The Hurricanes five-game road trip has already been guaranteed a success with a stellar 3-0-1 start. Even with a loss and a 3-1-1 finish, the team will emerge from the trip better than when it started which is saying something for five straight on the road against some higher-end competition.
The finale is arguably the most challenging of all. The Colorado Avalanche are second only to the St. Louis Blues in both the Central Division and also the entire Western Conference. The Avs boast a superstar in Nathan MacKinnon and plenty of other offensive fire power to support him. Colorado is 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. The one wild card that could help the Canes is that the Avalanche played in Chicago on Wednesday and traveled while the Hurricanes were waiting and resting in Denver.
From the Hurricanes side, the goal right now is to just keep riding the current momentum to as many wins as possible. The team has been incredibly good for stretches and had a knack for just out-running and out-gunning the messy stretches. The team played its best period on the road trip for the middle stanza on Tuesday. Ideal would be to roll out three of those against a good Avalanche team.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Colorado Avalanche
1) Matching up against the elite
With Nathan MacKinnon leading the way, the Avalanche present a chance to see how the Canes match up against elite on the road where Brind’Amour has less ability to dictate match ups. The result is the need for the Canes to be sound and solid defensively 18 skaters deep regardless of who gets stuck on the ice against MacKinnon and company. So on Thursday, I will be watching to see how the Hurricanes stack up especially on the few shifts where the Avalanche can dictate a favorable match up.
2) Two lines deep
While giving credit to the top of the Avs lineup, it is also important to note that the Hurricanes have similarly been a very good hockey team of late and also present match up problems of their own. After a slow start, Sebastian Aho is scoring in bunches with fellow Finn Teuvo Teravainen matching him in the assist column. And Foegele/Staal/Svechnikov has arguably been just as good. For multiple years, I have said that a key for scoring balance depth for the Canes would be having a scoring third line that makes the Canes two deep offensively and complements Staal’s line that has traditionally been scoring-lite but very good defensively. The Holy Grail would be if instead a strong combination boosted Staal’s line offensively. The sample size is limited, but right now we might be seeing that come to fruition. As such, I will continue to watch Staal’s line to see if it can both play a strong puck possession game that stays out of trouble and at the same time score at a good NHL second line pace.
3) Pace and pressure
Thursday’s game is an odd one that sees the home team possibly at a physical disadvantage having played away from home the night before and traveling to play a rested team at home. As such, I will be watching early and late to see if the Hurricanes can use this somewhat uncommon scheduling advantage to gain the upper hand physically on road ice.
The puck drops at 9pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.