UPDATES ADDED IN ITALICS AT 3PM ET UPON SEEING COMBINATIONS FROM PRACTICE AND THE FACT THAT CAM WARD IS STARTING PER MICHAEL SMITH FROM CAROLINAHURRICANES.COM ON TWITTER.
After a 4-4-2 October, the Hurricanes sit firmly on the fence in terms of where they sit in the standings and also any assessment of their play thus far. The simple positive is that the team is off to its best start in recent memory and has yet to dig itself into a hole. The simple negative is that a .500 winning percentage is not playoff pace.
As I noted in today’s Daily Cup of Joe, the team basically goes on the road for the entirety of the three plus weeks between the winter holidays which makes November critical for sorting things out and building some cushion.
Against that backdrop, the Hurricanes kick off their slate of 13 games in November with a match up against the Colorado Avalanche who are a very respectable 6-5 thus far during the 2017-18 season.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Colorado Avalanche
1) The blue line and how Peters and Smith manage it
For anyone who has been away from Canes hockey this week, the big news is that Brett Pesce took a puck to the head in practice on Tuesday, has been diagnosed with a concussion and will miss at least two games. (He did not travel with the team for the two-game road trip.)
That obviously creates a sizable hole on a blue line that was very much a work in progress even with Pesce in the lineup.
The team recalled Roland McKeown from the AHL which creates more options. Check in with Michael Smith at CarolinaHurricanes.com mid-afternoon to see who is expected to get the start in Colorado between Klas Dahlbeck and Roland McKeown.
Regardless, I will be watching closely to see how Peters builds the defense pairings and how they fare minus Brett Pesce. With three days off prior to Thursday and only one game in four days following Thursday, I expect Peters to lean on his top 5 as heavily as necessary to win a hockey game.
On seeing Slavin/van Riemsdyk, Fleury/Faulk and Hanifin/Dahlbeck as the defense pairings in practice: The blue line minus Pesce easily made the watch list anyway, but these pairings offer a bit more even. If van Riemsdyk can dial up his game and/or Slavin can boost him up, Peters at least gets back to having one solid pairing that he can trust which is really all he had before Pesce’s injury. Fleury is especially worth watching. I thought he struggled mightily trying to play up into the top 4 in the third period on Sunday. The positive angle is that he has generally looked capable in a third pairing role. Here is hoping that he is ready for the next level of challenge. Finally, via an injury and various struggles, the team is somehow right back to where it was last year with Hanifin/Dahlbeck and Dahlbeck on his off side. This ended badly (regularly) last season. Here is hoping for better in v2.0.
If other stuff does not work, I figure Slavin for 27+ minutes tonight basically playing every third shift with extras anytime there is a TV timeout or period start that makes it possible to come back to him sooner.
2) Scott Darling
He is coming off a winnable game that instead turned into a shootout loss when he started slow and was beaten five hole late while trying to protect a 3-2 lead. Now 10 games into the 2017-18 season, Darling is still trying to find a rhythm and a higher gear. he has not been horrible, but he has not been a positive eiteher. Because of that, I will be watching to see how he plays Thursday as we flip the calendar into the second month of the 2017-18 season.
On learning that Ward will get the start: I generally like the move. I figured him to start on Saturday in Arizona but without going conspiracy theory am fine with him starting on Thursday instead. The fact of the matter is that he has been the better goalie thus far. And in a wild game against Edmonton, Ward was a calming force in a game when his team did not show up defensively. Minus Pesce tonight, a bit of calm will be welcome as the blue line tries to adjust. In addition, the target split is roughly 55/25 which means Ward should play roughly one out of every three games. The best way to achieve that is to get Ward a few extra starts when he is playing well and/or Darling is not. That is the case right now.
3) A friendly formula?
The Hurricanes have fared incredibly well in contests when the opposing team has been willing to open things up and play a fast-paced game up and down the middle of the rink. Colorado is another team that can be willing to play this style of hockey, so I will be watching to see if the game opens up and also to see if the trend of the Hurricanes being the better team in games like this continues.
This and hopefully some Cam Ward calm could be the saving grace. Here is hoping for a torrid pace aimed at a 5-4 outcome. The Hurricanes have performed well in this type of game and would be happy to play it tonight.
What say you Caniacs?
Will the good guys start November on the right foot?
Minus Brett Pesce, how heavily will Peters lean on his top defensemen?
What are you watching?
The puck drops at about 9pm local time on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.