By Peter Koutroumpis
Originally posted: Mar. 20, 2021
RALEIGH, N.C. – They’re not middling in the pack, they’re leading it.
That’s where the Carolina Hurricanes are at the halfway point of a non-traditional 2020-2021 regular season.
A recent eight-game win streak topped them up to 20-7-1 and battling for the circulating first and second spots in the Central Division standings along with defending Cup champions Tampa Bay and their in-state brethren Florida Panthers.
Even with a Game 28 loss to Detroit (4-2) coupled with an overtime loss to Columbus (3-2) on Thursday to start the second half of the season, it’s not a time to be overly concerned.
Concerned, sure; but overly concerned no.
At least not yet.
“I know we can be better – that’s the positive,” head coach Rod Brind’Amour said during Saturday’s pregame presser.
“I know we can be a lot better. There’s a whole other level that we’ve gotta get to, and we’re gonna need to get to. I do like the fact that this is a hard-working group. They come to play. Even when we’re not at our best, they find a way to get to it. There’s no quit in this group; that’s all positive stuff.”
The expected and unexpected
At the beginning of the season, were the Canes expected to be near the top of the standings at midpoint?
Were they expected to be sitting with less than 10 losses?
Possibly and likely – sure. On paper, they looked as capable of doing so as others.
What about following a Covid-19 league protocol shutdown with still-lingering individual effects, a result of the current backdrop of playing during a pandemic?
And dealing with that early-season lull with taxi squad players overachieving and helping the team to post wins?
No. Big bonuses there.
Where to from here?
As anyone who’s witnessed and followed an NHL team closely throughout a season, it’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Putting yourself in a position near the top of the league standings early does help cushion hitting speed bumps for the remainder of the way though.
This is especially important during this shortened, yet highly impactful schedule of games Carolina has played and is scheduled to play.
Three more consecutive games against the Blue Jackets to round out March.
Critical back-to-backs with Tampa Bay and Florida in April.
A three-game stretch against Chicago in May.
All huge hills to climb, let alone what nastiness consecutive games against Detroit, Dallas, and Nashville, and yes, one more against Columbus, may bring.
Committed to the process
The team’s first half success as we’ll call it for now, was a product of everything Brind’Amour and his team have been building since he took on the job.
There’s a reason he already hit the 100 career-win milestone; he’s done it with a core group of players bought into a exhibiting a specific level of work ethic based on speed, muscular endurance and collective attitude to commit to the team game.
There are no star players expected to carry this group all the way; it’s been and will remain a collective effort from the net out, for better or worse.
“I’d love to see us play the game the way we have to play all the time, but it’s hard to do,” Brind’Amour noted.
“You get off track a little bit here and there, but that’s normal, every team does. We fought through a lot. We’ve got a lot of guys out – we had some injuries and sicknesses and all that, and I think the guys stuck to what they had to do for the most part.”
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport