After a disappointing three-game Thanksgiving home stand that saw the Hurricanes and the team’s fans suffer tough losses to the Rangers and Leafs before salvaging something with a Sunday win against the Predators, the NHL schedule gifted the Hurricanes with a second try with three home games during Christmas week. Thus far, the second try is going much better with two wins heading into a Friday match up against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens game is the first of two in a back-to-back set.
Despite being the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Pens enter the game sputtering a bit. Pittsburgh enters the game tied with the Hurricanes with 41 points but has also played two more games. My math has them two points behind the Hurricanes when adjusting for games played. In addition, the Penguins are only 4-6 in their past 10 games, so the game interestingly represents a chance to push down a team that is surprisingly below the Hurricanes right now.
As of right now, the Penguins are very much one of the teams that the Hurricanes are battling for a playoff spot which makes this a big four-point game.
But with the Hurricanes playing well and being rewarded for it right now, the focus for Friday’s game is less about the opponent and more about just continuing on the winning path. To stay on this path, the Hurricanes need to keep doing what they have been and maybe clean up a few small things to continue the winning ways.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Pittsburgh Penguins
1) The same pace and attacking style
Of late, the Hurricanes have been pretty consistently playing a good brand of hockey that includes pace and an attacking mentality and style of play that has been generating offense. Key for the Hurricanes winning run is continuing to play that same brand of hockey regardless of opponent. On Friday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can again attack early and often and not make any unnecessary adjustments in that regard with the defending champions in town.
2) A cleaner game in terms of puck management
Hidden behind a strong outing by Cam Ward in Wednesday’s win was a sub-par game in terms of puck management. In my game recap, I detailed what I thought was a sloppy game against Montreal in terms of handling and moving the puck. Cam Ward bailed the team out on Wednesday, but giving Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins too many opportunities to transition quickly from defense to offense is a risky recipe. On Friday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can play a cleaner game in terms of puck management.
3) Continuation of scoring ways
In recent games, the team seems to be on the brink of finding a higher gear offensively. Justin Faulk broke through with two goals in last Saturday’s win and followed it up with a pretty assist in Wednesday’s win. Sebastian Aho has scored in consecutive games. Teuvo Teravainen finally broke through with a goal on Wednesday after more than a month without one. Jeff Skinner has not truly broken out yet, but he has points in four of the last five games and has been buzzing of late. Finally, the power play that has struggled throughout most of the 2017-18 season has scored in each of the last three games. If the Hurricanes can get these top offensive contributors all clicking at the same time, the next push up in the standings could be fueled by scoring. In Friday’s game, I will be watching to see if key scoring contributors can continue on a path to put it all together at the same time.
The puck drops at 7:37pm at PNC Arena.