The Hurricanes did themselves a huge favor this weekend by picking up two wins against the Florida Panthers because it now gives them a bit of a cushion on their lead in the Southeast Division. Things are still pretty tight, though as the Winnipeg Jets trail them by only four points and Canes have recently come out of a stretch where they lost three divisional games. Carolina's record is padded thanks to a 10-3-1 record against the rest of the Eastern Conference but constantly giving games away to divisional opponents is going to allow other teams to stay in the race, which is why their lead is far from safe. Add in the fact that the Canes have 11 divisional games left and things could easily turn out bad for Carolina if they continue to struggle in the division, which is why getting two wins over Florida was huge.
Last time we checked the standings based on how many points each team has earned and how many games they had remaining, the Hurricanes and Lightning were in the best positions to win the Southeast with both needing to gain points in about 56-57% of their games to reach 55 points. Since then, the Hurricanes have earned eight points in seven games while the Lightning won only one of six and earned only two points. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Jets have climbed their way back into the mix by earning eight points in six games, taking over second place in the division from Tampa Bay. They are obviously in a better position now but it's only slightly improved compared to where it was a couple weeks ago..
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
The Hurricanes recent three-game win streak put them back into the same position where they were a few weeks ago since they need to earn points in a little over 55% of their remaining games to get to 55 points. They still control their own fate since things will get easier on the rest of the Southeast with every game they lose, especially if it's against a divisional foe. Sports Club Stats has Carolina at favorable odds to make the playoffs and says they need to win 16-17 games to clinch while 14-15 wins will give them a good shot, which sounds about right. On the other hand, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Washington need to do a lot more simply to put themselves in a good position to make the playoffs. This is where doing so well on the early-February road trip comes in handy.
What are the chances of the Hurricanes winning 15 out of 27 games the rest of the way, though? I think most would agree that this team's play has been madly inconsistent this season and that's expected with the injuries Carolina has had to deal with. Something that should give Canes fans some confidence is that their play at even strength has been stronger than the rest of the Southeast.
|Team||GF||GA||FenClose||5v5 Sh%||5v5 Sv%||PP SF/60||PK SA/60|
Carolina has been a better team when it comes to controlling possession in close games but the Winnipeg Jets are not far behind them so things could get interesting if the Canes regress. They suffered yet another big blow last night with Cam Ward going down with a lower-body injury and if he is out for awhile, it could have a huge effect on how the rest of Carolina's season goes. Despite Ward having a couple of rough outings recently, Carolina's goaltending has been solid at even strength this year and a lot of it has to do with Dan Ellis' .931 save percentage. I still don't think Ellis is that good but he is probably solid enough to start a few games while Ward is out. As for Justin Peters, he is more of a black-box since he didn't perform well in the NHL until last season and even then that was a small sample size.
The Hurricanes main weak point is their penalty kill, which is among the worst in the league in goals and shots allowed. It hasn't been an issue the last two games because they had only one penalty kill during then. It will come back to haunt them later if they don't improve. The PK units of every other team in the Southeast have also been pretty bad this year but Carolina's is still the worst in terms of shot prevention.
Another area of slight concern is the Hurricanes 5v5 shooting percentage, which has gotten pretty high over the last few games but I think they are safe from experiencing a decline similar to the one Tampa just had. Carolina is a completely different team than the Lightning and their strong even strength play might be enough to keep them afloat. Goaltending might end up being an issue if Ward is out for awhile and Ellis/Peters struggle as his replacement.
To put it briefly, the Hurricanes are in a good position now but they still have plenty of work to do if they want to win the division. The good road trip they had a the beginning of the year along with their recent three-game winning streak means they have to do less than the rest of the Southeast to make the playoffs but they still have a bit of ways to go. Making the most out of the rest of this homestand will be very important.
Stats from Behind the Net