After finishing October strong and heading into a favorable November scheduled, the Hurricanes are now 1-2 in the new month. With the goal of quickly reversing course and charting a path to a positive November, the team next has three straight against teams below them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Up first is a home tilt against a New Rangers team that has a weird mix of veteran leadership and up and coming youth. The offense is led by newcomer Artemi Panarin and the defense by goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but the lineup also features 18-year old Kaapo Kakko and former Canes prospect Adam Fox. The Rangers enter at a respectable 6-6-1 and having won three out of their last four games, so anyone who chalks this up as an easy win is mistaken.
The Hurricanes enter the game with an 0-4 mark against teams below them in the Metropolitan Division. Thursday would be a great time to start helping some of the lower teams in the division find a path out of the playoff chase.
But more significant than the match up is the state of a Canes team that has won at a playoff pace thus far through 15 games but is only 4-5-1 since a 5-0 start and seems to be struggling to find an identity and repeatable formula right now.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) Cleaning up the messes
What stands out to me most from the team’s recent struggles and in general with the lower points during the season is the lack of attention to detail defensively. The video on the Canes right now shows a team that is very aggressive with its defensemen such that transitioning the puck quickly to center ice on turnovers has a pretty decent chance of catching the Canes one short on defense. The result in Tuesday’s loss and in other games has been odd man rushes in bunches. Couple that with intermittent issues defending specific players instead of general areas in the defensive zone and the result has been porous defensive play at times. In this regard, I am watching two things. First, can the players be a bit better with decision-making and sorting things out. Second, will the coaching staff make some adjustments to eliminate the weak underbelly of the attacking defensemen style of play.
2) Leaders leading
Adversity is maybe a bit of a strong word for a team that is in playoff position and only 15 games into the season, but I do think the Hurricanes are at that edge of needing a win. Arguably the single biggest factor in the Canes surge to the playoffs last winter was its ability to avoid losing streaks altogether. With two consecutive losses against lower teams in the Metropolitan Division, I do think Thursday’s game has a bit of extra urgency. This is the type of game where one would hope for the team’s best players to lead. This is a game made for players like Jordan Staal, Jaccob Slavin, Sebastian Aho and Brett Pesce to dial up the intensity and with it help the team find a higher level of determination that nets a win whether or not the bounces go their way. Who steps up when the team needs a win?
3) Eetu Luostarinen
With Erik Haula still out with a lower body injury, the Hurricanes recalled 21-year old center Eetu Luostarinen who is expected to make his NHL debut tonight. History would suggest that Brind’Amour will be cautious with his ice time if the game is close, but at the same time I think the reason that Luostarinen was the choice was because of his two-way acumen. So I will be watching first to see how Brind’Amour uses Luostarinen, second to see if Luostarinen can play the type of game that builds confidence and wins more ice time and third to see if he can use that ice time to make an impression.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.