RALEIGH — Counting Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss in Columbus, the Carolina Hurricanes play 10 of their 13 games before Christmas on the road, a stretch that could determine if coach Bill Peters’ team has what it takes to snap an eight-season playoff drought.
It won’t be easy. Based on points percentage through Tuesday’s games, all but five of those games will be against teams currently in a playoff position.
Following the overtime loss to the Blue Jackets, Carolina is sitting at 25 points in 23 games, four points behind Metropolitan Division foes Washington and Pittsburgh for the two wild card spots. The Rangers, who will host the Hurricanes Friday at Madison Square Garden, are ahead of the Penguins based on points percentage, given that each has 28 points and New York has one game in hand.
December includes a season-long road trip that starts in Vancouver next Tuesday and ends Dec. 15 in Buffalo. It’s a stretch of six games in 11 nights that includes only one set of back-to-backs (Dec. 11 in Anaheim, followed the next night by Carolina’s first trip to Vegas), so despite the prolonged trip, the Hurricanes have little to complain to the schedule makers about.
Carolina returns home briefly for a Saturday game against Florida at PNC Arena before embarking on the five-game West Coast swing and then a stop in Buffalo. Then, another game at home (Columbus again; it will be the fourth and final meeting between the division foes just 10 weeks into the season) before stops in Toronto (Dec. 19) and Nashville (Dec. 21).
The Hurricanes are then home for the holidays with a Dec. 23 game against Buffalo, followed by post-Christmas matchups in Raleigh with the Canadiens (Dec. 27) and defending champion Penguins (Dec. 29).
It sounds daunting, but there is a silver lining. Carolina has been as good on the road (5-4-2) if not better than at home (5-4-3) to start the season. Furthermore, many of the teams it will face out west in December have struggled at home.
Vegas (9-2 at home) and Nashville (9-1-1) are two of the league’s best home teams, but Los Angeles (7-5-2), San Jose (7-6-1), Anaheim (6-7-2) and Vancouver (3-5-3) have surrendered at least two points in half of their home games this season.
Among their Eastern Conference opponents during this stretch, the Hurricanes have already proven this season they can win in Toronto (6-3 on Oct. 26) and Buffalo (also 3-1, on Nov. 18), and will surely want to pay back the Rangers for the 6-1 thumping they endured last Wednesday.
It’s a difficult road ahead but one that is not as daunting as it first seems. At least not for a playoff team.