After two losses to start the West Coast road trip, nothing becomes easier on Friday. The Hurricanes face a perennial playoff team in the Anaheim Ducks and will have to do so minus a growing list of players. Micheal Ferland is still out with a concussion. Jordan Staal joins him for Friday’s game. And the team also announced that it had recalled Alex Nedeljkovic to backup up Petr Mrazek.
If ever there was a time for the next generation of leaders to lead this team forward, that time is now.
Sebastian Aho played well early and had jump in Wednesday’s game even though the score sheet results were not there. Jaccob Slavin has shown a knack for generating offense of late even if none of it is being finished. Justin Faulk is playing his best hockey in recent years but has yet to break through scoring-wise.
The Hurricanes are actually not in a horrible place in the standings, but they are very clearly heading in the wrong direction and facing some adversity. Formal captains Justin Williams and Justin Faulk need to lead, but I really think Staal’s absence should pin an ‘A’ on Sebastian Aho or Jaccob Slavin and challenge them to lead.
If nothing else, there is drama yet again for tonight’s late TV start.
My watch points in quick hitter style follow…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Anaheim Ducks
1) Rise up? Or wither?
As noted above, the team has reached the point where a player or two need to rise up and lead the way. Sure it falls on the captains, but I increasingly believe that the next push upward by this team will need to be led by the youth without letters on their jerseys. Top candidates would be Sebastian and Jaccob Slavin, but the opening is there for anyone who wants to seize it. Can Dougie Hamilton find his higher gear? Does Calvin de Haan make a statement with his still relatively new team? Can Teuvo Teravainen advance from being a good complementary player to being a leader? Is Brett Pesce the guy? Or does the group in total just slog forward awaiting some respite from the hockey gods?
2) Spotlight on Brind’Amour
Only 27 games into his NHL head coaching career, the pressure to find answers to at least bide time is growing for Rod Brind’Amour. Thus far the teams offensive struggles seem to most be addressed with needing to do the same thing better. But sometimes, you have to change course. The more detailed version of this is for a separate blog, but I am increasingly wondering if the team needs to try to open things up and aim to win 6-5. The team’s goalies actually seem to fare better with more work. And though there were a bunch of mistakes mixed in, the team was successful and seemingly comfortable playing wild skating affairs early in the season. Regardless, ‘just trying harder’ is starting to wear thin. Can Brind’Amour pull a lever or two to squeak out a win or two to help the team regain its footing?
3) Saku Maenalanen
When Saku Maenalanen makes his NHL debut on Friday night, he will be the eighth rookie forward to step into the Canes lineup during the 2018-19 season. Per today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I am on record as preferring that the team that desperately needs offense/scoring right now call up a player who is top of the list scoring-wise. That said, I will be watching Maenalanen with an open mind for how he can help get the team on track. He possesses NHL size and speed and definitely fits physically. As a slightly older rookie, his game should also be a bit mature than some of the younger players. So on Friday, I will be watching to see how Maenalanen’s skill set translates to the NHL level.
4) Continuation for Petr Mrazek
Despite the losing result, Petr Mrazek played really well in his return on Sunday. On Friday I will be watching to see if he can continue on the same path and post another strong outing that gives his team a chance to win.
The puck drops at 10pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.