After a hard-fought 1-1-1 record last week against three strong opponents, the Hurricanes kick off this week on the road against the Colorado Avalanche. The is the end of a short burst of three games in four days with two travel days and with three days off before the next game is clearly an ’empty the tank’ type of game.
The Hurricanes enter the game sitting in the first of two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference and with the potential to jump back into a tie with the Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Needless to say, every game is critically important right now.
The opponent is a Colorado Avalanche team that despite having nine fewer points than the Hurricanes is still very much in the playoff chase at only two points out of a wildcard spot. The Avs are only 2-3 in the team’s last five games and are now without Gabriel Landeskog. As such, the Avs should be a team desperate for a win much like the Canes and every other team still in playoff contention.
On the Hurricanes side, the game is mostly about bringing the right level of effort and intensity. The team has generally been doing that for more than two months now, but received a stark reminder in Friday’s 8-1 loss of what can happen if the team does not dial up the intensity level. Saturday was a solid rebound and a win, so here is hoping that Friday was just a one-game blip.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Colorado Avalanche
1) Energy level and pace early and late
As noted above, Monday’s tilt will be the Hurricanes third game in four days including two travel days. I will be watching to see if the team can quickly find the pace and intensity level out of the gate and maintain it for 60 minutes.
2) Best against best
The Colorado Avalanche are without Gabriel Landeskog but still feature two players near the top of the NHL scoring race in Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. It is that time of year when quite often games are decided by whose best players are better that night. Will it be MacKinnon and Rantanen? Or will it be Niederreiter/Aho/Williams? I will be watching to see which team’s stars can lead the way.
3) Curtis McElhinney
By no means was Friday’s 8-1 loss his fault. He did not have much for answers, but the team in front of him offered no help either. Figuring he gets the start (have not see an announcement yet), Monday would be an important rebound game for him. He is a veteran who has been stellar throughout the year, so I would expect that he just picks up where he left off before Friday. But with the way the team hung him out to dry on Friday and with the 8 goals against, I think there is a bit of reparation of trust that needs to happen early in Monday’s game if McElhinney does start. Early on, I will be watching to make sure the team in front of him is better and also that McElhinney settles in as if Friday did not happen.
4) Special teams
The power play has mostly struggled of late and seemed to be on that same path on Saturday after failing on three straight power plays including 1:36 of 5-on-3 time. But a couple of well-timed Teuvo Teravainen point shots found Canes in front for two power play goals after that which were a huge contribution to a one-goal win (not counting the empty-netter). On Monday, I will be watching to see if the couple deflection goals can help spark a power play that has mostly been stagnant of late.
The puck drops at 9pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.