Three “If Only” Scenarios in Canes’ Season

“If only” is an easy game to play. It’s very easy to look back at a team’s season and opine, “If only…” The 2015-16 NHL season for the Carolina Hurricanes is no exception. Some are obvious while others are not as glaring. Here are three “If only” scenarios regarding the ‘Canes that might have changed their playoff aspirations for the better this season.

If Only Goaltending…

The Hurricanes have played with two goaltenders this season, Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. As I am writing this, Lack is in-goal against the visiting New York Islanders, who just scored on a backhand shot by Kyle Okposo that saw the puck ride up Lack’s stick and into the net.

Canes’ television analyst Tripp Tracey commented, “That’s one that Eddie would love to have back.” Often with goalies it’s the little things that make the difference. Such was the case with Okposo’s goal. Tracey commented that the goalie should not leave their stick in that position when they have gone to a butterfly spread in the goal (Nikolay Kulemin just blasted a shot by Lack, Islanders now up 2-0).

I mentioned the two goals to illustrate my point, “If only goaltending had been more consistent.” Lack had an outstanding game Thursday night at the Columbus Blue Jackets, saving 42 of 44 shots for a 3-2 Hurricanes win. I get that not every goalie is going to stop every shot and win every game. But, more consistency in between the pipes would have gone a long way for this young team’s playoff hopes.

Unfortunately, this Tweet speaks volumes:

If Only Eric Staal…

If only Eric Staal had scored more as a Hurricane... (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
If only Eric Staal had scored more as a Hurricane…
(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Eric Staal is gone. The Hurricanes captain and face of the team for years is now with the New York Rangers. Staal has had a very disappointing season offensively. Before leaving Raleigh for the Big Apple, Staal had notched 10 goals and 23 assists. With the Rangers, Staal has one goal and two assists for a total of 36 points this season.

If only Staal had played more up to his potential before he was traded, perhaps he’d still be with the Hurricanes, and the team would not be a distant third team away from the second wild-card spot. Obviously the point is moot, but where might the ‘Canes be if Staal had put up 10-15 more goals this season? It would seem to follow that the team would have won at least a few more games, but if not, the thought of a scoring Staal leads one to wonder, “if only…”

If Only Justin Faulk…

A healthy Justin Faulk might have helped the 'Canes be further up the playoffs ladder (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
A healthy Justin Faulk might have helped the ‘Canes be further up the playoffs ladder   (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Justin Faulk is one of the leading defensemen if the NHL. Even only having turned 24 a few days ago, Faulk is the defensive leader of Carolina’s group of “young guns,” as I call them. Faulk held the ‘Canes together early in the season, going on a power-play scoring binge that at one time had him leading the league in that category. Unfortunately, Faulk missed 18 games due to a nagging lower-body injury, and while the young guns did better-than-average work without him, Faulk’s presence very likely would have yielded some different results for the Hurricanes.

Even with the extended absence, Faulk sits at fifth on the team in points (34) and fourth on the team in goals scored (15). Yes, it impossible to say with any certainly how the team would have fared with Faulk being healthy and playing in every game. But, it’s not difficult to imagine that some of the games wherein the ‘Canes got only one point might have gone the other way. Who knows for sure? But, if only Faulk had been without injury, I believe the team would be further up the playoffs ladder.

The Hurricanes have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season. The young guns have brought the fun and excitement back to Raleigh. The future appears to be very bright for the franchise. If only the team could get more consistent goaltending, more consistent scoring and avoid the injury bug next season, the playoffs definitely look within reach.

By the way, the ‘Canes got three goals in the second period, and Lack gave up one in the third to send the game into overtime. The good news is Carolina got a point. But, a Cal Clutterbuck shot that took a crazy bounce off of teammate Jaccob Slavin, got by Lack for the game-winner in overtime. 4-3 Islanders win. If only…