Can the Hurricanes Make the Playoffs?
By Patrick Hoffman
Coming into this NHL campaign, a lot was expected of the Carolina Hurricanes.
With a new starting goaltender in Scott Darling, a pretty balanced offense, and a solid defensive corps, the Hurricanes seemed to poised to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
As of this writing (January 12, 2018), the Hurricanes find themselves in the second wild card spot with 48 points (20-15-8 record). While it is great to see them in this position, they are only one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and two points ahead of both the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders.
Simply put, this team needs to figure out a way to separate themselves from the pack. For starters, Darling needs to be much better between the pipes.
Darling, 29, was brought in on a four-year-deal worth $16.6 million. In 27 games, he certainly has not played up to his contract, as he is currently 9-11-6 with a 2.90 goals against average and a .896 save percentage.
Darling's very inconsistent play in net has led the team to starting Cam Ward, a Cup winner with the franchise in 2006, in a lot more games than they intended to. Ward has responded with solid results in 18 games as he is 11-4-2 with a 2.78 goals against average, a .907 save percentage and 1 shutout.
If Darling wants to be the true starter of this team and help his club get into the postseason dance, he needs to play a lot better and get his game on track. Yes, it's great that Ward is playing well, but this team needs a true No. 1 masked man in order to be playing hockey when it matters most.
Another way the team can start winning more games is by getting more production from 25-year-old Jeff Skinner. Last season, Skinner was terrific as he picked-up 63 points on 37 goals and 26 assists.
This season has been a different beast for the left winger. In 43 games, he has just 13 goals and 15 assists for 28 points. To make matters worse, Skinner is a - 19, which means that he needs to start playing much better at both ends of the ice.
As a whole, this team needs to be better offensively, so it's not just Skinner that is struggling to find the back of the net. The team is currently (January 12, 2018) 20th in the league in goals scored with 119 in 43 games played, which will need to improve if this team wants to be in a playoff position come April.
The power play also needs to be a lot better. Special team play has been a huge factor this year around the league and with the team currently (January 12, 2018) 24th in the league with the man advantage (16.9 percent), it does not put them in a favorable position if that number does not improve by the end of the season.
There is still time to pick-up the pace and become a good enough team to get into the playoffs. With that said, they need to work on all the things I mentioned above because if they do not, it will be another playoffless season this franchise.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.