After a couple solid wins on a short two-game home stand, the Hurricanes now embark on a frequent flyer special five-game road trip that sees them traversing most ofthe western part of North America.
That road trip begins with a stop in Edmonton to face Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. After a disappointing 2018-19 season and a playoff miss, the 2019-20 Oilers are a much better team so far. The Oilers 18-10-4 mark is good enough for at tie for first place in the Pacific Division. Connor McDavid is doing his thing with a massive 30 points in 15 home games where his coach can cherry pick some match ups.
On the Hurricanes side, the goal is to carry the positive momentum out west and scratch and claw for as many points as possible on an arduous trip. A treading water 5-5 would be acceptable in avoiding a swoon, but with the Metropolitan Division so competitive, the Canes ideally need to find a way to do a point or two (or three) better than that.
My watch points for the first stop out West follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Edmonton Oilers
1) Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl
The Hurricanes have had some success at least slowing McDavid historically. As much as is possible, Jaccob Slavin has the quickness and agility to stay in front of him, and Brett Pesce is similarly a solid defender with enough mobility to at least slow him. But the road is tougher. Edmonton will have some ability to dictate match ups and maybe even steal a few shifts against the third defense pairing. As such, I will be watching to see how well Brind’Amour can get decent match ups and how well the Hurricanes can defend McDavid’s line 18 skaters deep if necessary.
2) Best against best
Trying to win by shutting out Connor McDavid’s line is an incredibly tough way to win with really long odds. Yes, the Hurricanes do need to hold him in check, but the game is also very much about the Canes top players rising up to play at a similar level. Niederreiter/Aho/Teravainen are coming off of a phenomenal night. Can they build on it? Jordan Staal has been gradually rounding into mid-season form, can he he help drive the play into the offensive zone where McDavid and company get to play defense instead of offense? Who else can rise up and have a huge game?
On the road against good or better competition, even a good effort from the Canes skaters will yield only a modest positive margin. A significant factor in this first game and also the entire road trip will be how well the team’s netminding is. Both goalies enter on a positive swing and will certainly see action on the trip. On Tuesday night, I will be watching to see if the Canes netminding plays well enough to be the difference if necessary.
It’s round 1 of 5 (though one game is actually in the afternoon) of #CanesAfterDark. Brew some coffee and get comfortable. The puck drops at 9pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.