Stepping into familiar shoes, the Hurricanes will take to the ice on Thursday and again look to rebound. On Saturday in Raleigh, the Hurricanes ground out a spirited even if not pretty home win against the Florida Panthers. Many, including myself, thought had a different tone to it and that it had the potential to be a turning point. But Tuesday’s kick off of a six-game road trip fell flat with a 3-0 loss that continued the 2017-18 season on its path of ups and downs.
Thursday night’s game in San Jose represents a second try to start producing on an all-important December road trip. Right now the Hurricanes are below the playoff cut line and chasing a large pack of teams in the Metropolitan Division who are gradually climbing above the .500 break even line that has mostly been the Hurricanes home. “Must win” for any single game in December is an overstatement, but the sense of urgency is clearly rising.
Against that backdrop, here is what I will be watching for the Hurricanes 10:30pm “coffee special” against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night…
What I’m watching
1) A return of the fire from Saturday
I do not think it is necessary for the Hurricanes to pick up two fighting majors to be engaged and play the right way, but I do think this team has yet to build the right level of hunger, desperation, heart or whatever else into their every-game formula. The team was different on Saturday. The fights might have been the visual, but it ran deeper. Heading into Tuesday’s game in Vancouver, my burning question was basically whether the Hurricanes could muster up desperate when things were not desperate. They could not. Instead the game looked like an exhale and reversion to the old way with the desperation and hunger shelved until some point in the future when things returned to desperate after a bad loss, losing streak or whatever.
So on Thursday, I will be watching to see if the team can regain the higher gear from Saturday. I will also be watching to see if Justin Williams can spark things, possibly get help from lieutenant Brock McGinn or even better see the fire spread to another key player or two such that the number of people at the front of the line on an every night basis grows and becomes contagious.
From the category of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ goaltending has again pushed its way to front and center in most game previews reclaiming its regular spot from recent years. My wild guess was that we might finally see a diversion on Tuesday with a Cam Ward start that for the first time diverged from the #1/#2 pecking order. That did not happen. And to be clear, a Cam Ward start in the second game of the road trip would not be that diversion though a strong performance and follow up start on Saturday would be.
Regardless of who is in net on Thursday, the crease has again become a point of weakness such that it is jeopardizing playoff hopes. As such, I will be watching on Thursday to see if whoever plays net can be a positive and better than his counterpart at the other end of the rink.
As noted above, the urgency level is heightened right now. A loss would put the Hurricanes back at .500 officially at the one-third marker for the 2017-18 season. Depending on exactly what math one uses, it would also put the Hurricanes 4-5 points out of a playoff spot which is right where the team was last year.
If there is a time for the leadership of the team to lead, it is now. I will be watching to see if some combination of Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk or others can pick the team up, put it on their backs and drive a victory on Thursday.
The puck drops at 10:30pm Eastern on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.