Thus far, November has been a roller coaster. The team started the month by ending a nice home stand with a disappointing loss to the Devils. That loss was the start of a four-game losing streak. Since then the Hurricanes have rebounded to win three straight mostly in thrilling fashion. The win streak has the Hurricanes back above the cut line at the one-quarter mark of the 2019-20 season which is obviously a good place to be.
Tuesday’s road finale is against a Blackhawks team that the Hurricanes beat soundly in a matinee at PNC Arena a couple weeks back. But the Blackhawks enter with a bit more mojo having injected more youth into the lineup and riding a 5-0-1 stretch. The game will be a chance to see the young future of the Blackhawks still with some holdovers from the previous winning era.
On the Hurricanes side, the big news is that Erik Haula will again be out of the lineup and seemingly for an extended run this time. That bumps Lucas Wallmark into a third-line role and returns Eetu Luostarinen to the lineup. I wrote about the significance of this changeover in some detail in today’s Daily Cup of Joe. For the Hurricanes, I think the conflicting themes right now are just trying to ride the current rhythm to any kind of win but at the same time realizing that the team ultimately needs to find a cleaner brand of hockey.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Chicago Blackhawks
1) Jordan Staal’s line
Jordan Staal is off to a bit of a slow start for the 2019-20 season. Some may focus on his slow-ish scoring pace, but I think the bigger concern has been some of his struggles defensively including collecting a batch of obstruction type penalties and just not being a lock down stalwart defensively. Historically, he gets stronger as the long season wears on and when some players hit the wall. Might it be time for that? His line with Ryan Dzingel and Warren Foegele was the team’s best on Saturday. I wrote about my intrigue with Ryan Dzingel as an unexpected complement to Staal’s puck possession game earlier this week. Could Ryan Dzingel be a player who takes Staal’s ability to drive the puck into the offensive zone and converts it to more scoring? With Erik Haula out of the lineup, timing could not be better for more offense from Staal’s line. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the trio can build on Saturday’s strong outing.
2) Lucas Wallmark and Eetu Luostarinen
Per today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I really think this next stretch of games could be a fork in the road for Lucas Wallmark’s NHL career. He has already established himself as a competent two-way center who can play against other teams’ scoring lines and hold his own. But does he yet have a higher gear offensively? Or is he just a solid depth/fourth-line center at the NHL level? That is worth watching right now. In addition, after a strong three-game audition, what is Eetu Luostarinen capable of? As a more assertive and physical player, he brings a different element than Wallmark. Despite having less experience, might Luostarinen be the player who capitalizes on the opportunity presented to him? Either way, the absence of Erik Haula requires the Hurricanes to adjust and ideally have a player or two rise to fill the gap.
3) Still seeking soundness
Despite the winning streak, the Hurricanes are still looking for a cleaner brand of hockey defensively. Of late just like early in the season, the team has a fun ability to out-score some mistakes and win via offense. There is nothing wrong with that. Wins are wins in the NHL point system. But the peak version of the 2019-20 team still has a much higher gear in reach in terms of attention to detail defensively. That continues to be a regular watch point.
The puck drops at 8:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.