The Carolina Hurricanes have faced a few high power offenses recently with some success. Last Thursday, a ‘retreat to the crease’, buttoned-down style of play kept the Islanders in check and set the stage for a strong third period to force overtime and ultimately win a hockey game in overtime. Sunday saw the Canes fail to reproduce that effort playing a looser game and losing in the process to the Lightning.
Right now, the Dallas Stars who are Friday’s opponent are straight from the offensively-skilled mold but are arguably playing better than either of the 2 previous opponents. The Stars come in with an impressive 10-3 record riding the power of an offense that is third overall in scoring and second overall in power play proficiency.
The most interesting thing to be resolved in advance of the puck drop is how Canes coach Bill Peters will play his cards in terms of goalie and somewhat related in terms of game plan. Last week, Peters went against conventional wisdom and started backup Eddie Lack in the first of a back-to-back against the stronger of 2 teams offensively. What made the move even more eyebrow-raising was the fact that Lack came into the weekend on the heels of a real rough previous outing. But the Canes played a ‘defend the front of the net with 5’ style of play to help defensively and especially with clearing rebounds, and after back-to-back wins Peters looked brilliant.
Per report from the team at the morning skate on Friday midday, Peters will in fact try to replicate last week’s formula. It will face a big test against the high-powered Stars.
Against that backdrop, here is what I will be watching before and during Friday night’s match up against the Dallas Stars:
1) Does Coach Bill Peters try to replicate the success against the Islanders?
Per the comments above, Lack is arguably the strong first shot goalie of the Canes tandem but has struggled so far with rebounds.
I think the logic goes like this:
- Eddie Lack is actually the better ‘first save’ goalie. If you count the leaky stuff as rebounds, he has actually given up very little in terms of just flat getting beat by shots.
- Then on top of that, the Isles win featured the Canes playing ‘5 to the crease’ defense that cleared rebounds and kept shots to the outside as much as possible such that the goalie had a chance on the first save.
- That kept the game tighter than is maybe comfortable for the scoring machine type offense, and the Canes were physically better and stronger late and stole points at the end of the game.
It makes sense to try to repeat the formula, but the risk is that the Stars jump out early, the Canes are forced to open things up to try to come back and the flood gates open like in the San Jose loss. But when you are playing a hot team with a ton of offense, you have to try something and this worked recently.
2) Do the kids on the blue line rebound?
Brett Pesce was not horrible in Sunday’s loss to the Lightning, but it was the least of his 5 NHL games thus far, and he did play a role in the Canes defense being looser than in recent wins. With the adrenaline from making the show wearing off, can Brett Pesce rebound a bit from Sunday against a challenging opponent and log another safe, sound and ahead of schedule outing in the top 4?
Noah Hanifin also had a tough time on Sunday. He was in the penalty box for 1 Lightning goal and failed to close on a single man rush to prevent the backhander that beat Cam Ward on another goal and had a couple other challenging moments. All NHL defensemen have tough nights (even Justin Faulk has 1 this year). The key is to rebound quickly. Especially for inexperienced players, it is also important to bounce back and not take a hit in terms of confidence and rhythm.
3) Do we get a best against best showdown?
Dallas’ top line of Jamie Been, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza is 1 of the best in the NHL right now. The trio has 52 scoring points which is 4 points better than all of the Hurricanes forwards combined. Canes Coach Bill Peters gets last change on home ice. Eric and Jordan Staal have been playing together some the past couple games. Does Peters put out a monumental challenge to Eric and Jordan Staal (probably with Kris Versteeg) to go beat the best in hockey tonight? If nothing else, it makes for drama that puts me on the edge of my seat.
4) Was progress made on the power play?
The Hurricanes had 4 days to reset mentally and restructure systematically with a power play that was languishing. The unit did have a goal recently, but it was a single blast through a screen that camouflaged a struggle otherwise to even get the puck into and under control in the offensive zone. Here is hoping practice make perfect or least better. Best would be to play 5-on-5 and save that test run for a different night against a different team, but then the referees sometimes have something to say about that.
With only 2 games this week, a win against a very good Dallas Stars team would be huge. It guarantees no worse than a 50/50 week and makes Saturday’s game a chance to climb back to .500 at 7-7.