After a strong effort but ‘meh’ result with an overtime loss in Vancouver on Thursday, stop number three for the Hurricanes road trip lands in Calgary on Saturday afternoon.
The Flames still feature former Canes Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Derek Ryan, but the organization is without former Canes bench boss Bill Peters who resigned as a result of the Akim Aliu event.
On the ice, the changeover has done wonders for the Flames. The team was struggling enough that the possibility was increasing that Peters might lose his job for hockey reasons. Since Peters’ resignation, the Flames are 7-0 under interim head coach Geoff Ward.
The Hurricanes week has been a strange one. A fun but sloppy effort against the Oilers netted a win driven by the Canes ability to convert chances to goals at a high rate. What was probably a better effort overall on Thursday netted only an overtime loss point. Such is the ups and downs of a small sample size of games in the NHL. But even with Thursday’s overtime loss, the Hurricanes enter with positive momentum. I declared the stretch of ten games starting with the Predators game after Thanksgiving as being a tough stretch during which a modest 5-4-1 would have been acceptable. The Hurricanes are now 4-2-1 and would need only two points in the next three road games to hit that target.
Against that backdrop, my watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Calgary Flames
1) Best against best
Calgary is a team with a high-end offensive talent. The group started slowly but has been heating up. Johnny Gaudreau enters with three goals in the past two games. Sean Monahan enters with points in eight straight games. And Mark Giordano will certainly see a ton of ice time against Sebastian Aho and company. Quite often in the NHL, games are decided by which team’s best players rise up and lead the way. That could well be the case on Saturday. As such, I will be watching to see if the Canes can contain Johnny Hockey and company and also to see if Aho and his line mates can continue producing to lead the way to a win.
2) Special teams
On the negative side of the ledger, the Hurricanes continue to take too many penalties at inopportune times. On the positive side, the team’s penalty kill is elite right now. In addition, the Hurricanes power play has been hot. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if special teams can again be a positive for the Canes.
3) A bit more ugly
The Hurricanes played well on Thursday and probably deserved to score and win. But when it became clear that Jacob Markstrom was going to be a tough out, the Hurricanes went double or nothing on playing ‘beat the goalie’ firing more random shots on net like the Hurricanes of old. There is nothing wrong with shooting the puck, but beating Markstrom was more likely to result from chaos in the crease than a pretty shot or two. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can fight for an ugly goal or two.
The puck drops at an odd 4pm Raleigh time on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.