Following 4 straight wins at home, the Hurricanes started out on the road well enough with a win in Toronto on Tuesday night. But that win was followed by consecutive 2-1 losses in Montreal and Ottawa over the holiday weekend. If you missed the late posting, the recap and notes from Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators can be found HERE. Consecutive losses is by no means a catastrophe, but with the Hurricanes slow start that required some makeup wins and a difficult road schedule again next week, the time is now to get back in the winning column before too much is given back.
The game Sunday against the Florida Panthers is what I like to call a fair back-to-back because both teams played and traveled the night before. Both teams face fairly similar challenges in terms of logistics and fatigue.
The opponent is a Florida Panthers team expected by many to be near the top of the Eastern Conference in 2016-17. The team is faring okay at 11-9-1 but has yet to start firing on all cylinders. The Panthers’ recent 3-1-1 record suggests that maybe they are getting close.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Panthers
1) The goalie situation
I think all signs point to a Michael Leighton start on Sunday.
* The game is the second half of a back-to-back with travel which typically has ‘play the backup’ written all over it. At some point, Ward needs a game off here and there. The current busy stretch of schedule screams for it.
* With Leighton only technically available at the NHL level until Lack is healthy, the time is limited to get a quick look at Michael Leighton in net at the NHL level to gauge whether or not he might be an option.
* Despite playing well of late and reasonably well even in the past 2 losses, he has looked a bit more human. On Thursday, a rare soft goal was the difference and on Saturday Ward was very good on first shots, but spit out rebounds in bunches and to bad places.
If Ward does play, I will be watching especially closely to see if he can bring the same level of play in the second half of a back-to-back that is also the third game in 4 nights. The game could be a barometer for just how much Peters can ride Ward and still expect strong play.
2) Jeff Skinner
He has not been bad of late. He continues to play 2-way hockey and has done more offensively than the score sheet would suggest in recent games. That said, the Hurricanes really need a win, and goals are hard to come by recently. With home ice advantage, Peters can cherry pick a few favorable match ups for Skinner. Can Jeff Skinner deliver in a big way like he did when the Hurricanes really needed it in the home opener against the Rangers?
3) Depth scoring
Right now, the Hurricanes are struggling to find enough goals. With Jeff Skinner’s surge out of the gate now a thing of the past, the team needs to find more balanced scoring. Elias Lindholm has produced recently, and the fourth line has chipped in a few key goals. But the scoring hole continues to be the third line. The original third line of Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen contributed virtually nothing in terms of even strength goal scoring early in the season. A few different iterations that saw Phil Di Giuseppe, Andrej Nestrasil and others tried on the line were similarly unfruitful. More recently, a line built around the AHL duo of Brock McGinn and Derek Ryan has played reasonably well, even generated some changes, but ultimately generated nothing for goal scoring. It will be interesting to see if Peters shuffles the lineup seeking a spark offensively.
4) A possible return to the successful formula
The winning formula for the 4-game home winning streak was to go strength on strength with Staal’s line largely paired with Slavin/Pesce and deployed as much as possible against the other teams’ best lines. On the road, Peters mostly decoupled Staal’s line and Slavin/Pesce with reasonable results despite the 2 losses. It will be interesting to see if Peters goes back to the proven formula from the home stand on Sunday night.
The puck drops a little bit after 6pm at PNC Arena. Tickets are available, so it is a great way to close out a holiday weekend!