Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe offered a reasonably deep dive on the Carolina Hurricanes wildly different results for home and road games.
Against that backdrop, for the third consecutive week, the Hurricanes will try to make hay on the road. Two weeks ago the results were a positive version of treading water at 2-2. Last week minus Jordan Staal, the Hurricanes took in water but salvaged a 1-2-1 mark with a big home win to close out the week. Whereas the last 2 weeks at least featured a home finale after 3 games on the road, this week sees only the 3 road games on a trip out West to play Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose in a quick 3 games in 4 days.
The trip starts with a game in Anaheim on Wednesday night. The Hurricanes should be reasonably familiar with the Ducks having just played them at home on November 10. The game resulted in a 4-2 loss with the biggest story in my memory being the Ducks ability to force the game to the walls and then consistently win physical battles there. You can read the full recap HERE.\
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Anaheim Ducks
Against that backdrop, here is what I will be watching late Wednesday night:
1) Ability to play heavy and win on the walls
The Ducks have 1 of the best combinations of both size and skill in the entire NHL. As noted above, in Raleigh the Ducks successfully forced the game to the walls and won there. The result was a game that saw the Ducks winning the possession game and ultimately converting that to more goals. Especially with Jordan Staal out of the lineup, the Hurricanes will need to both try to win and advance the puck in the middle of the rink where they might gain a skating advantage and simultaneously be able to hold their own in the physical battles which will be inevitable.
The Hurricanes’ needs set up nicely for Justin Faulk and also some of the team’s bigger forwards who must put on the work boots and win battles.
2) Desperately seeking depth scoring
Aside from the surging Viktor Stalberg, the Carolina Hurricanes offense almost unanimously is mired a in a slump, especially on the road. The Hurricanes last scored 3 or more goals on the road 11 games ago on October 25 in a 6-3 loss to the Flyers. Cam Ward has been playing lights out which has been making 2 or fewer goals enough to win points on some nights, but winning without scoring is not sustainable.
3) Phil Di Giuseppe with Skinner/Rask
The Hurricanes surge in 2015-16 started when Coach Bill Peters found the magical combination of Nordstrom/Staal/Nestrasil and simultaneously Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe. Staal’s line was incredibly good at driving play into the offensive zone and neutralizing the opponents’ top scorers, and Jeff Skinner’s game found a higher gear that resulted in a huge December scoring surge followed by significant contributions throughout the rest of the season. Reunited on Sunday, Di Giuseppe had a solid game. He whiffed on what looked like a tap in goal in regulation but then redeemed himself by netting the overtime winner for his first scoring point of the season.
Liking Di Giuseppe’s intriguing combination of skating, skill and gradually evolving power forward style of play, the final part of my season preview predicted big things for Di Giuseppe in 2016-17. That obviously has not happened thus far, but could his strong game and game-winner on Sunday serve as a catalyst to make him a ‘better late than never’ story? Especially in a game where the Hurricanes could use a little bit more rugged, I will be watching closely to see if Di Giuseppe can use Sunday as a springboard into a much more productive second third of the 2016-17 season.
4) Cam Ward
Sticking with my goal of not jinxing anything, I will continue to list Cam Ward in my ‘what I’m watching.’ At this point he has shifted from the concern of early October to a regular positive now in early December. As I said above, at some point the Hurricanes need to win a few road games by scoring 3 or 4 goals, but until that day comes, I will be watching to see if Cam Ward can continue to be sound and solid and help the team collect points while it tries to figure out the scoring thing on the road.
This is one of those weeks where the site could really use a local coffee sponsor. The puck drops at a night owl-friendly 10:30pm Eastern Time on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike and will be the same for the other 2 games in Los Angeles and San Jose on Thursday and Saturday.