We've heard over and over again that the schedule for the first half of the Carolina Hurricanes 2010-11 season was at times nothing short of "ridiculous". Last week, Erik Cole said in comments on NHLLive that the more accommodating schedule during the second half was one of two reasons the team would make the playoffs this year. (For the record, the other reason he gave was the Canes quality goaltending.) As the only member of the roster who has made that trip to the post season three times, he may be the best qualified to make that call.
So here we are, half-way through. How do the Canes look with the worst of their season's schedule behind them? And how much better is the scenario for the Spring Run that we've come to enjoy here in Carolina the last few years? After the jump a look at the quality of competition, home vs away games, and the amount of travel involved to see what's good and bad about the next 90 days till we arrive at Game #82 on April 9th, when the regular season concludes here in Raleigh.
Quality of Competition - Trend: Slightly Easier
Here's the Hurricane's overall record at the halfway mark, with comparisons to the records of their opponents in the first 41 games to those of the second 41. I've highlighted in red text the stats where the Canes were superior to their opponents. The important thing here is that there are more red categories in the second half than in the first. I've elaborated below.
|Hurricanes' First half||41||20||15||6||46||56.1%||2.95||3.00||-0.05|
|First half opposition, on average||41.6||21.0||15.8||4.8||46.9||56.3%||2.78||2.73||0.05|
|Second half opposition, on average||41.9||20.4||16.7||4.8||45.6||54.4%||2.78||2.86||-0.08|
There are many ways to determine the strength of the teams faced, and some were beyond my resources, but I elected to use two gauges. Both measures are constantly shifting and will vary as the teams go through highs and lows of momentum during the season, but I took today as my fixed data point, so please take this with those implicit limitations.
1) Points (in the standings) percentage
- Starting with the Hurricanes potential of 82 points in 41 games, they earned 46 points or 56.1% of the 82 available. Thanks to the effects of 3-point overtime games, the average in the NHL as of today is 55.8%
- In the first half the average of their opponents was 46.9 points, and based on games played, equates to 56.3%, slightly better than Carolina.
- The opponents set for the second half have currently only managed to earn 54.4% or available points, showing they are a bit weaker than the Canes.
2) Goal differential (average Goals For and Goals Against)
- Using the goal differential comparison, the Canes averaged scoring 2.95 goals/game and gave up 3.00 goals/game, for a net difference of (-.05).
- The first half opponents had lower numbers for both values but were net positive +.05, meaning on average, they won by greater margins. It probably surprises no one that the Hurricanes offensive charges were not enough to compensate for their defensive breakdowns.
- Good news: the opponents on the schedule for the second half have a negative net, slightly worse than the Canes.
Games vs Playoff and non-Playoff teams - Trend: Level
Both halves of the season will have 24 games where the Canes take on teams who, as of this morning, were above the playoff line. Especially in the Western Conference, where the 8th through 11th place teams ALL have 46 points, with various tiebreakers determining the cut, this is not exactly an accurate science. However, in the Eastern Conference, the distinction between the top 8 and the bottom 7 has been constant for weeks.
- In the first half the Hurricanes went 6-13-5 vs teams currently above the playoff cut line.
- When playing teams who are currently out of the playoffs, the Canes were a very impressive 14-2-1, with both the regulation losses coming on the road (Game 3 in Ottawa in October, and that 7-4 loss to Florida in November).
Games Vs West Conference teams - Trend: Easier
In general, Eastern Conference teams have struggled against Western Conference teams in the first half of the season. Looking at the point percentage number from above, the Eastern teams have earned only 54.3% with the Western teams 3 percentage points higher at 57.3%
The Canes faced opponents from the West fourteen times in the first half (more than 1/3 of their games), with eight of those played on the road. Their record was a better than league average, at 8-4-2. Even better, when the games were played in Raleigh (not including the "home game" with the Minnesota Wild in Helsinki) Carolina was an outstanding 3-1-1.
In the second half, there are only four games vs Western Conference opponents, less than 1/10 of the schedule. And those games are scattered out through the season instead of in bunches like the Canes saw in the first half. Better yet, three of these games will be played here in Raleigh, with the exception coming vs the Chicago Blackhawks, on Friday March 4th.
Home and Away - Trend: Easier
As we've heard more than once, the home and away numbers get better, quantified with a 5 game swing. The first half the Canes had just 18 home games, including the home game in Helsinki, likely not quite as comfortable as playing at the RBC Center (though the hordes of Canes fans who made the trip probably made it a special atmosphere that isn't completely foreign).
In the second half, there are 23 games here in Raleigh, where the team will certainly draw needed energy when surrounded by their famously LOUD fans. If you can believe it, 16 of last 24 games of the season will be played at home. I predict calls for "More Cowbell" to deal with this Spring Fever will be rampant.
Miles of Travel - Trend: Way Way Easier (Because 15,235 is way way less than 30,525)
During the first half, including the 8-hour flight to St. Petersburg Russia, they covered no less than 30,525 miles, including the "ridiculous" 15,681 miles covering 11 timezones over only three weeks in October. All of this front-loaded to run before the team finally arrived at the home opener in the RBC, for their 8th regular season game. This was when everyone in these parts started the mantra of getting the worst behind them.
Coming up in the second half, there is a total of just 15,235 miles, which is less than what they covered before the home opener October 27th. In addition, the Canes have only one game not in the Eastern Time Zone. The measly 15-thousand miles will be spread out over 90 days. Piece. Of. Cake.
Back-to-backs (and other multi-game series) - Trend: Level
Over at On the Forecheck, Dirk Hoag compared the back-to-back schedules of all thirty NHL teams. Among the thirty, only the Buffalo Sabres have it worse than the Canes. They have 22 sets, while the Hurricanes have a total of 21. At the halfway mark, they've completed 10 sets, and still have 11 to go.
There are some quirks and demanding stretches still ahead.
- This seemed harsh: starting February 12th, only 7 of last 27 games are not part of a back-to-back.
- Bad stretches: There's a ten-day stretch from March 25 to April 3 which has six games, all requiring travel, and 4 of those are with likely playoff contenders, three from the Southeast Division. (Tampa Bay Lightning twice, the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens). There are 16 games packed into the last 32 days of the season
- Good times: That would be the four game homestand February 18 to 25, which is the only homestand of more than 3 games in the season. What makes it even better is that February 18 is the Rod Brind`Amour Jersey Retirement night. If that doesn't inspire the troops, don't know what would.
- There are three breaks longer than two days between games. The first coming up for the All-Star game (5 days) the second from March 4 -9 (4 days), and last from March 18 to 22 (3 days). Other than that, there is little time for extra practice and days off, but similarly no lost momentum and rust settling in like we watched in December.
For ease of reference, I've uploaded all of Games 42 to 82 here to look at in a separate window. Those three multi-day breaks are indicated, and I've noted the back-to-backs in light blue; the pair of games February 18 and 19 are both at home, so they are noted in a lighter blue since no travel is required.
What doesn't kill you....
Yes, Hurricane fans, the worst of the schedule is behind us for the 2010-11 season, but that doesn't mean a walk in the proverbial park (nor a skate on the proverbial pond?) Maybe the stamina and good habits this group of younger than average professional hockey players learned in October and November will become the difference that holds off the typical exhaustion we see often see in the final days of March.
Is it enough to lift the team from seemingly stuck at 9th or 10th place, to earning them an invitation to the 2011 playoffs? How soon will the verdict be known? In the context of difficult decisions coming with the trade deadline February 28, they'll face three challenges with Eastern Conference contenders just prior (New York Rangers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Canadiens). Will those games carry the weight of moving Rutherford to become either a buyer or seller?
Maybe we'll see that, in fact, what didn't kill them, really made them stronger. And then we'll be complaining if they don't get the exact same schedule next year.