After a three-day layoff, tonight the Hurricanes start a quick burst of three home games in four days leading up to the the short Christmas break. Each of the past two weeks has seen the team salvage something in the last game of the week but still finish minus for the week. Though there is positive in the fact that they have not drowned yet, the Hurricanes have slipped to a treading water one game above hockey .500 and suddenly find themselves three points out of a playoff spot (as measured by games above .500). The team is very much in the playoff hunt but also on the outside looking in with a current trajectory that does not get it done.
So Thursday represents a chance to start anew and put forward a positive week that moves up and charts a different path forward.
The opponent is a Red Wings team that despite being written off as rebuilding before the start of the season had been in a position pretty similar to the Hurricanes until recently. A current four-game losing streak has taken its toll and pushed the Wings to two games below hockey .500.
On the Hurricanes side, Curtis McElhinney seems to be back in the fold (assumed because Darling was sent down leaving no other backup goalie). Jordan Staal is also set to return and get the Hurricanes closer to its full roster. The biggest carry forward from Sunday’s win would be to bring the stingy defense that limited shots and also saw Petr Mrazek stand tall when needed.
Against that backdrop, here is my watch list for Thursday’s game…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Detroit Red Wings
1) More of the same defensively
With Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce reunited and Justin Faulk and Calvin de Haan continuing the play well, the Hurricanes were really good defensively. Ideally the team will begin to post a few fours for goals scored, but Sunday’s brand of hockey does at least make a 2-1 win a possibility if that is the only way. So on Thursday, I will be watching for a continuation of Sunday’s stingy play defensively.
2) Riding Sebastian Aho
After a short slower stretch, Aho has surged of late. For a team that has intermittently struggled to score recently, timing could not be better for Aho to put the team on his back for a stretch to help generate a winning streak. The early read on Aho is how fast he is playing in transition. When he looks like he is flying around in the higher gear that he has, offense almost always follows. So early on I will be tracking Aho’s pace, and as the game wears on I will be watching to see if he can again lead offensively.
3) Dialed up intensity
In games where team has been challenged with adversity it has generally risen to the occasion in terms of dialing up the compete level. But the key is to be able to play desperate when things are actually not desperate to extend winning streaks even on off nights. With three days off, a couple team holiday activities and the approaching holiday season, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can negate any distractions and dial things up on the ice at 7pm tonight.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.