After fun home wins before and after Thanksgiving, the Hurricanes took to the road on Saturday and laid an egg. With consecutive 2-1 weeks, I would say that the overall trajectory is still positive even if imperfect. But Saturday’s game was a loss that had Brind’Amour scathing mad after the game and the team looking for a rebound in the next game. That next game happens tonight in Montreal.
The Canadiens are maybe surprisingly right in the thick of the playoff chase with an 11-8-5 record that places the Habs tied for the eighth and final playoff spot (based on games above .500). With previous captain Max Pacioretty the latest departure, the team is led by some new faces. New additions Max Domi and Tomas Tatar are first and third respectively in scoring and rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi is also contributing. Interestingly, Carey Price who has a sub-.900 Save Percentage and greater than 3.00 Goals Against Average is still trying to regain his Vezina-level form.
With the standings so bunched up in the middle, the game is important for both teams. Right now, a win or two can boost a team 2-4 places in the standings. Similarly, a couple losses can push a team near the bottom of the pack in the Eastern Conference.
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for Tuesday’s game.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Montreal Canadiens
1) A response after Saturday’s debacle
For the second time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes interrupted a decent stretch of hockey with a rough loss. After losing 4-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 17, the Hurricanes rebounded the next day by scoring two goals in the first minute the next day and holding on for a 2-1 win over the Devils. That launched a three-game winning streak. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can again rebound strongly and quickly cut the losing streak at a single game.
2) Jake Bean’s NHL debut
He is slated to make his NHL debut on Tuesday after a strong transition to pro hockey at the AHL level. The right path forward for Bean is the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe. Last week, Brandon Stanley also profiled Bean and discussed his strong start in the AHL.
The more detailed version is in today’s article, but my primary watch point for Jake Bean is whether he brings his strengths and style of play to his NHL debut. This might sound odd, but I would rather see Bean make a few mistakes in trying to transition his offensive puck-carrying game to the NHL level than see him button things up too much trying too do his best imitation of a stay-home defenseman’s game. So today I will be watching Bean in general and especially watching with an eye for his style of play.
3) Curtis McElhinney
After a run of three winning starts that saw McElhinney allow only four total goals and post a .960 Save Percentage, he received the second half of the back-to-back off on Saturday. After three days off, the hope is that he is fresh and recharged. As I wrote recently in an article about Curtis McElhinney, as a long-time backup who has not started more than 15 games in four years, he will quickly hit uncharted territory in terms of frequency and volume of starts. With three days off since his last start, one would expect fresh and sharp on Tuesday, but the situation is worth watching nonetheless.
4) The new second scoring line
Martinook/Wallmark/Svechnikov has for stretches recently been the team’s best line. A well-deserved break out on the score sheet to lead the way in Friday’s win led pretty directly to two points in the standings. Like Curtis McElhinney, this trio would not have been expected to fill this role in anyone’s preseason predictions, but here we are, and at least recently it has been working. I will be watching to see if the unexpected trio can continue their surge and at least temporarily become the second scoring line that the team needs.
The puck drops at 7:30pm with John, Tripp and Mike on Fox Sports Carolinas.