After 3 grinding weeks on the road that saw the Carolina Hurricanes play 9 of 11 games on the road with only quick 1-game stops in Raleigh to grab clean clothes, the Hurricanes now return home for roughly a month of hockey that makes up for the imbalance of road games that the Hurricanes have played thus far. The stretch starts with 4 straight home games and sees 11 of the next 16 at home.
As noted in Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe, the surging Metropolitan Division creates a bit of urgency for the Hurricanes to capitalize on the home games and make up ground on the pack of teams that are 9 or more points ahead of the Hurricanes right now.
The home stand starts with a game against the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks enter the game with a 12-15-2 record that makes them 1 of only 6 teams in the entire NHL with a sub-.500 record. The game will also be the fifth and final game of a 5-game road trip that has seen the Canucks lose 3 of 4 already.
Put bluntly, this is a winnable game and the kind that the Hurricanes need to win right now.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Vancouver Canucks
1) Pace, intensity and attacking mentality in return to the East Coast
Even amidst a few train wreck type of losses, the Hurricanes have generally been able to start on time and play hard especially early in games. After a trip out West last week, the first home game back East can be a trap that sees the home team unable to muster intensity early on. I will be watching closely from the opening face-off to see if the Hurricanes can continue the consistent path of playing with intensity out of the gate.
2) Jordan Staal
The team reported that he skated today in a regular contact jersey at practice today. It did not sound like he was officially cleared, but it sounds like the expectation is that Jordan Staal will return to the lineup for Tuesday’s game. Even the 85 percent version of Jordan Staal would be a boost. Even with the lay off, I would expect him to be assigned to checking the Sedin twins all night. I will be watching early to see if there are signs of rust and possibly conditioning issues. Remember that Staal’s injury was a concussion, so he was not just off the ice but also limited in terms of what he could do for any kind of work out especially early in his lay off which started 15 days ago on November 28.
3) Skinner time
With the return to home ice, Coach Bill Peters should be able to cherry pick some match ups for Jeff Skinner who has had many of his best games on home ice. At about this time of year in 2015, Jeff Skinner caught fire and carried the team for a short stretch. I will be watching to see if Skinner can again find that higher gear offensively and help the Canes collect much-needed points in the second half of December.
Again, more out of superstition than anything else, I will close with goaltending. Ward was solid in the Canes 3-1 win in Los Angeles but was some combination of victim and participant in the 2 losses that sandwiched the win. I would not pin either of the 2 losses on Ward with the weak play of the team in front of him, but 5 and then 4 goals against is not pretty either. As I said in the comments on a recent article, when the Hurricanes give Ward a reasonable game lately he has been stellar in converting it to a win. But he has not been able to hold things together in the games when the team played poorly. Here is hoping that we get the former and not the later on Tuesday night in Raleigh.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm at PNC Arena.