RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t playing for last place.
At least that doesn’t seem to be the mindset right now as they prepare to host the Anaheim Ducks at PNC Arena on Thursday.
The Hurricanes most recently beat San Jose 5-4 on Saturday and finished their recent four-game road trip 2-1-1, and have posted points in seven of their last eight games.
It was against the Ducks, the Pacific Division leader, whom the Hurricanes earned a road point against with a 5-4 overtime loss on Feb. 3 at the Honda Center.
It seems Carolina is not playing for the basement, and with 30 games left, there has to be some plan or goal to shoot for – something to contend for.
“We’re going to set something here coming down the stretch,” head coach Bill Peters said after practice on Wednesday.
“We’ve got some ideas. We’ll do that after our next two games here.”
A high draft pick?
At least one of the three options exists for Carolina to shoot for and realistically achieve by April.
The way this team is performing, as many have hypothesized, they’ll win enough games to miss the playoffs and probably miss the opportunity to select a top-five draft pick.
Thus, playing for good old pride will likely win out again for a team that has finished doing exactly that each year that it has missed playing in the postseason.
You can’t blame the players and coaches for that – never quitting.
However, running on a treadmill shows that you’re putting in a lot of miles and effort, but in the end doesn’t find you ending up anywhere farther ahead or different than you were before.
The Hurricanes are currently 18 points out of a wildcard spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
They finished January 7-3-2, their best monthly run to date, and February hasn’t been hurtful.
However, has the team’s recent success been helpful?
Defensively this team has allowed 139 goals to date, on the cusp of sitting in the upper echelon of the Metropolitan Division and just above the middle of the pack in the NHL – in 13th spot allowing 2.58 goals against per game.
They’ve allowed 12 less goals against than the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders.
However they’ve scored 54 less goals and 16 wins and 26 points tell the tale of the differential between the two teams.
The Hurricanes rank second in penalty-killing percentage and sit third with 120 more takeaways than the team with the second-most – yes, the Islanders, who have 665.
They are playing effectivley on the penalty kill too, ranking second in the NHL with an 87.2 percent success rate in denying opposing power plays from scoring against them.
An impressive statistical representation to accomplish what Peters set out to do when he took over – play better defensively.
The only glitch in all of this is that while they’ve focused on keeping pucks out of the net, the current makeup of the Hurricanes roster hasn’t been able to put them in it.
Aye, there’s the rub – a 2.15 goals per game average lands Carolina in its predicament – last place in its division, second-last in its conference, and 28th place overall in the NHL.
It is clear, not only as this season progresses, but previously – you still have to score goals, at least one more than your opponent, to win games.
It’s an overtly obvious conclusion, but one that has handcuffed Carolina for years.
Thus, if there truly is a plan for this rebuilding team to rouse some excitement for the rest of the season, focus only on scoring now.
Open up the flood gates.
Let’s see some true pond hockey-style play for the remainder of the season.
Get Skinner and Semin back on track while Eric Staal and young Elias Lindholm get some relief from the pressure that’s hanging over their heads at the moment.
Tlusty and Rask, and maybe even Jordan Staal and Gerbe, among others will follow.
Go ahead, give it a try.
There’s nothing to lose for the Hurricanes right now.
Fear of racking up more games in the loss column shouldn’t exist.
That’s what’s been paralyzing this team over five years and three coaches.
Playing the game the way it was meant to be played, without overthinking it, may just be the answer here for this makeup of players.
Just score more goals than the other team.
Yes – it’s that simple.