There is virtually no way that the Hurricanes can top what they did in Tuesday’s wild 8-6 win against the Vancouver Canucks, but it is still an important game against a Metropolitan Division foe who is above the Hurricanes in the standings.
While the Canes were doing a reasonably decent job of muddling through a tough stretch of road-heavy schedule minus Jordan Staal, the rest of the Metropolitan Division was off to the races. As of right now, the 5 teams that the Hurricanes are chasing all sport winning runs. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus and Washington all carry big winning streaks of 7, 10, 7 and 5 games respectively. The Rangers lost this week ending a 3-game winning streak. The Rangers’ streak is only 1 game, but they have won 4 of their last 5. The upshot is that the Hurricanes have drifted significantly from playoff positioning despite playing respectable hockey and enter the game 8 points (adjusted for games played) out of a playoff spot.
Earlier this week, I wrote a more detailed assessment of where the Hurricanes are right now and also wrote about what the Hurricanes must do in the month ahead to push up into playoff contention.
The good news is that the Hurricanes are playing well on home ice and being rewarded for it. They enter Friday’s game with a 7-game home winning streak.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Capitals
Against that backdrop, here is ‘what I’m watching for Friday’s game:
1) Continued success of strength on strength formula
Bill Peters’ winning formula at home has consisted of trying to play Jordan Staal’s line with the top defense pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce as a set of 5 and matching them against the other team’s top scorers as much as possible. Against the Capitals that means Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Jordan Staal looked good and mostly minus any rust in his return Tuesday after a 2-week layoff due to a concussion. He gets a big assignment on Friday. If that match up goes well and is at least break even, the game tilts to the Canes’ favor, so I will be watching closely to see how that goes on Friday.
After a long run during which I included goaltending simply to avoid jinxing a good situation, that facet of the game is becoming something to watch more closely. In 3 of the last 4 games, the Hurricanes defense has exhibited spurts of the nasty variety of defensive break downs and coverage issues that plagued the team early in the season. Two of those games matched the formula of being road third periods, but the same problem reared its ugly head at home and in the second period of all places on Tuesday. To be clear, the 3 recent tough games for Ward in terms of goals allowed have featured a complete mess in front of him, but I still think there is at least the possibility that he could have helped slow the collapse instead of just being completely buried under it. He had a solid 3-1 win in Los Angeles but has been tagged for 12 goals in about 2.5 games otherwise for a goals against average approaching 4.00. I will be watching closely to see if I can figure out if Ward is cooling in general or if perhaps the disaster in front of him was just too great in these recent games.
3) Continuation from Hainsey/Faulk
In a game for offense on Tuesday, Ron Hainsey and Justin Faulk led the way from the back end. Each scored a goal and Faulk also added 2 assists. The duo was also noticeably absent from the burst of coverage break downs which is maybe an even better sign. The real test for Hainsey/Faulk comes when the team next hits the road, but it would be great to see them build momentum heading into that and also important for the Hurricanes to collect a bunch of points in the 4 home games first.
4) Derek Ryan with Skinner/Rask
Among a number of options on an 8-goal night, I had Derek Ryan as my first star in Tuesday’s win. During the stretch when the Hurricanes were going from down 5-2 to up 6-5, Ryan had a pretty assist to Rask, a pretty assist to Skinner and was the screen in front of Hainsey’s seeing-eye point shot that found the back of the net. Things happened incredibly quickly and a litany of players participated, but if I had to rate 1 as the most significant, it was Ryan.
I wrote about Derek Ryan’s emergence for my Daily Cup of Joe post earlier this week. His skill set is that of a crafty, undersized playmaker maybe a bit from the Ray Whitney mold. With Rask in the role of a smart, read/react player but not so much a pure playmaker who needs the puck on his stick at center, adding playmaking on the right wing seems to make sense. And anyone who can help Jeff Skinner get a couple more scoring opportunities per game obviously helps the Hurricanes score more.
The sample size is incredibly small, but Derek Ryan is hot right now, and his skill set could be a good fit for that line. On Friday, I will be watching closely to see if Derek Ryan’s game on Tuesday is something that he can do consistently to help boost the top scoring line.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena. If you don’t have a ticket, get 1. The Hurricanes are playing incredibly well at home right now and are worth your entertainment $ and free time on a Friday night.