The Hurricanes have collected two OTL points along the way which does help, but in terms of simple Ws and Ls, the team’s streak currently sits at four Ls. Also sitting one point below the .500 mark, though it might still be small, the team has again dug itself an early hole.
Critical is to figure things out and schedule the bounce that happened in December about 3-4 weeks early before it is too late. Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe offered a few not too drastic ways to try to spark the team, but it looks like Tuesday will mostly feature the same lineup with minor line shuffling.
The hockey gods are continuing to offer up a reasonably favorable schedule though the Hurricanes inability to collect more than an OTL point against the league-worst Arizona Coyotes is a testament to the parity in the NHL and that winning generally requires playing well regardless of opponent.
Against the increasingly urgent backdrop, here is what I’m watching for Tuesday’s match up against the Florida Panthers.
‘What I’m watching for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Florida Panthers
1) Some signs of life offensively
With Saturday’s one-goal effort, the Hurricanes now sit at 27th out of 31 teams in the NHL in terms of goal scoring and are similarly 24th in power play proficiency.
Right now, the Hurricanes have a number of areas for potential improvement, but if the team is unable to find a way to score more goals, nothing else will make enough difference.
On Tuesday, I will be watching for three things offensively:
1-The power play: Does it look better in terms of at least gaining the offensive zone and playing offense?
2-A 60-minute line: Can the team find even a single line that can drive play consistently for a full 60 minutes? Oftentimes getting even one line going can make a huge difference because it can drive puck possession for the line that follows and create a carry over effect. The good part of the 2015-16 season featured Jordan Staal’s line tilting the ice into the offensive zone which did not actually generate a ton of scoring for Staal’s line but had a carry over effect to the rest of the lineup.
3-A more concerted effort to play hockey in front of the crease between the face-off circles both with and without the puck. Pretty goals are hard to score and especially for a team that lacks elite snipers, trying to score by playing ‘beat the goalie with a pretty play’ is prone to inconsistency (which is exactly what we have seen so far). Can a lineup that does not have many, if any, players whose first instinct is to crash the net still get bodies there both with and without the puck?
2) A continuation from Scott Darling
One of the few positives from the loss to the Coyotes was the play of Scott Darling. He was beaten only on a back door play on which he had no chance, and put forward a strong outing that was easily good enough to net a win. While the team in many areas is still something between a work in progress and a problem currently, a run of great play by Darling that steals a few wins even if not deserved would be incredibly well-timed. The team needs to score more than one on a nightly basis to give him a chance, but I will be watching on Tuesday to see if Scott Darling can pick up where he left off and be a positive again.
3) Searching for another hero or two to emerge
In the same vein as Scott Darling, the team could really use someone to pick the team up and put it on his back for a few games while broader improvements are made. Jeff Skinner is the leading candidate especially when offense is needed and the game is at home where Bill Peters can dictate match ups a bit, but anyone is eligible.
With the Matt Duchene deal clearly illustrating how hard it is too add top end scorers and how pricey it is, a big part of me thinks that the next leg up for the Hurricanes must come from players drafted in potentially high-end draft slots to reach that level. All of Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Teuvo Teravainen and Haydn Fleury were drafted in places where players who drive wins are often found, but thus far I would put each in the category of ‘serviceable top half of the roster NHLer’ and not much more.
Can Elias Lindholm find the compete level gear he found last winter and add another dose of scoring on top of that?
Can Noah Hanifin who looks better every game on the offensive side of the puck begin to convert that to more scoring and also round out his game defensively?
Despite only being a dozen games deep in his NHL career, could Fleury rise up fast like Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce did a few years prior and in the process help solidify a top 4 defense that is still ‘iffy’ at times?
Can Teuvo Teravainen take his magnificent every eighth game scoring outbursts and find the more often and do more on the lesser days such that he becomes more than randomly plotted depth scoring?
When I consider the current version of the 2017-18 Hurricanes, even with modest improvement cleaning up systems and combinations, it is not clear that it is good enough. Can an experienced but still young player or two take the next step to become add an every night difference-maker who drives wins to the mix? I continue to watch for signs that a player or two are ready to turn the corner.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena. The Canes desperately need a win.