The NHL All-Star break is now behind us, and as the Canes wrap up their bye week, the second half (well, not actually half, but… work with me here) gets underway this Friday. As of January 29, Carolina sits four points out of the postseason.

These final 32 games will either get the good guys into the playoffs, or have them golfing early… again. Let’s take a look at how the schedule looks down the stretch.

Opponent Quality

Of the 32 games left on the schedule, 13 are against teams currently (as of 1/29) outside the playoff bubble. Sadly, that means 19 are against teams with more points than the Canes. On the other hand, this club seems to turn in more clunkers against crappy teams (hi, Ottawa) than they do against good teams (take that beating and like it, Nashville).

In addition to playoff teams, Carolina has two games remaining against Buffalo, who is currently ahead of the Canes in the wild card race.

Division Foes

Over the next eight weeks, Carolina will play 11 games against Metro division opponents. That’s a LOT of potentially *pivotal* contests, especially considering that no team is running away with the division the way Tampa is doing in the Atlantic. Here’s the breakdown of divisional matchups:

NYI: No games (whew)

WAS: 2 games (1 home, 1 away)

CBJ: 1 game (away)

PIT: 3 games (1 home, 2 away)

NYR: 2 games (1 home, 1 away)

PHI: 1 game (home)

NJD: 2 games (1 home, 1 away)

Game Location

The Carolina Hurricanes have 15 of their final 32 games on the road this year, including a five-game road trip. That roadie will see them tour the northeast as they take on Pittsburgh, Buffalo, the Rangers, New Jersey, and finally Ottawa. Beyond that, there’s a three-game road trip in March, but nothing too daunting travel-wise.

Of their 17 home games, the longest run of games in the PNC Arena is a five-game stretch in mid-March where the Hurricanes will host Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Montreal. On a positive note, four home games are Friday night battles, where the Canes are 4-1-2 to this point. Yes, I’m digging for stats wherever I can find them.

Thru the end of January, Carolina has a 13-8-4 home record and is just shy of NHL-500 (insert vomiting noise) on the road with a record of 11-12-2.

Timing

Perhaps the most important aspect in all of this is when the games happen. By that, I mean the looking trade deadline which will most certainly have an impact on how this roster looks after February 25. Between now and then, Carolina plays twelve games, which is a heck of a lot in just 24 days.

The team’s record in the next dozen tilts will certainly have an impact on potential deals, and whether they buy, sell, or a mixture of both, will have a lot to do with their record in March.

What does it all mean?

You’re never going to believe that a future-looking question about the Carolina Hurricanes is met with a “well, I really don’t know what to say” but that’s what I’m saying. Yes, the schedule is challenging, but somehow the Canes play up (or down) to their competition more often than not. Yes, more games are at home where the Canes have a winning record. However, there are nine road games against playoff teams.

Just looking at all of the above and considering the Canes don’t currently have games in hand working in their favor, the road to the playoffs is going to be a challenge. This upcoming five-game road swing against Eastern Conference opponents will be telling, and I believe will seal this team’s fate one way or the other. Please be the good way.