Saturday’s hockey game in Raleigh is a match up of 2 snarly teams right now. The Flyers are 1-6-2 in their last 9 after a decent start and were called out by their coach recently. They had a tough battle type practice earlier in the week only lose to Washington 5-2 on Thursday. The Hurricanes enter the game with 2 losses this week including a disappointing overtime loss to Minnesota after claiming an early 2-0 lead. The coach and players interviewed after that game were irritated with the results. Both teams also enter the game struggling to score goals with the Hurricanes 28th in the NHL in goals scored per game and the Flyers right behind them at 29th.
What direction will this game go:
1) Will both teams come out fired up leading to a spirited affair with some intensity, snarl and even scoring with 2 evenly matched teams? If so, this could be an entertaining hockey game.
2) Or will it be a sluggish bottom of the NHL affair between 2 scoring-challenged teams and an ugly game below good NHL quality?
Either way, both teams could use a win right now and 1 of them will obviously get it. Here is hoping that it is the Canes!
Here is what I will be watching:
1) Who finds the right kind of fire?
Both teams should come in a bit snarly. Can 1 of them ride it to the right kind of intensity and physical play and gain the upper hand? Does 1 of them get caught up blowing off frustration and take bad penalties and/or get out of position trying to find a big hit?
2) More of the same with finish?
The Hurricanes offense has actually been pretty good in consecutive games against pretty good teams. Jeff Skinner has 4 posts but no goals in those 2 games. The Canes are winning the shot battle with nearly a 2-to-1 advantage. And unlike past Canes scoring struggles, the shot quality has been high. It is not just volume. But at the end of the day, puts pucks in the net is what wins games. Can the Hurricanes bring the same game in terms of controlling the puck and creating chances and layer on some finishing? If so, they seem due to break out for 4-5 goals.
3) Is it Jeff Skinner’s time?
Building on #2, he is on the brink of breaking out. He did score a huge goal with 3 seconds left last Saturday to get the Canes to overtime against Ottawa. In the 2 games since, he has not scratched the score sheet, but he has tallied 4 posts in addition to 12 shots on goal. As with most scorers, Skinner can be streaky. Right now, he seems like he just needs to get 1-2 to calm the hands and nerves at which point the streak ensues. Here is hoping it starts tonight. It is not the only way, but I continue to hope that Peters gives him some time with Nash and Versteeg.
4) Can the Canes be better in net?
As of writing this, I have not seen an official announcement for the Hurricanes goalie for Saturday night, but I suspect it will be Eddie Lack. The Canes were better on Thursday and lost in part because the other team’s goalie was better. As a team trying to claw its way up the standings from a low entry point coming out of 2014-15, the team needs its goalie to be a difference-maker some nights. Regardless of if is Lack or Ward, the goalie needs to at least match the 1 at the other end of the rink.
5) Wayne Simmonds
With the Flyers struggling and the Thanksgiving mark coming, the trade winds are starting to blow. As a leader and top player with a reasonable contract, I think trading Simmonds would be the equivalent of throwing out the baby with the bath water for the Flyers, but that is exactly what sometimes happens. I would take him as a Hurricane in a heart beat. He brings more of physical edge, compete and warrior-like mentality that the Canes need and fills the right wing slot where the Canes are shallow both now and in terms of prospects. He is only 27 years old and has 3 years remaining on his contract, so he would not be a short-term fix but instead a 3-year investment. That hopefully gets the Canes to the point where they can fill more forward slots from within obviously with the chance to re-up if things are going well for both player and team. This, like any trade wish, is of course and incredible long shot, but it does not hurt to dream.
Puck drops at about 7:07pm.