Fresh off winning at home against New Jersey and then on the road in Chicago, the Carolina Hurricanes play Tuesday night in New Jersey aiming to run a win streak to 3 games. That does not sound like anything too significant, but the Canes have accomplished this only once in 2015-16 way back in late October at the tail end of the western road trip.
Reaching even past the streak, the Hurricanes have been playing winning hockey for even longer and enter the New Jersey game with a 7-3-1 mark since what I called a ‘rock bottom’ loss ironically to the same Devils back on December 3. With only 2 games remaining in December, the Hurricanes have already guaranteed a winning month of Decemeber but still desperately need points again tonight if they want to make a go of the 2015-16 season.
That need to muster a big push coming out of the break has been the biggest theme of my previews since the holiday break and is again today.
Here is ‘what I’m watching’ for the Canes Tuesday match up against the New Jersey Devils:
1) The top dog
As the 2015-16 season goes on, Justin Faulk continues to cement himself as a top leader of the team. This is not a surprise just as it was not a surprise when he was awarded an ‘A’ before the season. But the magnitude and assertiveness to his claim as first in line has been even bolder than I expected. It has been the case all season and especially in the 2 games after the break. Faulk has his usual ton of minutes to go with 3 points and 2 game-winning goals.
2) The kids on D
We are quickly nearing the point where we leave the ‘hey, they don’t look out of place at the NHL level’ joy behind us and start looking forward. For the Hurricanes to be better on a long-term basis, the young defense will need to take the next step from ‘being able to handle it’ to ‘driving wins’ at the NHL level. There are early signs that this will be the case. Brett Pesce is taking another step offensively and has become the second most dangerous Canes blue liner offensively. Noah Hanifin has established himself as the primary quarterback for gaining entry into the offensive zone offensively and has shown flashes of doing the same 5-on-5. And Jaccob Slavin now jumps up (twice anyway) to play in the top 4 with Ron Hainsey in the second half of back-to-backs when Peters/Smith shuffle things to spread minutes a bit differently. The next step is for this trio to seize the controls and join Justin Faulk as the players who make the Canes better than whoever they are playing against.
3) No let down
Despite a good run of productive hockey, the Hurricanes still sit closer to the draft lottery jockeying than the group of teams who will be playing hockey that still matters in March. The key for the Canes right now is to ride the good momentum but not get get content and have that 1 game where they let the foot off the gas and give away a game without making the opponent earn it.
Tonight’s game starts at about 7pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.