STAAL, CANES BACK AT IT | Host Rangers tonight
The Carolina Hurricanes are at home tonight after the weekend’s All-Star break. All-Star game MVP Eric Staal (above, right, with Boston’s Zdeno Chara) and the boys host the New York Rangers at the RBC Center for a 7 p.m. start.
The Canes are leading the Southeast Division by a single point over the Washington Capitals, and by virtue of that are the 3rd-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. But their mediocre record – 24-24-4 at the break, technically four games below .500 – is only the 10th-best point total in the East. With about 10 weeks left in the regular season, only seven points separate eight teams from the 7th to 14th spots. The Hurricanes could legitimately post a winning record in the second half of the season and still miss the playoffs.
The good news: the Hurricanes have played more road games than any other team in the NHL at this point (28 of their 52 total games), meaning that 17 of their remaining 30 games are at home. So they’ll have a little more rest, and a few more home games, than the rest of the league.
The bad news: Carolina is just 11-11-2 at home – third-worst in the conference. If they can’t take advantage of the home games, the post-season will definitely be out of reach.
The team’s fate rests with its shaky special teams and goaltending: their penalty-killing is last in the league and goaltending is 27th out of 30 teams. That means Cam Ward and a less-than-confident defensive corps must be at their collective best in February and March, or else the Canes’ season will end in early April…again.