Coming off a big win against struggling Nashville on Saturday, the Hurricanes look to claim their first winning week of the season. The Hurricanes enter Sunday’s game against New Jersey with a 1-0-1 record and also within 1 game of clawing back to .500 on the season. It is still early but not that early now about 1/8 of the way through the season.
With a win, the Hurricanes get back to the ‘treading water’ level at 4-4-3 and climb back to within a point or 2 of a playoff spot if you adjust for games played. With a loss, the Hurricanes have a ‘meh’ 1-1-1 week and are right back at 3-5-3 and looking up from the very bottom of Metropolitan Division with ground to make up. This is the type of game that flips the dial from ‘positive momentum’ to ‘still struggling’ in the span of 2 1/2 hours.
Sunday’s game is what I call a ‘fair back-to-back’ in the sense that both teams played and traveled the night before. These match ups can be sluggish grinding affairs between 2 teams trying to find their skating legs which might favor New Jersey who is happy playing a buttoned down, grind out affair in which they bet that their goalie is better than yours in a tight game.
The game is also the Hurricanes #HockeyFightsCancer night which is always an emotional night at the rink.
Here is ‘what I’m watching for Sunday’s game against the New Jersey Devils
1) The goaltending
This one actual has 2 elements for Sunday. First is simply who will play. Logically, the original plan would have been to get Eddie Lack back into the mix with the back-to-back and travel. That still seems like a reasonable plan. But the other side of the coin is that Ward has played well in 2 in a row and 3 of 4, and the Hurricanes really need a win. Might Coach Bill Peters deviate from plan A and go with Ward?
Regardless of who plays, the goalie position continues to be something to watch closely on a nightly basis. As noted above, Cam Ward has been climbing his way into the 2016-17 after a slow start. I give him credit for at least ‘good enough’ last Friday against the Rangers, this Tuesday against the Senators and yesterday against the Predators. He had a tougher night in Sunday’s loss to the Flyers, but 2 in a row and 3 out of 4 is still progress. If he plays, can he keep building? Lack has not seen game action in 2 weeks, so the watch point for him would simply be if he can come in and play at a high level without the need to shake off rust.
The Hurricanes will not hold a morning skate today with the back-to-back with travel, so we might not learn who will be starting in net until close to game time.
2) Hopefully sound hockey
New Jersey is more than happy to pounce on a couple mistakes and ride solid defense and a great goalie to a 2-1 lead. The Hurricanes are coming off an abysmal first period on Saturday that was exactly what they cannot afford to do on Sunday. Will the good version of Jekyl and Hyde show up in terms of the Canes ability to avoid horrible turnovers and defensive breakdowns. This game will be really hard if the Hurricanes spot the Devils the offense that they need to play the type of game they are comfortable with.
3) Jordan Staal , Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner
The second half of a back-to-back can often be a sluggish grinding affair. That fits well with the Hurricanes leaders playing a strong, ‘big boy hockey’ kind of game. Can Jordan Staal find his skating legs and tilt the ice into the offensive zone for his shifts and also the shifts that follow his? And can Justin Faulk play the assertive and crisp style of hockey that he played against the Rangers last Friday on home ice? Jeff Skinner continues to be the Hurricanes best player. With Peters dictating match ups on home ice and maybe some tired legs, can Jeff Skinner find a burst here and there and provide needed scoring against a team that is pretty solid defensively? The team has clawed its way to the edge of being back at break even and really needs a win on Sunday night. Can the team’s leadership deliver it?
The puck drops at 6pm at PNC Arena.