to be most in-tune with the system that Peters is attempting to run in Carolina. The challenge for the head coach next year will be to eliminate the poor months and get a more consistent effort from his team throughout the season.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.