In terms of strength of schedule, December was one of the toughest months of the year for the Hurricanes. Now that they’ve posted a 5-4-3 record heading into the month’s final game against Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, coach Paul Maurice is looking to make a run in a lighter January.
“Now we’ve got to make hay,” he said. “Now we’ve got to go. We know the numbers that we’re going to have to reach, but now is the time. We can stick around .500 or a little above .500 against some of the best teams in the league if we want to use that, but now we’ve got to go.”
Including the upcoming Atlanta game, nine of the team’s 13 games in December are against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today – more than in any other month. In addition to those nine, one of the games against a “non-playoff team,” a trip to Minnesota to end a travel-heavy road trip, wasn’t exactly a pushover.
Now they’ll enter January, where only five of their 13 games are against teams currently on pace to make the postseason. That’s the lowest of any month with more than five regular season games on the schedule.
It even goes deeper than that. In today’s no-tie NHL where win/loss records and point totals are inflated across the league, only seven teams are under .500. The Hurricanes play seven games against those teams in January.
With the calendar setting up favorably in the first part of 2009, Maurice feels like the team played well enough through arguably the toughest part of their schedule to move up in the standings going forward.
“In the last two or three weeks we’ve got three regulation losses, and that’s two against Boston and one in Minnesota at the end of a tough trip,” said Maurice. “I would suggest that we’re playing reasonably well.”