Potentially with a fit of merciful scheduling, the Hurricanes 1pm game on Saturday will come and go before many Canes fans realize that the game was not the usual night time start.
After a rough December spent falling down the Metropolitan Division standings, the Carolina Hurricanes will finish the month playing the only two teams in the division that are still below them. On Saturday, the Hurricanes play the New Jersey Devils, and on Monday the team finishes the month against the Philadelphia Flyers. The team will need to collect points in at least one of these games to avoid starting the new year in last place in the division.
One positive trend right now is that the Hurricanes have managed to win their final game of the week to salvage something from a tough week in three consecutive weeks. Hopefully, that trend continues for the fourth straight week.
The opponent on Saturday is a New Jersey Devils team that has also struggled in the first half of the 2018-19 season. The Devils are a treading water 4-4-2 in their past ten games but are three games under .500 for the season in total.
But right now, it is not about the opponent but rather the Hurricanes struggling to figure out their own game. The biggest problem right now is the lack of scoring past Aho’s line. In the games when Aho does not surge, the offense has been consistently sparse.
Against that back drop, my watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New Jersey Devils
1) Determination not trepidation out of the gate
Most certainly this team has to be battling some self doubt right about now. Can they channel that into determination and a bit of aggression? Or will they play the same hesitant brand of hockey that they did in a lackluster first period against the Capitals on Thursday? With an eye out for Jordan Martinook who has regularly led the way in similar situations, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can play a hungry and desperate style of hockey out of the gate.
2) Sebastian Aho
The way out of predicaments like the current one often requires a player or two to lead. The lettered leaders of the team obviously have a role to play, but the player with the greatest chance to put the team on his back and carry it for a stretch is Sebastian Aho. He has done that intermittently which is maybe all that is fair to ask, but right now the team could use more. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if Aho can lead the way to a win.
3) The rest of the offense
The Hurricanes have settled into a stretch where the the biggest issue is scoring. The team desperately needs to find some offense past Sebastian Aho’s line. The power play has struggled, and no line other than Aho’s has produced much offensively. If that does not change, the team’s fate is mostly decided, so on Saturday I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can muster some offense past what Aho generates.
The puck drops at 1pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.