Last week, the Hurricanes were well ahead of the pack in the Southeast after picking up two wins over the Florida Panthers in a home-and-home series. How do they look now after winning two out of three games against non-divisional opponents? Answer: not much better or worse than they were a week ago, but they are making progress at the very least.
GR = Games Remaining, Pts = Points, Avail. = Points available, Needed = Points needed to 55, Point% = Percentage of games they need to earn points to get to 55, Div. = Divisional games remaining
Even with the Hurricanes struggles within the division, the Hurricanes are still in the best shape to win the Southeast after going 2-1-0 the past week and improving their lead in the standings. The only team that has been gaining some ground on them is the Winnipeg Jets, who went 2-1-1 in their past week and picked up wins over two divisional teams. They are only three points behind the Hurricanes in the standings but they also have played one more game than Carolina, which puts them at a slight disadvantage.
It's easy to look at the standings and say "Oh no, Winnipeg is only three points behind! Carolina really needs to win tonight!" but the one game in hand puts a little less pressure on the Hurricanes. However, the Canes do have a pretty big week coming up where they play Washington twice and then Tampa Bay on the road. This won't make or break the season for Carolina thanks to the position they're in now, but they can easily let Washington or Tampa Bay climb back into the race if they fail to get any points this week. In other words, they aren't "must win" games but things will be much easier for the Hurricanes down the road if they do win.
Tampa Bay was actually still in the race for awhile but their recent slide has put them in a bad position while the Caps had a chance to make things interesting before dropping both games to the Rangers and Islanders.
In addition to being in a good position, the Hurricanes also have the most optimistic outlook for the rest of the season compared to the divisional adversaries.
|Team||GF||GA||FenClose||5v5 Sh%||5v5 Sv%||PP SF/60||PK SA/60|
In addition to being one of two teams with a positive goal differential, Carolina has also done a better job at controlling the play at even strength and has gotten better goaltending than the rest of the pack. I'm not sure if this will continue with the Justin Peters/Dan Ellis tandem, but I think the Hurricanes will be fine if they can be average for the rest of the season. The fact that the Hurricanes are controlling 52% of the shots with the score close puts less pressure on their goaltenders anyway. The only thing that the Hurricanes need to be very concerned about is their penalty kill, which has been just atrocious at preventing shots. The other teams in the division aren't exactly good on the PK either but Carolina's is still much worse. They've had a good streak of not allowing goals lately, but that will come to an end if they continue to struggle preventing shots.
One other thing I will say is do not sleep on the Winnipeg Jets. I've heard nothing but bad press out of there lately but the team doesn't look too bad all things considered. They need to go something like 12-7-5 to make the playoffs, but they've been pretty good at even strength this season and aren't that far behind Carolina in the standings. Their bad powerplay and terrible PK save percentage might hurt them, but they can still challenge Carolina for the top seed if the Canes struggle the rest of the way.
I have a feeling that this chart will look very different for the Hurricanes by the end of next week. If they can get points or win their next three games then they will be in an even better spot than they are now, but if they drop all three games then things will be much tighter. Going .500 for the rest of the season is all Carolina needs to do to make the playoffs, which sounds easy enough but we've seen many teams fall apart down the stretch in previous seasons. Let's hope Carolina can avoid that.
Stats courtesy of Behind the Net.