Hurricanes could make playoffs if they survive a potentially disastrous March

With the 2011-12 season rapidly approaching, the gang at PHT decided to take a look at all 30 NHL teams’ schedules. Each team’s highs and lows will be studied in detail to give you an idea of what the future might hold for each squad.

Note: Mileage figures via On the Forecheck’s “Super Schedule.”

Carolina Hurricanes schedule analysis

Total mileage: 38,114 (11th lowest in NHL, second lowest in Southeast)

Back-to-back games: 16

Toughest stretches

After opening the 2011-12 season at home against the Lightning (the team that ended their 10-11 season in the same venue), the Hurricanes play six of their next seven games on the road, closing out that tough run with back-to-back games – Oct. 21 against St. Louis; Oct. 22 against Winnipeg.

Things are smooth through November until they run into another tough string in December (although that one is more manageable, with five of six games away from Carolina).

February features a moderately challenging five in seven game stretch, but the last big hurdle comes in March. If they can come out the other side of this gauntlet intact, they might make the playoffs:

March 6: at Washington
March 7: at Buffalo
March 10: at Tampa Bay
March 11: at Florida
March 13: at NY Rangers
March 15: home vs. St. Louis
March 17: at Minnesota
March 18: at Winnipeg
March 21: home vs. Florida
March 23: at Columbus
March 24: at Detroit
March 27: at Toronto

That’s 10 out of 12 games on the road, including a five-game away run to start things off. That dirty dozen includes four sets of back-to-back games to boot. Even if some of those teams were unsuccessful in 2010-11, their fortunes could be very different next season. The mere grind of that run alone could be very harmful, although the flip side is that the Hurricanes could really come together for a playoff run by weathering that storm.

Easiest periods

Their rough beginning to the season is mostly matched by a five-in-six span of home games in late October to early November. November is a mostly solid month, with 10 home games and five road contests.

There are little pockets of opportunity in December or January, though nothing that should make-or-break their 2011-12 season.

Late February to early March is that special chance, though. They play six consecutive games at home from Fe. 20 to March 3, although all but one of those teams made the playoffs last season. Still, they really need to stock up points in that run because those dates are surrounded by road-heavy streaks.

Overall outlook

The Hurricanes complained almost incessantly about certain parts of their season in 10-11. To some extent, they had some reasons to do so, although those tough times were balanced by solid chances to make a difference. Ultimately, it came down to their last game and they blew it. (In case you’re wondering, the Hurricanes close their 11-12 season on April 7 against the Panthers in Florida.)

Carolina’s travel schedule is reasonable and while some of their back-to-backs are placed inconveniently, they shouldn’t have many schedule-related excuses at their disposal if they fall short next season.

PHT Morning Skate: David Letterman shows off awesome playoff beard at Caps-Pens game

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–We’ll start with highlights from Game 1 of the highly anticipated matchup between Washington and Pittsburgh, which the Penguins won 3-2. Sidney Crosby scored twice, while Alex Ovechkin found the back of the net once.

–It appears as though hockey fans in Montreal still aren’t thrilled about P.K. Subban being shipped to Nashville last summer. But what if they had kept Subban? Would they still be alive this postseason? Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire says we can’t know for sure, but there’s at least a chance the Canadiens would still be playing in they had Subban instead of Weber. (Sportsnet)

–Speaking of trades that happened last off-season, The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell writes that we shouldn’t be quick to appoint winners and losers of last year’s major trades (Subban to Nashville for Weber, Adam Larsson to Edmonton for Taylor Hall). Campbell writes: “We rush to judge. That’s what we do. Guilty, by the way. So when Adam Larsson has the night of his life in the Oilers Game 1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the low-hanging fruit gets picked and Larsson becomes everything to the Oilers that Taylor Hall was not. It’s not terribly fair to the guys who were on the other side of the trade, but you pretty much sign up for that kind of scrutiny when you become a part of the NHL Millionaires Club.” (The Hockey News)

–Goalies like Jake Allen, Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundqvist all turned in spectacular performances in the first round of this year’s playoffs. So Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog takes a deeper look at eight goalies that have stolen a playoff series. Vintage J.S. Giguere was fun to watch! (Yahoo)

–Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik is one of the few players that has been on both sides of the Caps-Pens rivalry, but how did it start? “It was Penguins-Flyers when I started. Then when Sid and Ovi came, that’s two of the marquee names. I think that rivalry was manufactured a little bit, especially when we weren’t even in the same division and didn’t play each other in the playoffs until ‘09. A lot of that, I think, was hyped up for TV ratings. But at the same time those guys always seemed to kick it up a notch when they played each other, so it was fun to be a part of. (Sports Illustrated)

–Political speechwriter Stephen Krupin wrote and agreed with many of Barack Obama’s speeches, but there was one he wrote that he just couldn’t get on board with. You see, Krupin is a big Washington Capitals fan, so when the Penguins came to the White House after their Stanley Cup triumph, he had to write a nice speech about his team’s biggest rival. “As with any good speech, the process began with research. I clenched my jaw and read recaps of the Penguins’ remarkable turnaround season. I grew nauseous as I dug through fawning profiles about enemies of the state such as Matt Murray and accomplices such as Phil Kessel.” (Washington Post)

–David Letterman was at last night’s game between the Capitals and Penguins, and he was sporting a pretty impressive playoff beard. See for yourself:

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).