There is no such thing as a ‘must win’ game in early November, but whatever the highest level of legitimate urgency is for the time period definitely applies to the Hurricanes game on Saturday in Arizona.
The Hurricanes enter the game with a three-game losing streak and are below .500 for the first time on the young season. The team is now tracking only a single point above their 2016-17 pace which was not good enough.
The schedule offers a favorable match up against the Arizona Coyotes who are the league’s worst team right now with an abysmal 1-12-1 mark. On the one hand, that is favorable. On the other hand, it might actually increase the pressure to win and make failure to do so even more negative.
Against that backdrop and early season drama and adversity, here is ‘what I’m watching’ for Saturday’s match up…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Arizona Coyotes
1) Leadership, determination and a snarly demeanor
Above all else, after three straight losses, I want to see a noticeable edge to the Hurricanes’ game. The ‘we just need to stick with it’ approach is not good enough. Instead, the team needs to find a high level of desperation at this early juncture of the season before things become truly desperate.
2) Trying to keep the good from Thursday
Thursday’s 5-3 loss did include a couple things worth keeping. First, the team started on time scoring-wise, busting out to an early lead. Second, the Hurricanes dominated in terms of puck possession and shot metrics. Both of those are part of a good winning formula and can hopefully be repeated.
3) Correcting the problems from Thursday
If I had to pick only three negatives from Thursday’s loss to be remedied, I would first select the batch of bad breakdowns that yielded a brief but catastrophic stretch in the second period. Then I would follow that up by seeking better goaltending and more of a hunger to get bodies to the crease area instead of settling for a perimeter game.
4) Scott Darling
If he has a couple of stretches of 2017-18 hockey in him when he carries the team, I would surely spend one of them starting on Saturday. The team needs to find a few wins to buy get their feet under them and buy some time to build a better version of hockey. I thought Darling lost a winnable game in his last start on Sunday, so I will be watching closely to see if he can rebound and find a higher gear when the team desperately needs it.
5) More hunger to score ugly goals
The biggest negative on the massive volume of shots in Thursday’s loss was how readily the Hurricanes settling for ‘try to beat the hot goalie from well out.’ Once Varlamov settled in he was really good and going to stop everything that he saw. The Hurricanes failed to make things difficult on him with screens and traffic. I would expect this to be a point of emphasis on the day off, so I will be watching Saturday to see if the Hurricanes can muster more desire to fight for ice in front of the net.
6) Another try at the defense and a new face
The Hurricanes defense actually played fairly well for stretches of Thursday’s game but seemed to implode in a chain reaction of miscues in the second period. The game ended with Noah Hanifin back in the third pairing and really no one (even Jaccob Slavin) having a great night. Saturday will see the debut of Roland McKeown (per article on CarolinaHurricanes.com). Anything seems worth a try right now, but my training camp read on McKeown is that he could struggle to match NHL pace and keep tight enough gaps defending off the rush. More significant than McKeown is the need for the experienced part of the blue line to rebound. With two days off before the next game and the team desperately needing a win, I would expect Peters to empty the tank for his top defenders and anyone else who plays well on Saturday.
The puck drops at 9pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike. If nothing else, we get a high level of drama for such an early point in the season.