Last night, the tragic number for the Carolina Hurricanes reached zero.
Carolina’s fate of missing the playoffs for a ninth consecutive year has been sealed for several weeks, but now it’s officially official. The Canes will not be a playoff team. Again.
“We’ve known for a little while we were out of it,” a disheartened Jordan Staal said on Saturday night. “It being official doesn’t really make a difference.”
He’s right. March 31, 2018 doesn’t really mean anything to this year’s Hurricanes team. For me, their fate has been sealed since Ron Francis’ quiet trade deadline. Saturday does, however, represent a bigger story. It’s not about the 2017-18 season, it’s about a nine-year run of embarrassment.
It was only fitting that Henrik Lundqvist, an all-time great goaltender who raises his game to an even higher level every time the Rangers take on Raleigh’s own, stopped 40 of 41 shots and, in theory, stole the game from the Hurricanes.
This has been the overarching storyline for the Hurricanes. The shot clock suggests one thing - last night it read “Carolina - 41, New York - 20” - but the final score
suggests says something entirely different.
While you might not expect it based on their quality of play at times throughout the season, the Canes have the largest shot differential in the entire league. And it’s not even close. Carolina’s +672 even-strength shot attempt differential is 161 more than the second-place Calgary Flames. Despite that fact, they are 23rd in the league in goals for per game and 24th in goals against per game.
Dat PDO, tho.
Last night, the Hurricanes got in the holiday spirit, celebrating April Fool’s Day a few hours early by confirming, without a shadow of a doubt, that this season was an absolute joke.
After a scoreless first period, the Rangers got things going early in the middle frame. Blown coverage in the defensive zone led to Ryan Sproul being left all alone in the slot. He could have written a novel, published it, gone on tour promoting it, watched it become the number one best seller on Amazon, retired, and lived out the rest of his days in a pristine log cabin on a snowy mountaintop by the time any Canes jersey-clad human being could have even thought about trying to cover him.
The puck flew by Cam Ward and the road team scored the game’s first goal.
Ten minutes later, the Hurricanes got a powerplay. For most teams, that’s a good thing but, let me tell you, the Carolina Hurricanes are not like most teams.
Ten(!) seconds into the powerplay, the shorthanded Rangers scored. Sebastian Aho, the focal point of the entire evening by way of Fox Sports Carolina’s showcase night, picked a bad night to turn the puck over at his own blue line.
The young star and franchise centerpiece had a moment he’d like to have back, and the Rangers took advantage as Jimmy Hayes finished off a 2-on-1 rush with a goal.
Scratch that. Justin Faulk was the lone man back for Carolina, so it was more of a 2-on-0 than it was a 2-on-1. Regardless, the Canes were behind the eight-ball and their playoff dreams were about to be made mathematically impossible unless someone could step up in the final period.
For a moment, it looked like Jeff Skinner may have been that guy once again for the Hurricanes.
Just over eight minutes into the third period, Skinner was on the receiving end of a net-front pass from Derek Ryan. The streaky scorer chipped the puck past Henrik Lundqvist and, on their 31st shot, the Canes were on the board.
Down the stretch, the Hurricanes continued to get chance after chance, but, like so many times over the past decade, they weren’t able to get that one goal - the one goal that they needed to keep them afloat. For years, this team has been one goal away. This year is no different, and they won’t be a playoff team because of it.
The final horn went off and the clock struck midnight for the Canes as they finished on the wrong side of a 2-1 score.
Did Carolina outplay New York? I guess so, but the shot totals aren’t really indicative to how this all unfolded. The Canes didn’t play twice as well as the Rangers did despite doubling them in shots. That’s not how this thing works, and the Hurricanes, as an organization, have to get that through their seemingly thick skulls over the offseason.
You can out Corsi every single team every single night, but that doesn’t guarantee you anything. Until you start winning games and scoring goals consistently, the advanced statistics do nothing for you.
This team has been an advanced stats darling throughout Bill Peters’ tenure as head coach. History shows us that, if you are dominant in your underlying numbers, the scoreboard will eventually be in your favor more often than not. That hasn’t been the case for the Hurricanes, though.
Is that Peters’ fault for not utilizing his talent well enough? Is it the players’ fault for not playing within the system? Is it the front office’s fault for not putting the talent in place in order for that system to work?
The answer to each of those questions is “yes”. Last night encapsulated nine years of mediocrity - nine years of baffling results that are, in many of those cases, statistical anomalies.
It’s anyone’s best guess as to what will happen this summer. This team currently has no general manager, the head coach’s future is unclear, and the new team owner appears to be an NBA guy in an NHL universe. Tom Dundon’s hands-on approach is unlike anything we have seen in this ultra-conservative league, and only time will tell if that is a good thing or if it just leads to the team somehow finding itself in an even worse situation.
In the mean time, all we can do is hope that March 31, 2019 will have a much different feel than March 31, 2018. There’s a lot of time between now and then, but based on the past nine years, there’s no reason to believe that next season will be any different. If history repeats itself next year, that will be ten consecutive seasons of not being in the playoffs.
TEN YEARS. A DECADE.
This team has six months to reinvent themselves - on the ice, behind the bench, and in the front office. If they don’t, the 2018-19 season will be exactly what the 2017-18 season was.