By no means has it been easy, but the Carolina Hurricanes will enter the sixth and final game of a long and meandering road trip with the chance to finish up at break even with a win.
Because of the minus status of the road trip thus far, the strong play by the rest of the Metropolitan Division and the beatable opponent who also played on Thursday and traveled, Friday’s game is the kind of game that the Hurricanes really need to win. ‘Must win’ for any single game in December is always an overstatement, but per today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I do think that the season slowly slips away for teams who do not capitalize on key games that are favorable match up-wise.
In short, the Canes come in at 1-2-2 on the current road trip and gradually falling behind the rest of the Metropolitan Division. The Sabres enter the game ahead of only Arizona among the NHL’s 31 teams and having played and traveled last night.
Per my article this morning, the game is the kind that the Hurricanes desperately need to win right now. Against that backdrop, here is ‘what I’m watching’ for tonight’s match up.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres
1) Seizing a physical advantage with pace and intensity
The advantage from resting and playing a team that played and traveled the night before is not a gift that is granted but rather an advantage that must be seized. Whether things come easily or hard, the Hurricanes need to show up from the opening face-off and play with pace and intensity that leverages the physical advantage that they should have in this game.
Ward is coming off a solid outing in picking up his 300th career win on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. More than anything better, Darling continues to be mired in a bit of a funk. With the back-to-back set, each goalie should get a turn. For Friday, whether it be Ward trying to build off Tuesday or Darling trying to rebound, the team desperately needs a run of steady goaltending to be a key component in climbing above .500 and up the standings before the gap becomes too much and the time too little.
I will be curious to see how Peters splits the weekend set. One school of thought could see him go with his lesser goalie right now at least in Buffalo giving him the easier game and hopefully a win. The risk there is if Darling struggles and the Hurricanes give away a winnable game, it would be another small dagger into the 2017-18 season. In addition to watching the level of play during the game, I will also be watching to see how Peters plays his cards. To his credit, he has been very good thus far this season in terms of ‘who to start when’ type decisions.
3) The leadership
As noted above, this game is as close to must-win as you can get for mid-December. The leaders need to lead and make it happen in games like this. I will be watching to see who steps up in that regard.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Mike and Tripp.