Thursday’s match up between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres pairs two teams in somewhat similar situations. Both teams started red hot and were atop the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams have also stumbled of late and are trying to re-find a rhythm that wins games on a regular basis. One key difference is that the Hurricanes are a team that faced this challenge last year and ultimately emerged and made the playoffs. The Sabres are a still a team that is trying to figure out what it takes to do that. The Sabres have picked up only a single overtime loss point in their last five outings, so they should enter the game hungry. The Hurricanes will need to match that.
On the Hurricanes side of the ledger, another round of bounce after bounce like Monday’s win would be much-appreciated, but it is not something to count on. Key for the Hurricanes is not to exhale after relieving pressure with Monday’s win but instead to double down on intensity and determination to earn a win on Thursday. With Eetu Luostarinen sent down and Erik Haula skating, there seems to be potential for reinforcements. But more so than any individual player, the Hurricanes as a group need to be better defensively and find a complete 60 minutes of pace, pressure and focus.
My watch points for Thursday’s game against former-Cane Jeff Skinner and the Buffalo Sabres follows.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres
1) Intensity out of the gate
As noted above, a risk for Thursday is that the Hurricanes exhale a bit after a much-needed win. The team painfully experienced what happens when you do not show up at the start when it fell behind 3-0 to Ottawa last Saturday and ultimately lost 4-1. On Thursday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes dial up the intensity, determination in focus or if instead the team looks like it is hoping for another easy win on one of the nights when the goals flow freely.
2) Petr Mrazek
Mrazek has been up and down so far in 2019-20. With the team struggling to find a rhythm right now, a run of steady play by Mrazek would be welcome. He is coming off an odd previous start that saw him spend most of the game watching opposing goalie Henrik Lundqvist stand on his head while he had little to do. Then when he did face chances they were tough chances after breakaways that led to prime chances. I will be watching to see if Petr Mrazek can offer steady and inspire confidence from the outset on Thursday.
3) Follow through at the top of the lineup
Sebastian Aho played a central role in Monday’s win with two goals. The top 4 on defense was better. To find a steady stretch of winning hockey will require the team’s best players to play well. On Thursday, I will be watching to see if Aho can follow up a productive game on Monday, and I will be watching to see how the top 4 looks defending a team that has a good amount of fire power at the top of its lineup. The team’s best players need to start being great or at least very good more often.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and MIKE!