Thus far, the engine for the Hurricanes early 5-3-1 success has been the team’s aggressive, puck-hounding style of play in all three zones. Brind’Amour hockey as I call it just attacks and to some degree dares teams to try to beat them two or three times to get behind the barrage, through the neutral zone and into a situation where they finally have numbers. Thus far, good teams like Winnipeg and Tampa Bay have had some success but no one has truly dismantled it yet.
But if I was going to draw up a template for a team likely to exploit the Hurricanes forward-leaning forecheck, San Jose would probably be the model. The Sharks have experienced and talented defensemen on the back end who will not wither under pressure. And they similar have forwards who can capitalize if given the chance off the rush.
As such, I see San Jose as an incredibly interesting match up. If the Sharks do dismantle the Hurricane forecheck and forward-leaning neutral zone play, I will mostly just shrug, as I consider the team a unique case. If on the other hand, the Hurricanes style of play holds up well against the Sharks, that would be a strong indication that on a good day no one is immune to wrath that Brind’Amour hockey can bring on a good day.
Aside from the interesting match up, the game is more simply another important shot at two points. The Hurricanes cut a losing streak fairly short at three games and will look to get off on the right foot in the first of three game at home.
Against that back drop, my watch points are:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the San Jose Sharks
1) An epic battle?
As noted above, the most intriguing thing about Friday’s game is seeing how effective the Hurricanes style is against a team with defensemen who can move the puck. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are averaging a combined 73 minutes of ice time. That means the Hurricanes forecheck will regularly see the puck on stick of a solid veteran defenseman. Who wins? I will be watching Friday to see how this intriguing match up plays out.
2) Continuation on special teams
The Hurricanes finally broke out for two goals on the power play and also had a perfect night on the penalty kill in Monday’s win. The power play-led win was a reversal of course that has seen the team give away points due to special teams deficits. Best would be to just play the game 5-on-5 which has been the Hurricanes strength this year, but if/when special teams opportunities do arise, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can at least match a talented Sharks team.
3) Nicolas Roy
If he starts as expected, Nicolas Roy will be the third player to center the line originally centered by Martin Necas. The wings playing on this line have scored exactly zero goals through nine games. The baseline for Roy is to at least be sound and not overmatched defensively as Clark Bishop was, but the path to keeping this slot would be coupling defensive stability with some semblance of offense/playmaking. Roy is interesting in that regard. He is not a pure playmaker nor would I project him to be a top 6 scorer (would be thrilled to be proven wrong). But his all-around game is mature for his age and experience level and he does have a decent tool bag of skills that at least theoretically could boost the line offensively if he clicks with his line mates. So on Friday I will be watching to see if Roy can first be steady defensively but then also to see if he can provide a spark offensively.
4) A continued surge from Teravainen/Aho/Ferland
Sebastian Aho is now nine games deep into the 2018-19 season with a point streak and 14 points overall. Needless to say, he is playing well. Micheal Ferland has goals in four straight games and early on looks to be a perfect power forward complement and finisher to go with what Aho and Teravainen did last season. The Ferland/Aho/Teravainen line is already doing the heavy lifting offensively and could even have more to give if Teravainen can find a higher gear. Indications from the past couple games is that he is starting to overthink things a bit passing on too many pretty good shots to make low percentage passes hoping for more. But regardless of Teravainen, I will be watching to see if Aho’s line can continue at its current blistering pace against a good team on Friday.
5) Scott Darling (maybe)
As I write this on Thursday night, it is not yet known who the Canes starter will be on Friday. Darling who played well in a 3-1 win with the Checkers on Wednesday figures to start either Friday or Sunday. I had goaltending as my top potential upside in my Daily Cup of Joe on Thursday. Scott Darling represents the biggest wild card with the highest ceiling in terms of realizing goalie upside, so he is a key watch point when he next takes to the ice in a game at PNC Arena.
UPDATED ON FRIDAY: Petr Mrazek will start on Friday (reported by the team on Twitter) which likely means Scott Darling on Sunday. So bank this one for Sunday’s game preview.
The puck drops at about 7:37pm at PNC Arena.