After a sluggish first effort and loss for 2017 on Tuesday night at home against New Jersey, the Hurricanes next take on a challenging back-to-back set on the road first in St. Louis and then in Chicago.
If you need a boost of optimism following the loss to open January, I suggest yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe which offers 10 reasons why the Hurricanes will make the 2017 NHL playoffs.
Through 2 stages of a mid-December blueprint to push up into the playoffs by mid-January, the Hurricanes were right on target. But phase 3 called for a 5-2 record during the home-heavy stretch starting 2017. The 0-1 start puts some pressure on the team to rebound quickly and have a productive 2-game set against tough opponents.
Adding to the standings situation is some waiver wire intrigue. Possibly right when the Hurricanes were flying to St. Louis, the team announced that it had claimed St. Louis Blues forward Ty Rattie off of waivers. I wrote about Ty Rattie and his waiver claim HERE. In a weird fit of scheduling, Rattie could meet and have dinner with his new team mates on Wednesday night and then immediately turn around and play against his old team in his old home arena on Thursday. Whether that is in fact on the slate will not be known until the morning skate.
‘What I’m watching’ preview for Carolina Hurricanes versus the St. Louis Blues
Against that backdrop, here is what I’m watching for Thursday night’s game in St. Louis.
1) A higher gear
One of the hallmarks of the Hurricanes 2016-17 season has been a high level of consistency in terms of pace and effort. Even in most bad losses, the issue was more sloppiness than pace in almost all cases. That was not the case on Tuesday. Whether it was because New Jersey successfully dictated play or whether the Hurricanes were just flat on Tuesday, the pace and intensity just was not there. The team made a late decision to cancel practice on Wednesday. I have not hear comments from Coach Bill Peters on that decision, but the logical rationale would be to use the day to recharge physically and reset before a busy 3 games in 4 days with travel before each starting on Thursday.
Last week, the Skinner/Rask/Ryan line had a solid week generating a ton of scoring chances only to be cheated by the score sheet. In the 2 most recent losses in Tampa on Sunday and against the Devils at home on Tuesday, the line was quieter and Jeff Skinner in particular seemed to be irritated on Sunday. Though Aho/Teravainen/Stempniak is recently mounting a challenge (which is a good thing), the Skinner/Rask combination is the team’s top scoring line. When they go quiet for too long, it becomes difficult for the team to score enough. Skinner is now scoreless in 5 games, Rask also 5 and Ryan 7. On Thursday, I will be watching closely to see if the line can resume generating scoring chances in volume.
After a long and solid run of Cam Ward every night in net, the goaltending situation is suddenly a little bit murkier. Eddie Lack is officially on injured reserve with a concussion, and Michael Leighton is back in tow as the backup. Maybe more significantly, Ward has taken a small step down from being close to perfect through much of December. Ward was really shaky in Sunday’s loss. The first goal came when he spit out a juicy rebound. The second goal went right through the wickets from a way out. And the final goal was a bad goal on a soft short side backhand. Tuesday’s loss was more of a team struggle but the all-important first goal did see Ward still playing the puck on the far side and never moving from the post as the puck was shot into the empty half of the net. I will be watching Thursday and Friday to see if the team does try to work Leighton into the mix to lighten Ward’s load and also to see if Ward rebounds.
As of Tuesday, Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm were still out of the lineup. There is a chance that either or both return for either Thursday or Friday’s game with Faulk seemingly on the faster schedule.
5) Ty Rattie
It is not yet clear if he will step straight into the lineup, but if he does, his first go in a Canes jersey is also is worth watching. Rattie’s resume is that of a skilled scorer/playmaker at the AHL level. Can he catch a spark, find chemistry and transition his scoring ability from the AHL to the NHL in the Hurricanes’ lineup?
The puck drops at about 8pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.