First, let me start off with a small positive at a time when they are hard to find. Through 24 games, the Hurricanes are 1 game under .500 and are 5 points (adjusted math based on games above/below .500 to adjust for number of games played) out of a playoff spot. That is not a great place to be, but it is actually much better than the low point last season. Early December, saw the Hurricanes bottom out at 5 games below .500 and 10 points out of a playoff spot before the shakeup with AHL players and the surge upward. So while it is true that the Hurricanes have managed to dig a hole, it is not as bad as last season.
On the negative side of the ledger, after scraping out a very respectable 2-2 record last week with a come-from-behind win on Sunday, the team is 0-2-1 with this week. The losses were all the stinging variety where it seemed like better was within reach and that points were left on the table. The Hurricanes desperately need a win to salvage a 1-2-1 week and pull back up to .500 at least before a 3-game West Coast road trip next week.
Sunday’s opponent is the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning are obviously a good team but have yet to really put it all together in 2016-17. The Lightning are 14-11-1 and had lost 4 straight before pulling out a shootout win over the Capitals on Saturday night. The night-time start and the extra hockey mean that even with playing on Saturday, the Hurricanes enter Sunday’s game with the advantage in terms of travel and sleep schedule.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Lightning
Despite the young state of the 2016-17 season, the Hurricanes have seen their fair share of adversity with the latest bout front and center after 3 road losses and the frustrating elements of scoring woes, blowing leads and more.
The team would greatly benefit from someone stepping up and leading the team to a win. Back on home ice Jeff Skinner is probably the leading candidate. He has had a couple huge games on home ice where Coach Bill Peters’ can cherry pick a few favorable match ups for him.
After a day off on Saturday, Cam Ward is another candidate to lead the team to a win. Timing would be really good for Ward to play well contributing to a win or even better if stealing is the only way to get it.
2) Better defensive play
The third period struggles trended in the wrong direction and were significant enough to bring back memories of the lead-blowing debacles from early in the season. After a run of improved play after Faulk’s return from injury, the duo regressed in New York with rough third periods in each of the 2 losses to the Rangers. It is incredibly hard to make things work defensively if 1 of a team’s top 2 defense pairings is struggling. Hainsey/Faulk and the team in total need to do better for 60 minutes. Even minus Steven Stamkos who is out of the lineup long-term with an injury, the Lightning have more than enough fire power to make the Canes pay if they are loose defensively.
3) Home cooking=home scoring
The good news is that the Hurricanes have fared significantly better of late at home. The Hurricanes are 6-3 at home largely by virtue of a 5-1 record in the 6 games in which they have scored 3 or more goals. So despite the team’s scoring woes, it is reasonable to hope for and even expect better at home.
The puck drops a little bit after 5pm at PNC Arena.