Exiting October, the Carolina Hurricanes had won 3 straight and finished a long 7-game road trip at a solid 4-3. With a home-heavy November schedule up next, the ball was on the tee for the Canes to reel off some wins and claw their way into the 2015-16 season. That project has been slow so far. The Canes started November by losing 2 home games and have split a home and a road game since for a lackluster 1-3 start to the month.
Now sitting at 6-9, I think the next stretch of 5 straight home games could prove critical for the season. It will also end just in time for GM Ron Francis to do his 20-game assessment and figure out where he goes from there.
But history and future aside, the first step is the single hockey game at PNC Arena tonight against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild are a solid 9-3-2 on the season and enter with a 2-game winning streak and 4-1-1 record in their last 6. The team is without captain Zach Parise.
Here is ‘what I’m watching’ for tonight’s match up:
1) Continuation of Tuesday’s 5-on-5 game with more finish
Lost in the fact that the Canes were shut out by the Rangers on Tuesday was the fact that the Canes actually had a decent number of high-quality scoring chances. It was not the common routine of firing a bunch of low-percentage shots hoping 1-2 go in. The effort included a good number of point blank shots, and the Canes registered 3 posts and also a lucky Lundqvist save that saw him more or less beaten over his shoulder only to have the shot deflect off the top of the knob of his stick.
2) Signs of life from the power play
For as much as one can live with the Canes 5-on-5 effort on Tuesday, the power play was another story. In going 0 for 6, the Canes missed on multiple opportunities that could have helped them get into the Rangers game. 4 days of practice last week did not seem to help much, so it is not clear how to shock the power play to life, but now would be a good time.
3) A scoring outburst
In a season where goals have been elusive, the Canes could really use even a single line to start firing on all cylinders such that they score but also drive possession and momentum. The reunited Skinner/Nash/Versteeg line generated a surge in Jeff Skinner shots and even 2 posts, so just maybe that line is ready to bust out. Eric Staal continues to play pretty good hockey, but other than the ‘welcome to the NHL’ outburst for Brock McGinn’s debut, it has yielded only modest scoring output for him and his line mates. I guess part of it is also seeing where Coach Bill Peters stands for line combinations at today’s morning skate.
4) A sense of urgency
I recognize that the experts have the Canes fighting for a lottery spot not a playoff spot, but I refuse to give up an entire season before it is time. I also realize that we have not even reached Thanksgiving yet, but for a team trying to make a huge improvement from the previous season, you need to start early. Can the Hurricanes find the right kind of desperation and urgency to grind out some wins at home and get to December still playing for 2015-16? That is the kind of mentality that I will be looking for over the coming home stand.