After an impressive 5-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and a day off for Thanksgiving, the Carolina Hurricanes are back at it on Friday on home ice against the Florida Panthers.
A win clearly pushes the Canes a notch above the fray in the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division standings, but a loss pulls them right back into it. Such is the tightly-bunched standings in the NHL right now.
The Florida Panthers come into the game still trying to figure it out for the 2018-19 season. The Panthers are last in the Atlantic Division, one game below .500 and having lost three of their last four games.
But this game is more about the Hurricanes just continuing on their current path. The team ground out a solid even if unspectacular win last Sunday and followed it up with an even better win on Wednesday. Especially early on, Wednesday was the best Brind’Amour style attacking game that the team has played in some time, and goalie Curtis McElhinney has been good or better in net in two consecutive games.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Florida Panthers
1) The same jump
These holiday games can be weird. Just like everyone else, hockey players are out of routine with the holidays, company in town, kids out of school, big feasts, etc. As much the home holiday games can be fun, I actually think teams are better off on the road where they can stay in their routines. But the positive is that the Hurricanes should be riding momentum coming out of Wednesday’s loss. So on Friday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes see a positive carry over in terms of pace and attacking style.
2) Offense below the top line
Justin Williams has scored big first period goals in consecutive games to get the Hurricanes off to a good start. Trevor van Riemsdyk also chipped in on Wednesday. But depth scoring is still a work in progress for the Hurricanes. On Friday, I will be watching to see what offense the Hurricanes can generate below Aho’s line. In his second game, can Victor Rask help his line get going? After a phenomenal game on Wednesday that only saw an after the fact empty-netter for Andrei Svechnikov, is he on the verge of a break out? Can Wallmark’s line beyond Svechnikov which has generally been good but light on scoring break through? Regardless of where it comes from, depth scoring continues to be a watch point?
With three consecutive wins earlier in the year and with him currently riding a two-game winning streak with strong play, McElhinney has risen up from being a waiver claim as a short-term injury replacement to being the team’s #1 goalie. He was the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe. Is he on the brink of an improbable win of strong netminding that the Hurricanes have so desperately needed the past couple seasons? The goalie play is again on the watch list but this time with a moderately positive hew.
Though McElhinney is clearly the starter right now, Friday’s game is the first of a back-to-back that figures to see either Petr Mrazek or Scott Darling also play a game. So if Brind’Amour decides to give McElhinney Saturday’s game, the watch point shifts. Who gets the nod between Darling and Mrazek? Can that starter put up a solid effort such that the Hurricanes at least temporarily seem to go two deep in net?
The puck drops at 7:37pm at PNC Arena.