I said after the Hurricanes convincing 3-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night that the team had already had a decent week. With an overtime loss and a win, the team is already assured 3 points out of 3 tough road games on the other coast. But still looking up at the last playoff spot, the Hurricanes can use every point they can get which makes tonight a chance to earn an important bonus.
The game is the rare variety in which the road team arguably has the scheduling advantage. The Hurricanes will be playing their third game in 4 nights, but they did have yesterday off to recuperate after the first 2 games. San Jose played in Anaheim and traveled home last night, so theoretically the Hurricanes should be the fresher team.
The game is a rematch from a November 15 win for the Hurricanes that saw Joakim Nordstrom score the game’s lone goal and Cam Ward post a shutout. The Sharks bring the same combination of size and skill that seems to be the norm for California hockey, and are near the top of the NHL in stinginess defensively.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the San Jose Sharks
At a basic level, the key for the Hurricanes is to just keep riding the same winning vibe. Past that, there are some elements of their recent success that the team should look to carry forward.
1) Get the game off the walls where skating wins
The biggest advantage that the Hurricanes have had in the first 2 games (other than the rough third period in Anaheim) has been their ability to quickly transition from board battles, retrieving dump ins, getting to loose pucks, etc. to skating and attacking in the middle of the rink. The result has been a high volume of breakaways and odd man rushes in transition and a bucket full of goals in the first 2 games in California. We have seen breakaway goals from McClement, Aho and Ryan twice already on the road trip. I will be watching early to see if the Hurricanes can get 1 more great game out of their skating legs before a break.
2) Hainsey/Faulk versus the San Jose fire power
I chronicled Justin Faulk’s 2016-17 in my Daily Cup of Joe for Friday and in it his defensive struggles. No doubt, opposing teams and their scouting departments have also taken note that Slavin/Pesce is the tougher pairing defensively right now and that Hainsey/Faulk have been prone to allowing goals when attacked. We can expect to see a heavy helping of Thornton/Pavelski probably quite a bit with Burns out against Hainsey/Faulk looking to attack the weaker of the 2 top defense pairings. I will be watching to see if Hainsey/Faulk can respond to the challenge and will also be curious to see what Peters tries in terms of forwards to fill out a set of 5 against San Jose’s prolific scorers.
Partly because I do not want to jinx a good thing but also because I think netminding could be critical on Saturday, I include goaltending in my ‘what I’m watching.’ Through 2 games out west the Hurricanes have packed their skating legs and looked good at least in terms of pace and intensity. Will they be able to muster 1 more such effort, or is it possible that this is the game where the travel, time change and busy schedule finally take their toll? If that happens, can Cam Ward muster another stellar effort and help the team earn a point or 2 that maybe it did not deserve?
4) Continued trend of scoring from across the roster
Not too long ago, “need more depth scoring” was a recurring theme in my articles of all varieties. The Canes had played more than a month of hockey and was nearing 10 straight games of being unable to score more than 2 goals on the road. Apparently a long plane ride and the other coast were just what the doctor ordered to jolt the part of the Canes roster that was not “Jeff Skinner’s line” to life. Wednesday’s overtime loss saw an outburst from the Finnish duo of Teravainen and Aho, a goal from Brett Pesce and a pretty breakaway finish from Jay McClement. On Thursday, it was the AHL reinforcements’ turn. Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn played a phenomenal game and accounted for all 3 Hurricanes goals. Saturday night against the Sharks, I will be watching closely to see if the scoring push across the broader roster can continue.
The puck drops at 10:30pm Eastern Time for the third time this week. Get the coffee ready!