With a win last night in South Florida, the Hurricanes have reached 70 points through 61 games for the second time in franchise history. The only other time they hit that milestone was in the 2005-06 season, when they carried a 43-14-4 for 90 points at the 61 game mark.
The team continues to build on their exceptional new year — their 16 wins to date and 84 goals in that span are second best in the league in the respective categories since the start of 2019. The Hurricanes haven’t carried this type of momentum into trade deadline week since before the dawn of the Ron Francis rebuild.
In years past, moving an unrestricted free agent with as much value as Micheal Ferland carries would be a must. But considering the Hurricanes’ efforts to date this season, holding onto him as the Canes’ own makeshift rental player has become the most logical outcome in a tough situation.
Despite currently occupying a Wild Card spot, the Canes are still on the outskirts of the playoff territory. Their 16-6-1 record since New Years Day has launched them into the hunt, but there’s still a large body of work left to tackle.
One of the most important yet elusive aspects of a playoff team is their ability to beat lesser teams. The Hurricanes have struggled with that during the 2019 hot streak. Of their six regulation losses in the 23-game span, four of them have been to teams lower than 20th in the NHL. Two regulation losses to the Rangers and one loss each to the Senators and Devils are eight crucial points wasted on inconsistency and lack of execution.
Rod Brind’Amour and company’s next four games are against teams lower than them in the standings (Dallas, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Florida) as they barrel into what is perhaps the toughest month on their schedule. They’ll need to make hay while the sun is shining if they want to be thinking about playoff hockey at the end of March. They simply cannot afford to let eight more points slip away.
After the Canes take on the Panthers again in BB&T Center on March 2nd, eleven of their next 17 games are against teams with higher points percentages than they currently hold. That includes two critical games each against the Capitals and the Penguins, as well as one against the buzzsaw that is the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The challenging schedule down the stretch will provide more difficulty as the Hurricanes try to build on a historic streak. But maintaining that streak is about to get a lot more difficult. Of their 23 games since the new year, only seven of them were against teams that are currently sitting higher than them in points percentage today. That fact alone indicates that wins in March are going to be tougher for the Hurricanes to buy than they were in February.
And they need wins. In order to cross the (approximately) 95 point finish line, they’ll need 25 points in their remaining 21 games. That’s a points percentage pace of 60 percent — less than their 72 percent pace that they’ve established since the new year, to be fair, but more than their 57 percent on the full season to date.
The Hurricanes have a lot to be proud of over the last two months. Their strong play has allowed them to continue playing meaningful games leading into the trade deadline. But there’s still a ton of work to do as the games get tougher and the margin for error becomes smaller. And for the first time in years, I believe they can handle it.