The NHL regular season schedule hit the one-third mark with game No. 410 Friday night – which just happened to be the centennial affair between Boston and Montreal.
Here’s the good, bad and busy so far this year:
The cream is rising in both conferences, with Washington, Pittsburgh and New Jersey riding high in the East and San Jose, Calgary and Chicago sitting atop the West.
Detroit, Philadelphia and Vancouver are the only usual suspects missing from the playoff picture, although all three are on the bubble in their respective conferences.
But the real “good” has been the sustained positive play of surprise teams such as Colorado, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Nashville in the West and Buffalo and Atlanta in the East. These clubs have made the jump from “good start” to “good teams” and figure to remain in the battle for a playoff berth all season long.
Hate to kick a team when it’s down, but how about those Canes? Let’s face it: They’re making the Leafs look good.
Carolina sits dead last in the NHL with a 5-17-5 record, are riding a five-game losing streak and still haven’t won a game on the road (0-10-3).
They’re barely averaging two goals scored per 60 minutes of play and have surrendered 97 goals (the most in the NHL) through 27 games.
And a quick glance at the schedule makes you think they’re in tough to record their first road victory anytime soon. Carolina has a four-game trek starting Monday, when they visit the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canes then proceed to New Jersey to face Martin Brodeur and the Devils Wednesday before traveling to Washington to take on the Capitals – with Alex Ovechkin presumably back in uniform – Friday.
Carolina’s best chance at a road win comes Dec. 12 when they go to Ottawa to take on the Senators, who, on paper, are the weakest club on the Canes’ four-game swing.
Still, that contest is the last in a four-road-games-in-six-days stretch and will be Carolina’s second game in two days. (The Canes are 0-3-1 in the second game of back-to-backs so far this season.)
Injuries, of course, have been a huge issue for the Hurricanes this season, with forwards Eric Staal, Erik Cole and Scott Walker, defenseman Joni Pitkanen and goalie Cam Ward missing in the neighborhood of 10 games – or more – apiece.
To make matters worse, Carolina just lost power play quarterback Joe Corvo until at least February with a lacerated calf.
Nevertheless, it’s a big fall from grace for the team that surprised the NHL by making it to the final four in the 2009 playoffs – and you have to wonder how much time coach Paul Maurice as left…even if he is a good friend of Canes GM Jim Rutherford.
There are 14 NHL games on tap on Saturday night, with just the Anaheim Ducks and the 100-years-and-one-day-old Montreal Canadiens on the sidelines.
It’s the seventh time in the past 15 days – Nov. 21 through Dec. 5 – there will be at least 10 games on the docket.
There are 219 games scheduled for December, in fact, making it the second-busiest month of the regular season. That’s pretty compressed, considering there are no games scheduled for Dec. 24-25.
March, with 227 games, is the busiest month – and that’s with just one game on March 1, a retro ’90s rivalry tilt between Detroit and Colorado, as the league returns to action after the Vancouver Olympics.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.