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Assessing the Canes at the Midpoint of the 2019-20 Regular Season

Consistent first half puts Canes in playoff position heading into final 41 games

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

Whoa, the Carolina Hurricanes are halfway there.

But, they're not living on a prayer.

The Canes have reached the midpoint of the 2019-20 regular season, and through 41 games, they've accrued 50 points and a 24-15-2 record, the second-most points and wins through the first half of an 82-game regular season in franchise history. As of the morning of Jan. 4, 2020, the Canes occupy the first wild card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, three points back of third place in the wildly competitive Metropolitan Division.

"We need to put ourselves into a good spot heading into (All-Star) break," Ryan Dzingel said after the Canes' 4-3 loss to Washington on Friday night. "We've put ourselves in a decent spot so far, and we've got to keep going."

It's certainly a decent spot when you compare it to just a season ago. Through 41 games in the 2018-19 campaign, the Canes had a 19-17-5 record and 43 points. Their seemingly improbably second-half push to the playoffs had just begun.

They won't have to be as desperate this season.

"Yeah, but we're still, I think, 11 [points] away from Washington. For the regular season, your goal is to finish as high as you can," Jordan Martinook countered. "They're first in our division, so we want to catch them. I feel like 11 points is a lot of points. It's an uphill climb, so we've got to be desperate."

That outlook illustrates just how much expectations have changed from one season to the next. The bar was raised with a magical run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2019, but the Canes' goal isn't to be the fourth-best team left standing.

"You expect to be where we are if not higher than where we are right now," Martinook said.

What the Canes have been is consistent. Break down the team's first 40 games into 10-game segments: 6-3-1, 6-4-0, 6-4-0, 6-3-1. If that continues in the second half of the season - the current 10-game segment began 0-1-0 with Friday night's loss - the Canes should easily make a return to the postseason.

After all, six wins in eight 10-game segments equals 48 wins and 96 points. Toss in a handful of overtime/shootout losses and maybe an extra win in the two games that aren't segmented, and that's over 100 points.

That should be plenty for a playoff spot, even if the current cut line is tracking at 98 points.

"It's been pretty good," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said of the first half of the season. "I like this group how they come to work. They don't quit. That's pretty positive. We've had some tough losses this year, but the guys seem to always dig in. That's all you can ask for as a coach."

Through the first 41 games, Teuvo Teravainen is the team leader in assists (33) and points (41). At a point-per-game pace, he's on track to put up career numbers in those two categories. Sebastian Aho paces the team in goals with 23 in 41 games, somewhat remarkable given that he scored just three of those goals before Nov. 1. With 37 points, Aho ranks tied for third on the team in scoring. Sophomore forward Andrei Svechnikov has accumulated 40 points (17g, 23a) in 41 games, while All-Star defenseman Dougie Hamilton owns 37 points (13g, 24a) through 41 games.

That's been the Canes' big four for much of the season, but they've also gotten key contributions from newcomers like Erik Haula (11 goals in 22 games) and Ryan Dzingel (25 points in 41 games).

"I think all the guys who came in brought a good energy and good skillsets," Martinook said.

Goaltending, too, has been good. Both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have two shutouts. Reimer owns a 2.69 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage through 16 appearances, while Mrazek has won 16 of his 26 starts.

"I think they've been both good. It's nice to have two options. I feel like we have that," Brind'Amour said. "They key is keeping us in the game. … What does it come down to? Usually, it's the goaltending."

The second half of the regular season begins for the Canes on Sunday when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of the Canes' remaining 41 games, 19 will be played on the road while 22 will be played at home. Sixteen of the 41 games are divisional match-ups - including still an entire four-game season series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in March alone - while 26 of the 41 feature Eastern Conference opponents.

The second half of the regular season is sure to be even more of a battle and grind as playoff races heat up and teams fight to play past game 82. But, if the first half of the season is any indication, the Canes will hold on, ready or not; they live for the fight when it's all they've got.

"It is a prideful room," captain Jordan Staal said. "We don't like going away. We're going to fight until that horn goes."

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