In the NHL with the combination of a small gap in talent level and the potential for a couple random bounces to tip an outcome, anything is possible in a single NHL game. Even the lowest team in the league, the Red Wings, have seven wins and four overtime losses in 30 tries. But right now, a road game in Boston is as close as you can get to a scheduled loss. The Bruins sit atop the entire NHL and have yet to lose in regulation at home with an 11-0-4 mark.
I actually really like the timing of this game. Now one-third of the way through the season, I think it represents a great measuring stick game to see generally where the Canes are and also push them to see if they can bear down and post a maximum effort when they need it. The Bruins will be without Patrice Bergeron which is significant, but make no mistake that this still about as tough of a match up as one can schedule right now in the NHL with Bruins entering with a seven-game winning streak and eleven-game point streak.
On the Hurricanes side, a quality road win in Tampa on Saturday somewhat decreases the urgency. Instead of entering toting a three-game losing streak, the Hurricanes enter in a better place and less desperate for a win.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) The top line
One of the small negatives hiding under the surface from the playoff run was the fact that the Hurricanes top line was unable to match the elite top lines from the Capitals and Bruins. That was a significant part of the difference in the sweep by the Bruins, and would have been top of the list had the Capitals won that even series. Sebastian Aho and his line did produce at a decent clip, but the opponents’ top lines were much better. The series win over the Capitals proved that it is possible to overcome this deficit, but it is still a tough formula in big games and especially long series. So in games like this one against top teams with elite lines, I am always watching to see if the Hurricanes top line can rise up and match or beat the NHL’s best. Especially with the top line currently top loaded offensively, I will watching to see how Aho and company fare against a tough match up defensively.
2) The goalie?
There is no morning skate today, so it is not clear who will start in net for the Hurricanes. (Someone holler if I missed an announcement.) But with James Reimer posting three straight wins and Petr Mrazek being up and down of late, I think we are in the range where it is possible that Brind’Amour shifts away from a standard allocation of games with Mrazek as the starter and Reimer collecting spot duty mostly in back-to-back sets. My hunch is that we will see Mrazek tonight such that we will not see that transition just yet. But either way, I think the goalie position is worth watching. If Reimer starts, it would represent the first game where he sort of jump into a slot that would go to the #1. If that happens, does he seize the opportunity and continue his strong run? If Mrazek starts, can he rebound and assert a claim to remaining the #1 despite Reimer’s recent play? Brind’Amour is not the type to bother with unnecessary statements about roles, but his actions this week could say a lot about where he stands right now in terms of goaltending.
3) Seeking 60 minutes
The Bruins record is what it is for a reason. The team is sound defensively from the net out and does not offer much in terms of freebies. On top of that, the team boasts elite scorers who can strike quickly like a rattle snake if given an opening. If the Hurricanes post another 40ish-minute effort that has a stretch of sub-par play, the Bruins are very likely to sprint through that opening and collect enough to win a hockey game. As such, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find an elusive 60-minute effort.
4) The measuring stick
The Hurricanes were not great in November against mostly bottom half of the NHL competition. Is that just playing to the level of the competition maybe? Tuesday’s game represents a chance to see if the Hurricanes can similarly play up to the competition which would be a positive sign for where the ceiling is for this team if it can put it all together.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.