Just over a week ago, the Carolina Hurricanes flew to Pittsburgh to kick off what felt like a season-defining five game road trip. They could not have started off better as they shut out the Penguins, then moved on to take down the Sabres and the Rangers. Their only blemish on the trip was a loss in New Jersey, which they soon rectified with a win in Ottawa last night. They flew home with eight out of a possible 10 points on the longest roadie of the season. That’s the best result they’ve carried out of a five game road trip since 1998.
Playoff pace is something that we’ve touched on recently here at Canes Country, and this likely won’t be the last time we talk about it this season. February is in many ways the most critical month in the playoff race as General Managers make final decisions about what type of player they are heading into the trade deadline. The Hurricanes are one of those grey area teams that don’t necessarily fall into the buyer or seller bucket perfectly.
The reason for that uncertainty? The team is 13-5-1 in the calendar year and making a real swing at the playoffs. If they had continued their 3-8-1 December pace up until this point, there would be little question of their status in the trade deadline market. But they find themselves again in a similar situation to last season as a bubble team without a real commitment to either buying for now or selling for later. Let’s investigate how the Hurricanes stack up with less than two months left in the season.
With a win last night in Ottawa, the Hurricanes are 29-22-6, good for 64 points in 57 games. They’re one point behind the Penguins in the last Wild Card spot, and they’re one point ahead of the Sabres, but both teams have a game in hand on the Canes.
The Hurricanes are surprisingly close to the record that they held last year on February 13th. That team was 28-21-6 with 62 points through only 55 games — two fewer than the Canes have played to date this season. As much as things feel different this season, we’re almost at an identical spot as we were a year ago.
That’s not to say that the two teams are the same — Bill Peters’ 2017-18 Hurricanes had a hot 8-5-1 December, but dawdled into the new year, posting an 8-8-2 record in the same span of time that Rod Brind’Amour’s club picked up a league leading 13 wins. That lends a lot of credibility to the notion that this season’s Hurricanes squad feels different.
But there’s still a lot of work to do if the Hurricanes want to punch their ticket to the dance for the first time in a decade. The idea of a playoff race is a little overrated. Through 57 games, the Hurricanes have picked up 64 points for an average of 1.12 points per game. If we’re calling the playoff cutoff line 95 points (which it usually is), the Hurricanes’ current season pace will earn them about 92 points over 82 games. That won’t get it done.
They need to pick up at least 31 points through their next 25 games. Brind’Amour and company must maintain something like a 1.24 points per game pace down the stretch if they want to clear the magic number. What would that look like? Well, it’s actually not that far from how they’ve been playing since 2019 began. They’ve picked up 27 points out of 38 possible points in 19 games, good for a 1.42 points per game pace.
There’s very little room for error here — if the Canes were to pick up just four fewer points since New Year’s Day, they would have dipped below that 1.24 points per game threshold in their 2019 hot streak. I feel like we say this year after year, but a string of losses down the stretch this season would render their playoff hopes all but lost. But despite that looming reality, there’s so many redeeming qualities about this new Hurricanes team. They’re trending in the right direction down the stretch, which hasn’t been the case over the last few years. Carrying momentum late into the season may be exactly what this franchise needs to finally get it done.