Coming off a fantastic 2018-19 season that saw the Hurricanes mount a three-month push to climb up into the playoffs and then better that with two series wins in the playoffs, expectations are as high as they have been in a decade for the Carolina Hurricanes. Anything short of the playoffs will be a disappointment.
But with the pressure comes a team that is young and rising. The youthfulness of the roster has the potential to meet and exceed higher expectations.
The season starts Thursday night in Raleigh.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Montreal Canadiens
1) The forecheck
The ignition that made the Hurricanes offense go in 2018-19 was its forecheck. The absolutely dominated teams in the preseason and had a decent carry over into the regular season. The team’s ability to overwhelm teams with attacking pressure helped spread a decent number of scoring chances throughout the lineup, boost depth scoring and help a team that was maybe light on sheer offensive skill score at a decent clip. The Hurricanes started preseason strong with two dominant efforts against Tampa Bay, but were ‘meh’ in the remaining four games, seemingly not able to find the ignition switch. Given how critical the forecheck is to the team’s style of play, I will be watching closely to see if they can dial it up for the start of the regular season.
2) The line combinations and their effectiveness
In his rookie season as head coach, Rod Brind’Amour tinkered quite a it in preseason but was very patient with line combinations in the regular season. With three new players in the lineup and some random combinations in practice recently, I will be watching to see where Brind’Amour lands for line combinations, how they look and if he sticks with them.
3) The power play
Behind only the rising youth, the power play represents the greatest opportunity to boost the offense. Jake Gardiner is front in center finally adding a puck-distributing point man to the mix. Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas also add new options. With Gardiner injured and preseason a bit disjointed lineup-wise, I did not really get much of read on the power play. With real games here, it will be something to watch out of the gate.
4) Petr Mrazek
Some might forget that Mrazek actually started slowly in 2018-19 and emerged more at the midway point of the season. But he exited the 2018-19 season with momentum. Out of the gate, I will be watching to see if he looks sharp and ready to pick up where he left off last spring.
2019-20 Canes hockey is here! The puck drops at PNC Arena at 7:07pm.