In my game preview for Saturday’s match up against New Jersey, I declared the stretch of games right after the holiday break as important for determining the direction of the rest of the season. Do the Canes muster 1 last valiant push to climb into the 2015-16 season? Or do they quickly fade into the group of teams talking solely about the 2016 draft?
The Canes responded with a win which is obviously a good start. But it is not enough. The team really needs to put together a decent run and then follow it up with another run or at least not give it all back over the games that follow.
Sunday’s match up against Chicago offers a chance to stretch the first run to 2 games. The situation is challenging having played and traveled and meeting the current Stanley Cup champions. But at least in this point in the season, I would rank the Blackhawks below the Capitals in terms of being both good and hot. So perhaps the fact that the Canes played the Caps to a 2-1 loss that was close until the end is a sign that the team is capable of winning a game like this.
My ‘what I’m watching’ is very similar to last night’s:
1) Who rises up and leads?
If the Canes are to muster a push as we flip into 2016, it will require the team’s best players to be great on a regular, not intermittent, basis. Justin Faulk had 2 points yesterday. Eric Staal got on the score sheet. Cam Ward gave up only 1 goal. Can the Canes get leading production from those key players and ideally more? Or is this the random quiet game that we have seen break a few other streaks.
2) The kids on D
Brett Pesce scored yesterday. At some point in the near future wins and losses will be driven by the currently 23 and under group that is rising up. Perhaps the future is coming faster than we know. And besides that, it continues to be the best Canes story line for the 2015-16 season.
3) Road match ups against an elite team
At home Coach Bill Peters is consistently and reasonably successfully assigning Jordan Staal’s line to mark the other teams’ best scoring line. On the road, the Blackhawks will steer their scorers away from Jordan Staal and also look to test the young defensemen. Can the other lines and the young defense rise up and stop some serious NHL fire power? Or do they get snowed under?
The puck drops a few minutes after 7pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.