With the divisional schedule format for the 2020-21 NHL season, the true West Coast road trip with TV start times of 10pm or later will not occur. That being the case, Thursday’s 8:30pm start in Dallas is the closest Canes fans will see to the traditional ‘Canes After Dark’ late starts.
Also resulting from the unique schedule is scheduling that sees teams match up in bunches in a short period of time. Thursday’s game is only 11 days removed from the two-game set in Raleigh barely over a week ago. It will be interesting to see if the frequency and familiarity results in more coaching adjustments than one normally sees over the course of a normal season that usually moves quickly from one team to the next.
Most significantly Vincent Trocheck is expected to return after missing a game after being dinged up. Martin Necas did travel with the team but is not expected to play. The lines seem to feature a new random mix. Despite producing on the top line Brock McGinn moves as does Andrei Svechnikov. Perhaps with the aim of helping him finally launch into the 2020-21 season, Teuvo Teravainen is reunited with Sebastian Aho with Jordan Martinook on the other wing. On the blue line, Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton seem destined to be reunited after Slavin spent some time back with Brett Pesce.
The Stars pair of losses (one in a shootout) a week back seemed to bring the Stars back to Earth. Since that weekend, the team has treaded water with a 1-1-2 mark. One would figure the Stars will bring a bit of extra motivation with the two losses to the Canes fresh in their memory.
Against that backdrop my watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Dallas Stars
1) The new combinations
With Necas still out of the lineup and Brind’Amour maybe trying to get a few players/lines going, the new set of lines look at bit random. Likely with the aim of getting Teravainen going after a slow start and COVID interruption, he is back with Aho. And maybe with the aim of finding a combination that can generate even more offense from depth forwards, Martinook rounds out that trio. Also, after a couple better games, Dougie Hamilton is back with Slavin seemingly trying to relaunch that first pairing that was incredibly good in 2019-20 into the 2020-21 season. Regardless of Brind’Amour’s reasoning, I will be watching closely to see how the new line combinations work with an extra focus on Teravainen.
2) James Reimer
After a solid win with minimal work in relief of Petr Mrazek against the same Dallas Stars nearly two weeks ago, James Reimer has been up and down since. He has continued his winning ways but has seen the puck find the net behind him quite a bit. In at least one game the Canes defense was questionable, but he has also been tagged for three-plus goals in a couple other games where he faced a modest test in terms of quantity and quality of chances. Wither Mrazek out for awhile and Nedeljkovic trying to work his way into the mix after a LONG layoff, Reimer’s play is critical to the Canes’ success right now. After a run of games and then a game off on Monday, I will be watching to see if Reimer can find a higher gear on Thursday.
3) Continued depth scoring
One of the positive trends of late and important factor in being able to win high scoring affairs has been a surge in scoring from the Hurricanes middle-6ish forwards. Nino Niederreiter, Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele have been finishing from the wing. Jordan Staal is playing probably the best offensive hockey of his Hurricanes tenure. Vincent Trocheck is tied for second on the team in scoring (with the aforementioned Staal and also Sebastian Aho). With players moving around the lineup a bit for Thursday, I will be watching to see if the surge in scoring depth continues.
The puck drop at 8:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with Tripp, Mike, Abby and Shane.