The Hurricanes lost in overtime in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but the OTL point was good enough to push a road points streak to 3 games and finish the 4-game road trip net positive at 2-1-1. All in all, the 4-game stretch was a success.
Friday sees the Canes return home for the first half of a back-to-back with the second half in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Friday’s opponent, the Florida Panthers, played Thursday in New Jersey, so theoretically the Canes should have the edge physically.
But they tried this formula with the Florida Panthers awhile back with horrible results. On October 13 in the third game of the season, the Hurricanes had a Tuesday match up against the Panthers in Raleigh the day after they played in Philadelphia. Any hopes for the Hurricanes to have an advantage physically were dashed early and often. The Panthers attacked and forechecked aggressively and the Hurricanes played nearly the entire game under duress in their own zone. The outcome was a 4-1 loss for the Canes.
Now 2 months later, the situation is obviously different, but I think the experience and game video is relevant in terms of understanding Florida’s style of play. They will skate hard and forecheck aggressively with some big bodies. The game could very well hinge on whether the Canes can move the puck quickly past the first line of attack and through the neutral zone.
Here is what I will be watching on Friday night in Raleigh:
1) How the Canes handle the forecheck
As noted above, the Panthers know what worked last time and generally play that style of hockey anyway. Expect them to attack aggressively deep in their offensive zone. This will be the first time around against the Panthers for both Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. How well the Canes young defensemen can move the puck will determine which end the game is played in.
2) The goalie
The goalie position continues to be a minus more often than not for the Hurricanes. I continue to hope that Coach Bill Peters rides Lack just a little bit longer (logical would be to give Ward the second half of the back-to-back tomorrow). This is not so much because Lack is playing well and has necessarily earned it. Rather, it is because I continue to hope that he can find a higher gear with a run of ice time. Regardless, this position continues to be 1 to watch in any Canes game until we get a consistent run of games where it is not a story.
3) Jeff Skinner
Even what he might do is easily worth the price of admission right now. In my post a few days back which is HERE, I did the math to declare that this is the hottest streak of Jeff Skinner’s NHL career. On home ice, Peters should have some ability to dictate match ups for Skinner’s line which have created nightmares Thursday night for a couple of Florida’s lesser players defensively.
4) Jordan Staal’s line back on the job
During the most recent Canes home games, Bill Peters deployed the Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom line as a shutdown line against the other teams’ best lines. The trio was pretty successful defensively and even chipped in some goals. On the road, they mostly saw whatever match up the opposing coach wanted, but now back at home, expect them to return to the shutdown role.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.