Today’s match up between the Carolina Hurricanes and Winnipeg Jets brings with it multiple themes related to the Hurricanes pushing up from the bottom of the Eastern Conference and deeper into the 2016-17 season without it ending prematurely.
* The game is the fifth and final game of a 5-game home stand. With a win, the Canes will push to a solid 4-1 and will have made up ground in the standings. With a loss, 3-2 is not a disaster but really is not a positive either for a stretch of home game.
* A win would also push the Hurricanes up above the .500 mark at 7-6-4. It would be the first time the team has been above .500 this season.
* The Hurricanes enter with a big 3-game winning streak and looking to run that to 4 before hitting the road for Thanksgiving week.
* The game also marks a chance to right the ship for Sunday home games. Thus far in 2 tries, the Canes have a disappointing loss to the Flyers that was back in the time frame of being unable to protect leads. The team also has a lackluster effort and loss to New Jersey by a 4-1 margin. Getting going on Sunday is significant. Both of the next 2 home games are also on Sunday.
* Most signficantly, a win would pull the Hurricanes to within 3 points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That situation is not ideal, but it is much better than what the team was looking at before the home run started.
On the ice, the game offers the only chance to see rookie scoring phenom Patrik Laine who leads the entire NHL with 12 goals (tied with Sidney Crosby). He is gradually building a claim to being the best pure goal scorer to enter the NHL since Alexander Ovechkin.
‘What I’m watching’ for Carolina Hurricanes vs. Winnipeg Jets
‘What I’m watching’ is heavy on a continuation of what the team has done well during its current 3-game winning streak.
1) The big 5 against Patrik Laine
At home, Coach Bill Peters has taken to trying to play Aho/Staal/Teravainen with Slavin/Pesce for as many minutes as possible against the other teams’ best scoring lines. Assuming the lines are put back together after some shuffling late in the game on Friday, I would expect Peters to lean heavily on this set of 5 to hopefully stop or at least slow Laine and his line. Laine and his line mates Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers have accounted for almost 50 percent of the Jets’ goals, so holding this line in check goes a long way toward beating Winnipeg.
2) Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn
I thought their game was a mixed bag on Friday. I also suggest reading the comments which offers a different viewpoint on their play. For me, I described their play as a tale of 2 zones. They were good when they had the puck in the offensive zone and generated a couple really good tip chances in the first period. But they also had some really tough shifts when they were hemmed in their own end and playing under pressure for most of the shift. With a road trip following today’s game, tonight would be a great game for McGinn/Ryan/Stempniak (or possibly another right wing) to get onto the scoreboard and also be a bit better winning the puck and getting it out of their own end.
3) Continued sound play
For me, the biggest story line of the win over Montreal was the Hurricanes ability to be outplayed and under duress but survive. Only about 3 weeks ago, any amount of pressure seemed to cause an immediate collapse. The Hurricanes game was plagued by far too many bad mistakes that quickly led to goals against. But more recently, the Canes have solidified play in their own end and avoided bad turnovers. That improved play is the path to being in hockey games when things are going particularly well (Montreal win) and making sure that overall good efforts are not given away (San Jose win).
As I said in my previous game preview, I will continue to list goaltending in my watch list more out of superstition than because it has been a concern. Cam Ward is playing well right now and giving his team a chance to win on an every game basis right now.
The puck drops a little bit after 5pm at PNC Arena.