One of the challenges that the Hurricanes must face in pushing up into the playoffs for the 2017-18 NHL season is the fact that the team plays in what is thought to be the best division in the NHL right now. To make the playoffs, the Hurricanes will need to finish ahead of at least three of the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division. Winning head to head in four-point games is the surest path to climbing above enough division rivals, and Tuesday represents the first of those four-point games against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Michael Smith’s game day at CarolinaHurricanes.com is a great game day stop if you want to know the expected line combinations and defense pairings based on the morning skate before you arrive at PNC Arena (or settle down in front of your television) tonight.
What I’m watching for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
1) The defense on many levels
Despite the win on Saturday, I would give the blue line a C- for Saturday’s effort. The group gets credit for chipping in a big goal by Noah Hanifin and for doing a decent job of moving the puck at times. But the volume of ‘big oops’ level defensive breakdowns that led to uncontested scoring chances and pretty directly to three of Minnesota’s four goals were too many.
Noah Hanifin: His game was night and day playing offense and defending (see detailed notes from Saturday’s game). He had a strong game playing offense and with the puck on his stick. He had a really tough time defending in the neutral zone and defensive zone. If the defense is going to be a true strength in 2017-18 and not cause for optimism in the future, Hanifin needs to be better defensively. After Saturday’s tough outing, I will be watching for a rebound in game two.
The third pairing and Peters’/Smith’s plan minus Trevor van Riemsdyk: It does not sound like it is long-term, but the Hurricanes will be without Trevor van Riemsdyk after his spill into the boards on Saturday. Best bet is that Klas Dahlbeck steps into his place on the right side of the third pairing, but I think how Peters handles this could be more complex including some mixing, matching and double shifting for the top defensemen. I will be watching to see how Dahlbeck looks returning to his off side and also how Peters maneuvers.
The blue line in total: Peters finished Saturday by reverting back to Slavin/Pesce and Hanifin/Faulk, so best guess is that he will start Tuesday similarly. The sooner the blue line can become solid six deep, the sooner it becomes the strength it is projected to be. If Peters does go top-heavy, the spotlight is on Hanifin/Faulk to be steady and solid.
2) Scott Darling
The highlight of the game for Darling on Saturday was his calm and patience in a perfect three for three in the shootout. Past that his game was hard to judge because of the intermittent train wrecks in front of him that saw Wild players streaking in alone multiple times. That said, I would rate Darling’s first game as ‘meh’. Another big save or two would have been nice, and by somehow finding himself almost outside the net in the final second scramble, I think he could have been better there to preserve the victory. But here’s the thing…The Hurricanes won the opener. That is a positive to build on while aiming for a higher level.
3) Fine tuning at forward
The Hurricanes won the possession/shot battle by a wide margin on Saturday and ultimately put up four goals which is a solid start offensively. But there is still some figuring out to do for Peters who switched Justin Williams and Janne Kuokkanen. I liked Kuokkanen’s play in limited minutes on Saturday, but I am not sure he is a great fit for Skinner’s line. Tonight I will be watching to see how Peters mixes and matches and what works and does not at forward.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena!