After a much-needed win on Sunday to salvage something from the three-game home stand on Thanksgiving week, the Hurricanes begin a road-heavy stretch of schedule that starts on Tuesday night in Columbus.
I have long had the Columbus Blue Jackets pegged as one of the toughest match ups in the league for the Hurricanes. At the most basic level, they are a good hockey team. But past that, Columbus plays a style that is not friendly to the Hurricanes’ strengths, and the Jackets have had a decent knack for dictating that style of play against the Hurricanes. Columbus forces the game to the walls and out of the middle of the rink where skating teams prefer to play. They get pucks deep and forecheck. They force step-wise movement through the neutral zone. And they funnel play to the outside in the defensive zone such that they happily let teams fire at will on low probability shots that have little chance of beating Vezina caliber Sergei Bobrovsky.
But for the Hurricanes to push up the standings and into the thick of things in a competitive Metropolitan Division will require beating good teams versus just sort of treading water with a win here followed by a loss there. Tonight represents a chance to claim one of the necessary good wins.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
The back-to-back lights out performances by Scott Darling and Cam Ward only 10 days ago suddenly seem like history from another era. To say that Thanksgiving week was a rough one for the Hurricanes would be a massive understatement. It started with Scott Darling whiffing with his glove early in the Rangers goal as part of a three-goal first period, continued with Ward imploding in the second period against the Maple Leafs and ended with Darling grinding out a win that did have some positives but also featured another glove miss. Bobrovsky made his eighth straight appearance on Monday in Montreal, so there is a chance that the Hurricanes will face yet another backup, but regardless of how the the net at the other end, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can rebound in net.
2) Pace, pressure and skating
The Hurricanes catch a small break in that Columbus played in Montreal last night and will be playing a back-to-back with travel. As I said in a previous preview article, these advantages are available to be seized and are not just granted by showing up. Especially early in Tuesday’s game, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find their skating legs early and leverage the advantage to turn the game into a skating affair more so than Columbus wants.
3) A continuation from the blue line
After a run of play that saw too many ‘big oopses’ from the Hurricanes blue line, the group put forward a better effort on Sunday with Slavin/Pesce righting the ship and playing an especially strong game. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the defense can follow up Sunday’s win with another strong effort.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.