Through 3 games of a 4-game home stand, the Hurricanes are a solid 2-0-1. The Canes arguably left a point on the table losing a 3-2 third period lead and then losing in a shootout to the Capitals on Friday, but the hockey gods FINALLY evened things up a bit when the good guys won in a shootout on Saturday against the Sabres.
In an article setting goals for the month ahead last week, I said that the Canes needed to go 3-1 in the first leg that featured 4 home games. With a win tonight, the Hurricanes can actually do 1 point better. With a loss they will fall a point short. Especially with the Flyers showing signs of returning to Earth with a loss on Saturday, the time is now for the Hurricanes to make a statement if they are going to be in the playoff mix come late March.
The regular playoff entry Detroit Red Wings enter the game with a modest 14-14-4 record and are currently on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go. They come in after salvaging a win against the Anaheim Ducks after losing 4 straight (1 in overtime) at home prior to that. Thus far, the Wings have been sputtering offensively at 26th in the NHL in goal scoring and 29th in terms of power play proficiency.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Detroit Red Wings
1) Skating legs
In the second half of the back-to-back home set, the Hurricanes looked slow and sluggish on Saturday against the Sabres. The compete level was there, and the Hurricanes grinded out a win, but they did not have it physically. Here is hoping that 1 day off is enough to rejuvenate the team a bit for 1 more good effort at home. The disjointed holiday season schedule does offer some rest ahead with 2 days off after tonight before another back-to-back set then followed by 4 days off around Christmas. So this week is an ’empty the tank’ kind of week where Peters can push players hard and do whatever he needs to get wins.
2) Putting it all together at forward
Coach Bill Peters has found some combinations that have worked incredibly though a bit sporadically at forward. In total, the results have been favorable scoring-wise at least at home. Especially with more road games coming up, ideal would be to get everything working at the same time for a solid balanced scoring attack.
Skinner/Rask/Ryan: Ryan has assumed the role of playmaker/puck distributor on this line and has 3 assists in 3 games. Especially at home, that line continues to be a regular scoring threat.
McGinn/Staal/Lindholm: It is just a hunch, but I think once the team takes to the road that Peters might reinforce this line with veterans, but for right now McGinn is getting a great opportunity to show what he can do in a top 9 slot.
Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak: It has been a bit intermittent, but this line has looked good and produced offensively. One of the team’s biggest struggles early in the season, especially on the road, was depth scoring from a third line. Here is hoping that this trio can find every-game consistency and also take it on the road.
Nordstrom/McClement/Stalberg: The fourth line continues to be solid, play an integral role on the league-leading penalty kill and chip in more offense than expected from a fourth line. This line was the team’s best in a sluggish effort on Saturday.
I will most closely be watching Staal’s line. It is not the traditional Staal with skating/defensive reinforcements variety, but if it works, it makes the team deeper.
The game will be the third in 4 nights for Cam Ward. He looked fine in the back-t0-back Friday and Saturday and his early season ups and downs did not seem to be workload related. That said, Peters has recently gone away from traditional NHL form which is using back-to-backs to keep the backup in the mix and in some kind of rhythm. This can be risky over the course of a long 82-game, 6+ month NHL season. Tonight I will be watching to see if Ward can bring the same level of play that he brought in Saturday’s win and continue to be a key contributor to the Hurricanes’ push up above .500.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm at PNC Arena.