I wrote what at first glance reads as a lighter Daily Cup of Joe today looking quickly back at how the Canes got to where they are after 28 games and then looking at consecutive upcoming chunks of schedule.
But sort of subtly buried in a short article is the fact that I think the next stretch of games for the Carolina Hurricanes could be critical. Short version is that the Canes play 6 of 7 at home before Christmas and then 6 of 8 on the road after Christmas. When those two stretches end, the team will be on the other side of the midway point for the 2018-19 season.
So if the Hurricanes can build momentum during the upcoming home-heavy stretch, hopefully it carries into the middle part of the season that has been problematic in recent years. If instead the team struggles in these next seven games and the negative momentum carries into the road stretch, the Hurricanes will find themselves in an all to familiar position in mid-January trying to dig out of a hole.
The Canes are still minus Jordan Staal but are healthier. The blue line is back and a couple games into being seven deep again. Micheal Ferland who was missed dearly should return tonight. And Curtis McElhinney is practicing and seemingly near his return too.
The time is now for the Hurricanes to somehow find a higher gear scoring-wise and make a statement that they are for real in pushing for the playoffs in 2018-19.
The run starts against a very good Maple Leafs team that is second in the entire NHL right now. With William Nylander under contract and Auston Matthews back from injury the Leafs boast one of the highest-powered offenses in the NHL. Toronto should also come in a bit snarly with two straight losses following five wins prior to that.
My watch points for tonight follow…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Toronto Maple Leafs
1) Micheal Ferland’s impact on the team’s top scoring line
Sebastian Aho played a ton of minutes and played a significant role in the team’s important 4-1 win on Sunday to salvage something from the road trip, but his production has slowed significantly since Ferland’s departure from the lineup. Counting the game that Ferland left early, Aho has only a goal (an empty-netter) and an assist in five games after moving to wing on Staal’s line and then bouncing back to center. If Ferland does in fact return to the lineup, I will be watching to see if his return can help the team’s top scoring line pick up where it left off as a going concern offensively on a nightly basis.
The key to beating good offensive teams is not trying to stop them from scoring by defending well. The key is to dictate play and have and advance the puck such that the opponent spends most of the game playing defense 150ish feet from where they can score. The Canes fun 5-2 win over the Leafs during Thanksgiving week featured exactly that. After a good win and finally some scoring in last Friday’s win, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can play an attacking game that puts the Leafs on their heels and in their own end of the rink.
With Jordan Staal out of the lineup, Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour does not have the ability to line Staal up across from the Leafs’ offensive fire power for 20+ minutes. Instead, a win will require a balanced effort where every line holds its own. With Ferland’s return to Aho’s line and Martinook/Wallmark/Svechnikov continuing to play well, the task is challenging one but not at all one that is out of reach for this group.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena, and all of those in attendance will be treated to a bonus national anthem at no additional cost.