It is finally December, 2018 is almost over, Christmas is only 23 days away and there is a lot to look forward to with the new year on the horizon. With the year coming to a close, as always, there is a want to end it on a high note. For the Hurricanes, we look ahead at the schedule and key to success with hopes that they close out 2018 with a bang.
The Golden State
The Hurricanes begin the month with their California road trip. Tonight, they will face the LA Kings for the first time this season. LA is coming home after a 4-1 loss in Calgary to a four game homestand. They are currently 9-16-1 and sitting at the bottom of the western conference standings with 19 points. Anze Kopitar leads this Kings in points with 17, and Dustin Brown leads the team in goals with 8 this year. LA will also be without forward Ilya Kovalchuk who is out for 4 weeks after an ankle procedure. Taking advantage of this struggling Los Angeles team will be key to start the month by picking up two points.
After tonight, they will face San Jose on Wednesday (Dec 5th). San Jose is 12-10-5 on the season and currently sit ranked at 12th on the power play and 2nd on the penalty kill. Fighting their way up for a playoff spot, like the Hurricanes, the Sharks will be hungry for a win. Luckily, the Hurricanes have already achieved success against the Sharks this season. They played them on October 26th and beat them 4-3 in the shootout with a shootout goal by Brock McGinn.
On Friday December 7th, the Hurricanes will face the Anaheim Ducks. This game will come one week after the Hurricanes’ 2-1 OT loss to the Ducks. The Ducks are 13-10-5 so far this season and have been plagued with a few key injuries with all three of Corey Perry, Cam Fowler, and Patrick Eaves out of their lineup. Let’s just avoid going 0/6 on the power play against the Ducks again, please.
Willy is Back in Blue
Their California road trip will be followed by a few days of rest before they face the Toronto Maple Leafs (who are 19-8-0 this season) at home for the second time this season on December 11th. Last time, the Hurricanes outed the Leafs in a 5-2 victory on November 21st, but their will be a major difference in the Leafs’ lineup for this game. They will not only have Auston Matthews back but will have the infamous William Nylander as well who just signed a six-year $41.77M contract.
Back to Montreal
On Thursday the 13th, the Hurricanes will go back to Montreal for the first half of a back-to-back (the first back-to-back this month). The Montreal Canadiens are 12-9-5 this season doing better than expected. They sit in the second wildcard spot in the eastern conference making this game all the more important. Max Domi is one to watch on the Canadiens. Since being traded to Montreal over the summer, he has had a stellar season. Sitting at 11 goals this season he has already passed his goal total of 9 from which he achieved in both the 2017-18 and 2016-17 seasons. The Hurricanes have already beaten the Canadiens once this season in Montreal last Tuesday when they won 2-1.
The second half of a back-to-back and the beginning of a 5 game homestand, the Hurricanes will face the Washington Capitals for the first time this season on Friday, December 14th. Coming off a Stanley Cup win, the Capitals are 15-7-3 this season riding a 7 game win streak and familarily at the top of the Metro once again. The Capitals are currently playing without TJ Oshie who is out with a concussion which he suffered on November 14th and Brooks Orpik who had surgery on his right knee. Neither will be traveling with the team on their 3 game road trip this week. Orpik will most likely not play against the Canes considering he is predicted to be out another two weeks, but we may see TJ Oshie who is currently listed as day-to-day. This game will set the tone for the rest of the homestand.
They will then face the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday the 16th. Arizona is currently 12-11-2 this season which is much better than their start last season. They are also sitting at number one on the penalty kill. The Hurricanes lost 4-3 in overtime to Arizona earlier this season on November 2nd which is the last game Petr Mrazek played in. He faced 25 shots and made 21 saves with a .840 SV%. This game will be the final meeting of these two teams this season.
After the Arizona game, they will get three days before they have to face Detroit on the 20th in this month’s homegrown game. Detroit is 12-11-3 so far this season. December 20th’s game will conclude the season series for these two teams. So far, they have split the winnings. In their first meeting, Carolina bested Detroit 3-1 on October 22 in Detroit, but on November 10th at PNC, Detroit came out on top with a 4-3 win that was decided in the shootout.
Four games into the homestand on the 22nd, they face Pittsburgh for the first time this season in the first half of the second back-to-back this month. Pittsburgh is 10-10-5 this year and out of a playoff spot by 4 points (tied with the Florida Panthers). Pittsburgh has a pretty solid special teams and has no trouble scoring, but they are being burned by the amount of goals they have been allowing.
Sunday, December 23rd. The game we have waited for all season is almost here- Whalers Night. The Hurricanes will play in their throwback Hartford Whalers jerseys against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins are 14-8-4 this season and are sitting in the first wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. This will be their second meeting with the Bruins who they lost 3-2 against at home on October 30th. The Bruins have been plagued with injuries so far (Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, John Moore, Brandon Carlo, and rookie Urho Vaakanainen), and with these injuries, it will be interesting to watch who and who doesn’t find their way back into the lineup on December 23rd.
Hitting the Road Again
The boys will then hike up to Washington, D.C. to play the Capitals for the second time this month and season on December 27th.
Their last road game of the season will be against the New Jersey Devils on the 29th. The Devils are 9-11-5 this season and currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference Standings with 23 points. They are 3-3-4 in their last ten and are coming off of a 4-3 OT loss to the Winnipeg Jets. In their first meeting, the Hurricanes beat the Devils 2-1 at home on November 18. Neither one of the teams converted on the power play that game (both were on the power play 3 times).
One Last Home Game of 2018
End the year the right way- with a Carolina Hurricanes game on New Years Eve (and it’ll be at home… hint, hint). Philly comes to town for the showdown at PNC that’ll say goodbye to 2018. This will be the first time they meet this season. Special teams have been a problem for the Flyers as well (even worse than the Hurricanes). They are 10-12-2 and sit one point ahead of the Devils in the Eastern Conference Standings. Notably, they have recently fired GM Ron Hextall and are currently looking for a new GM.
(P.S. Stormy is the best mascot. Sorry not sorry, Gritty.)
Keys to Success
Heading into December, the Hurricanes are 12-9-4 heading into December, and the most crucial piece moving forward for success this month is improvement in the special team department. The Hurricanes currently sit at 23rd in the league on the power play (16.5%) and penalty kill (77.3%).
The Hurricanes will also need to improve their scoring. Many times they outshoot their opponents with no problem, but still have issues putting it into the net. When it comes to shots quality is better than quantity. Better, higher quality shots and finishing up on chances will lead to more scoring which will benefit this young team greatly.
As always, goaltending will be vital for success. Curtis McElhinney has worked hard to earn the starting spot and continues to work hard and play well for the team in front of him. With Darling in Charlotte with the Checkers, it will be important for Petr Mrazek to step up and fulfill the backup role well for the Hurricanes which he has seemingly done well so far. Hopefully, he will continue to do so when he gets his first start since November second, and we will be able to see a little bit more of him this month.
Hopefully, when the acorn drops in Raleigh on New Years Day, we will be high on a successful December from the Carolina Hurricanes.