Carolina Hurricanes set to open NHL season, put theory into practice

Chris Baird, Triangle Sports Network

Chris Baird, Triangle Sports Network

RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters considered an extended road trip to start the 2016-2017 NHL season a good way to avoid distractions and to build team chemistry.

With the team’s 23-man roster submitted on Tuesday with recent waiver pick-ups and signees, Carolina will need that time to focus on itself and do so on-the-fly.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to get out on the road and spend some time together as a team,” Peters said following the team’s practice at Raleigh Center Ice (RCI) on Wednesday.

“We’ve got some new faces and we head out West and get one of those trips knocked off before you’re sick of traveling and being on the road. I look at is as a positive, and we look forward to starting the regular season.”

Points count and accumulate when the Hurricanes face the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.

There will be little room for error as a new roster of players embarks on the quest to make the playoffs for a franchise that hasn’t done so for the past seven years.

“It’s reality – it is what it is,” Peters said while pointing out his confidence in starting the season with the group he has.

“I like what management did this week, makin’ us deeper. We’ve never been this deep in my time here in Carolina. Now we can make some intelligent choices, and the guys we bring in are gonna be able to help.”

Need to score three-plus

The need to produce goals, as well as the obvious ability to limit them, will be paramount to setting the pace for the season for Carolina.

Following the NHL’s opening night on Wednesday, the combined goal differential out of four games played was 19-11.

With such a small sample size, it showed that scoring in bunches is possible.

As much as the Hurricanes coaching staff preaches defensive structure, the ability to take advantage of odd-man rushes with pinching D-men will need a higher-paced speed and accuracy to finish with goals that will make the difference.

That’s the point of depth the Peters indicated.

This team is one of the youngest in the league and now can move at a higher rate of pace and puck movement to generate offense.

That’s the expectation Carolina must meet if it wants to overcome its shortfall in making the postseason tournament last season.

A look back at the team’s 2015-2016 numbers shows that the formula for success, the fine line that the Hurricanes must cross, is one of scoring at least three goals per game, let alone four or more.

In the 18 games when Carolina did so last year, it posted a 12-3-3 record.

The margin between two to three goals tallied per game showed in a 3-10-6 record when only two markers were posted per contest.

That presented a 15-point differential in the standings.

When they scored four and five-plus goals per game, the Hurricanes went a near-perfect 17-1-0 and collected 34 of their total 86 points to end the regular season.

That’s almost a fourth of the season that they generated that many goals.

When asked last season, Peters indicated that scoring that many goals was too hard to do on a nightly basis and win the games in the NHL.

True, but they did it.

Can they? Will they?

The question then arises, as it did last year and for seasons prior, can and will Carolina produce goals when it needs to?

It’s a razor-thin edge that will make the difference.

Yes, those one-goal game finishes are critical.

When the Hurricanes allowed no more than two goals, they finished with an 11-3-5 record.

Their precision in holding on for wins with one goal against was a very clean 11-0-2.

Add in three shutouts, and that’s a combined 25-3-7 with two goals or less against for nearly half the season.

Peters’ point and reluctance to getting into ‘track meets’ with opposing teams, if abandoning adherence to defensive structure, was justified as the Hurricanes finished 3-22-3 when they allowed four or more goals against.

The offense just couldn’t be developed and sustained at that level.

All understood – 196 goals for, not including shootouts, 2.39 per game, was one of the lowest in the team’s offensive output in the last five seasons.

The bright spot was that it improved from 183 scored the previous season.

Potential brings interest, achievement provides gratification

What has many optimistic about this year’s team is the talent and potential the current roster has to match and hopefully increase goal production.

Pushing that number up to three goals per game, a big task, while maintaining a similar goals-against average should hopefully result in more wins in regulation.

Improving in overtime to better a 10-16 combined extra-time (8-11) and shootout (2-5) record from a year ago will make a big difference as well.

Looking at it all on paper and figuring out where and how to improve is easy enough.

Now the time for the Carolina Hurricanes to put theory into practice begins once again.