As the Carolina Hurricanes' 2013-14 season bumps inconsistently along, the team's strong second periods have emerged as the only constant in a hot-and-cold stretch.
The 'Canes have outscored opponents 13-2 in the second periods of the last five games, yet they have walked away with a win in only three of those matches.
Why? The difference between victory and defeat has become blatantly clear. When the Hurricanes can contain their opponents in the opening and closing frames of the game, they win; when they lose all control for 40 of the game's 60 minutes, they lose.
Stagnant starts and sluggish finishes are now the norm.
But the Hurricanes' unstoppable mid-game explosions are keeping them in contention regardless.
The 'Canes racked up three goals in a four-minute span during the second period in Washington, the difference in an eventual 4-1 victory. Despite the game's decisive final score, the 'Canes tied the Caps 1-1 and were outshot 20-18 in the first and third periods combined.
Tuesday's match was the latest installment in a highly predictable pattern for the 'Canes. Consider their period-by-period score and shot total (in parentheses) in the chart below:
|Game||First Period||Second Period||Third Period|
|Dec. 3 vs. Capitals||1-0 (9-12)||3-0 (14-7)||0-1 (9-8)|
|Dec. 1 vs. Canucks||0-2 (4-9)||2-1 (17-10)||0-0 (10-11)|
|Nov. 29 vs. Devils||0-1 (5-14)||2-0 (8-6)||0-4 (5-11)|
|Nov. 27 vs. Devils||1-0 (12-6)||3-1 (7-7)||0-2 (3-9)|
|Nov. 24 vs. Senators||0-1 (11-12)||3-0 (14-14)||1-0 (12-10)|
|Total||2-4 (41-53)||13-2 (60-44)||1-7 (39-49)|
Although likely far from ideal from Kirk Muller's viewpoint, the Hurricanes' predictable nightly roller coaster has still earned six of a possible 10 points during the time span (a 123-point pace over 82 games).
That surprisingly successful output, however, may not hold up as well in Carolina's next stretch of six games.
How many wins will the 'Canes earn during stretch against Western opponents?
The 'Canes will play six consecutive Western Conference opponents—five on the road in non-Eastern time zones—over the next 10 days.
It's not a particularly tough run of games, in terms of opponent caliber: Phoenix, Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Edmonton all rank eighth or worse in the West at the moment (San Jose being the only exception).
Nonetheless, the 'Canes may finally meet their match in terms of second-period dominance. Five of the six teams rank in the upper half of the NHL in middle-frame scoring. Consider the Hurricanes' and their next half-dozen opponents' goal differential in the second period versus the first and third periods:
|Team||2nd Period Goal Differential||1st/3rd Periods Goal Differential|
|San Jose Sharks||+6||+28|
Simply put, Carolina's reliance on quick outbursts during the game's midpoint lag may well lose its viability.
Quick starts, both to quell hostile road crowds and also to keep the 'Canes close on the scoreboard, will become a necessity. Clutch finishes, a concept much lacking through the club's first 28 games, will also become crucial.
The Hurricanes' lengthy road trip through the corners of North America will only conclude as a success if the 'Canes can put forth stronger 60-minute efforts on a reliable basis.