Earlier this week, my Daily Cup of Joe suggested that the upcoming stretch of six games with five of those at home could be ‘pivotal’ for the Canes 2018-19 season.itI followed up by harping on the same in my game preview for Tuesday’s match up against the Leafs to kick off the six-game run. With two losses since then, the articles now read like a prediction of possible impending doom.
Tonight in Raleigh, the Hurricanes get another chance to try to get the train back on the tracks. The task has become an all too familiar one over the past few weeks with the team struggling to at least tread water and not go under.
The opponent is another challenging on in the defending champion Washington Capitals. After a mediocre start the Capitals have risen to the top of the Metropolitan Division led by a massive scoring surge by Alexander Ovechkin. The 2018-19 totals are so much that people are talking about what it takes for Ovechkin to catch and overtake Wayne Gretzky. The team in total comes in having won 10 out of its last 12.
But the focus for the Hurricanes needs to be inward right now. Justin Williams used the term ‘middling’ after the disappointing home loss to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. Right now, it feels like a reach for this team just to keep its head above water, and maybe right now that needs to be the goal. Certainly, the team will need to find a winning streak at some point, but mid-December has been very much about not drowning. With Staal out and Ferland likely too, the forward group is undermanned in terms of experience right now and struggling to score. And more significantly, the aggressiveness, tenacity and swagger that the team played with in preseason seems like a distant memory late.
With urgency increasing and adversity too, here are my watch points for Friday’s game…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) A better start
The Hurricanes team that had tenacity as its calling card early in the season has been flat out of the gate in consecutive games and only able to muster intensity and pace after being punched in the face a few times. Especially with adversity growing a bit, will this team muster determination and a bit of a frustrated edge in a good way? Or will it look like teams in the Canes recent past that too patiently and meekly waited for the hockey gods to throw them a bone to get back on track at least briefly? On Friday night, I will be watching to see what kind of attitude and intensity the Hurricanes have to start the game.
2) Something different
This is completely subjective/a matter of personal opinion, but the current vibe around the team is uncannily and eerily similar to recent years. The team is sputtering a bit and seemingly occasionally finding the shock paddles to come to life, collect a win or two and provide hope. But the consistency, vibe and any kind of rhythm are completely missing. I keep watching for some kind of indication that with the changeover in captain and coach that deep inside this team it truly is different. But this is ultimately to be demonstrated/proven and not granted based on names or histories. One game would not do it, but I keep hoping for a step in that direction that ultimately leads to much more.
The Canes have mustered two four-goal scoring outbursts in recent times, but I am not sure the team is out of the woods scoring-wise. Aho broke through for what was a big goal at the time on a heady Teravainen spring pass. The team desperately needs that duo to contribute on a nightly basis right now. Andrei Svechnikov had what I would term his first full game as a dominant power forward scorer. He has had his moments and shown flashes in past games, but on Thursday his ability to be an offensive diference-maker on a regular basis was at another level. On Friday, I will be watching these three young offensive leaders but also the team in total to see what it can muster offensively.
4) Checking Ovechkin
With no Jordan Staal at center, it will be interesting to see what Brind’Amour does to try to slow Ovechkin. Will he primarily use Slavin/Pesce or de Haan/Faulk? And minus Staal will he have a preferred forward group or more just roll lines? Regardless, Ovechkin is coming off a hat trick and has 13 goals in his last 12 games. Losing track of him right now comes with a high risk of peril.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena.