By no means has it been easy or pretty, but the Carolina Hurricanes return to Raleigh with a two-game winning streak in hand. Courtesy of a shootout win on Tuesday in Las Vegas and then an other side of the country overtime win in Buffalo on Friday, the Hurricanes will try to extend their winning ways.
The game is a scheduling oddity on numerous fronts. First, it sees the team return from a 13-day, six-game road trip just to play a single home game before departing again. The game is also odd in the sense that it represents the fourth and final match up against the Blue Jackets despite being only game #32 of the season and prior to a single meeting with either other division foes New Jersey and Washington.
I have said all season that the Blue Jackets are one of the toughest match ups stylistically for the Hurricanes in the entire NHL. They forecheck aggressively and push the game to the walls. If if they can force the Canes to the outside, the game sets up nicely for Vezina-caliber Sergei Bobrovsky to just make as many saves as needed on shots he tracks the whole way in. But despite the challenge, the Hurricanes are actually 1-0-2 through the first three games, so there is clearly hope.
Here is hoping that the Hurricanes can find a burst of energy in what can be a challenging first game home after a long road trip.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
1) Willingness and desire
On any night, the Blue Jackets can be challenging for the Hurricanes in their ability to push play to the outside and the walls. If the Hurricanes are dragging a bit physically and settle for the easier road, the game shapes up to be the garden variety Canes loss that sees the team win the possession/shot total battle but only because they are willing to play “try to beat the goalie” without forcing play to the middle of the ice and going to the front of the net. So on Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can push play in the offensive zone inside the face-off dots.
2) Scott Darling
We will not know for certain until Saturday, but the original plan was to stick to the norm and give each goalie a start in the back-to-back set. That would put Scott Darling in net on Saturday. If that is the case as expected, I will be watching to see if Darling can find his game. He has mostly had a tough time of it lately and seems to be trending in the wrong direction. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if Darling can suddenly find the higher level that he played at with the Blackhawks last season and has shown brief flashes of in 2017-18.
3) The next scoring hero
Jordan Staal had a huge game on Friday night in Buffalo, and Justin Williams has a three-game streak in terms of pretty directly contributing to a goal by being at the top of the crease when the puck arrived. But there has also been an element of heroics from players who do not usually lead the way offensively. First, Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe scored clutch shootout goals for the win in Las Vegas. Then, Jaccob Slavin scored in overtime to net another extra time win. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can continue the scoring/heroics by committee trend that does not rely only on the top of the scoring ranks to drive wins.
Saturday’s game is the kind that the team just needs to grind out somehow. Can Jeff Skinner break out with a huge game when the team really needs it? Can Jordan Staal find a carry forward from his two-point night on Friday? Can Justin Williams continue his run of helping produce goals by playing as much as possible at the top of the crease? Can Justin Faulk re-find his scoring touch and have a big game with a goal or two? On Saturday, I will be watching to see if one or two of the leaders can step up and lead the way.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena for the first time in December!