There is no such thing as a must win game in the NHL in November, but whatever the next level of desperation is I think the Hurricanes have reached it for Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators.
Interestingly, the Hurricanes losing streak is a mere two games but somehow feels like much more. Two things compound the situation. First is that both were home losses that dampened a feel-good Hurricanes hockey mood for the core fan base headed into the holidays. Second is that the rest of the Metropolitan Division continues to sprint forward.
Saturday on Twitter I noted that the Hurricanes 9-8-4 record exactly matches the team’s mark through 21 games in 2016-17. Further, the one game above .500 has slipped two points off the pace adjusted for games played and even more if you just look at the standings. And maybe most significantly, the wheels seem to have come off in terms of playing sound defensive hockey both in net and on the back end.
Against that backdrop, the Hurricanes will take to the ice for a 1pm Sunday matinee that represents a chance to salvage something from a tough week before playing most of the stretch between the winter holidays on the road.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators
1) Leadership and the right kind of desperation in the face of adversity
As bad as things feel right now, the losing streak is only a couple of games. But the team does need to turn it around in terms of collecting a win to stop the losing streak short and also a return to better play. On Sunday, I will be looking for the team’s leadership to set the tone and help the team climb above the fray of whatever level of adversity has entered the locker room.
2) Sticking to it and not throwing out the baby with the bath water
The Hurricanes’ first period in Friday’s loss was actually an incredibly good period despite absolutely nothing for rewards on the scoreboard. If you asked me if I could take three periods of the Hurricanes first period level of play on Friday and magically drop it into Sunday’s game, I would take it in a heart beat. The third period was also strong and featured a never say die attitude that almost yielded a late tie to push the game to overtime.
The second period featured another batch of the defensive break downs that have too regularly crept into the Hurricanes game of late, but there is must to like and keep from the first and third periods of the Hurricanes effort on Friday. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can stay heads down and replicate the good parts of Friday’s game and not to try to do too much or make unnecessary changes in trying too hard.
3) The net
The four most recent games have been utterly bizarre in terms of the goalie position. Last weekend, Scott Darling and Cam Ward took turns standing on their heads to pull out goalie-led wins on nights when the team was ‘meh’ at best defensively. Then in the two games since then each goalie has had a rough outing albeit again with some less than sound play in front of them. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes goalie can put forward at least a decent effort that gives the team a chance. I have not had time to hunt down official word on a starter, but best bet is that Darling gets the start.
4) Cleaning up the defense
I noted last weekend that stellar goaltending had masked what I thought was defense trending in the wrong direction. Suddenly, without ‘stand on your head goaltending’ in the past couple games, the team’s defensive break downs were out in the open. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if the defense can tighten up and significantly decrease the number of bad defensive break downs that they have been making of late.
The puck drops at 1pm at PNC Arena.