It is strange how quickly fortunes can turn in the NHL. Less than 2 weeks ago, the Hurricanes were coming off a horrible 5-1 home drubbing at the hands of the New Jersey Devils and sitting near the very bottom of the NHL. Coach Bill Peters was not happy. The players were not happy. The fans were not happy. And the group in total was scheduled for a tumultuous holiday season with everyone watching GM Ron Francis to see if/when/how big the shake up was. Francis did shake things up a bit by recalling 3 rookies from Charlotte (Jaccob Slavin, Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe). All 3 were inserted straight into the lineup and Slavin and Di Giuseppe have settled into the group that take the ice regularly for the Canes these days.
And rather than the ‘get younger rebuild’ that many expected the team has actually turned things around at least temporarily. Since the rock bottom game on December 3, the team has won both halves of back-to-backs on both weekends with only 1 loss in the middle. The 4-1 record has pushed the Canes a bit up the standings and significantly changed the Hurricanes holiday mood.
The biggest positive story is the scoring. Jeff Skinner has been on fire. The power play has been much better and not only Justin Faulk. Peters has ridden the same line combinations for the longest stretch this season and received production from all of them. The team has now scored 5 goals in 4 consecutive games.
More succinctly, the offense is suddenly clicking.
Hiding beneath the feel-good exterior and positive results is the fact that the goalies continue to struggle and be a question mark on a nightly basis. Despite winning 4 of 5, the Canes have allowed 17 goals over that span, and Saturday’s third period collapse that turned a 4-1 lead into an exciting 5-4 overtime win was another clear reminder that there are still issues (in net) lurking below the surface of the recent run of winning hockey.
But despite any questions of sustainability and formula, it has been fun to be a Canes fan again for the past 10ish days with wins, exciting hockey and the fact that it is being accomplished with the team taking yet another step to get younger. The team is now up to 4 rookies in the lineup to go with other young players.
Analysis aside, I will gladly take any kind of win in Philadelphia to close out the current 4-game road trip with a 3-1 record.
With that here is what I am watching for the Canes game in Philadelphia tonight:
1) The goalie
I have not seen an official announcement yet, but I am figuring Lack gets the start coming off 2 wins despite the modest basic stats behind the 2 wins. I have been clamoring for awhile for Peters to give Lack a run of games to see if he can find a groove, so while I would not so much say he clearly earned it on Saturday, I am hoping to see Lack in net on Tuesday night. Even more so, I am hoping for some kind of sign that he is on a path to being a solid starter for a run of games.
2) Jeff Skinner
A few weeks back, Skinner seemed to be getting plenty of good chances but finishing none of them. Whether it was a whiff, a miss or a great save, he just could not score despite doing everything right up to the point where the puck went in the net. That has changed in a big way. He has now scored 6 goals in 4 games and is leading the offense. The volume of scoring chances has not really changed, but the finishing rate is 10/10 recently. Especially until the Canes find a way to slow other teams’ scoring, Skinner’s outburst is huge. Here is hoping it continues.
3) The kids on D
Because good times and bad, that is still my favorite story going with the Carolina Hurricanes. Brett Pesce is a top 4 NHL defensemen and just keeps clicking away games in that role. Noah Hanifin has become the primary quarterback for zone entry on the power play and is looking good in that role and playing on the first power play unit in general. Jaccob Slavin continues to be a solid half of a solid D unit with Hanifin. The future is bright.
4) Pedal still down?
Tuesday’s game features the last game of a 3-time zone road trip before a return home. It potentially finds the sense of desperation and urgency waning just a little with the team playing better. Is this the game where the intensity lets up just a little and leads to a loss. With the Canes gradually climbing in the standings but still a ways back of the pack, the current run is not enough. It only pushes the team to the high end of the ‘still bottom of the league’ pack in which the Canes have lived all season.
So do we see the Canes leverage confidence and success to play even harder to finish the road trip right with a win? Or do we see the team take its foot off the gas ever so slightly and pay for it? I think more than anything, which side of the ledger this goes will determine the outcome on Tuesday.
The puck drops a few minutes after 7pm on Fox with John, Tripp and Michelle.