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What Has to Change in December for the Carolina Hurricanes?

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The Canes sit just five points out of a playoff spot. What has to change in December for them to occupy one?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes currently sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, 7th in the Metropolitan Division, with a record of 9-10-5 and 23 points. However, as of this writing, the Canes are only five points behind the Capitals for the second wild-card position. The big question: what do the Canes have to do in December to stay in the hunt and move into a playoff position?

On average the top eight teams in the East earned 18 points through November, with the wild card teams (Washington and Philadelphia) earning 17. Since teams play an uneven amount of games, this ended up averaging out to 1.28 points per game for the playoff teams. The Canes were not far behind with 16 points from 14 games or a 1.14 point per game average.

To move up to a playoff position the Canes will need around 1.3 points per game in December or 20 total points from their 15 games. Of course, this is only if every team plays on the same level that they did in November. The number could shift up or down as the month goes on and teams go on winning or losing streaks but it's a good place to start. Here's how the schedule for December shapes up.

December Schedule Facts:

  • After today’s loss to the Rangers, the Canes play 13 more games through the month of December, seven home games and six away games.
  • Nine of the Canes’ December games are against teams that made the playoffs in the 2015-2016 season.
  • The Canes have five sets of back to backs meaning a third of their games will be on zero day’s rest.

How Does the Team Maintain a 1.3 Point per Game Average?

The Canes went through a little bit of a reversal of fortune in November with goaltending improving and scoring drying up. The Canes goal differential improved from -6 to +1 from October to November.

So just how much did the goalkeepers improve? The Canes’ team save percentage was .931 in November, up from .864 in October. Out of all goalies in October Cam Ward ranked 41st, but improved to 15th. If Ward can continue this level of play the Hurricanes will continue to have a fighting chance.

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Where the Canes saw a drop off was in shooting percentage. As much as the goalies improved, the skaters worsened. The Canes shooting percentage fell from 10.3% to 6.3% in November. The improvement in goaltending meant that the Canes didn't need to score four goals to win every game, but a 6.3% shooting percentage isn’t good enough to get it done. As a comparison, the league average is at 8.5% and the Rangers lead the league with a 12.8% shooting percentage.

It is reasonable to believe that the Canes shooting percentage will increase by looking at their PDO. PDO measures a team's save percentage plus shooting percentage with 1.000 being average. A team with over a 1.000 is considered lucky and a team under is considered unlucky. Teams will tend to move back to 1.000 as time progresses.

The Canes even-strength PDO is a .983, meaning that it would be probable that the Canes’ shooting percentage and save percentage will increase by a combined 1.7%. To maintain a 1.3 point per game average the Canes will need to have that increase come mainly in shooting percentage.

In addition to PDO, the Canes are fourth in the league in even strength possession with a 53% Corsi percentage. Since Bill Peters took over coaching duties, the Canes have been a top ten possession team in the NHL, so there is no reason to think the possession numbers will decrease.

Even with the absence of Jordan Staal who has missed the last few games with a concussion, the Canes are still outshooting their opponents. When you are outshooting teams night in and night out eventually the shooting percentage will tip in your favor due to skill, luck, or any other factor.

Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

The Canes are doing the right things most nights, they just need everything to come together for an extended time to make up the point deficit that was created in October. It’s easy to put lofty expectations on a team early in the season.

However, it is important to remember the Canes are one of the youngest teams in the league, and it takes a while for young players to feel comfortable and gel with each other. The Canes are marginally better off this year than they were this same time last season. December is a pivotal month for them, and this year if they perform similarly they will be in a playoff position moving into January.