When the Carolina Hurricanes faced the Washington Capitals in the final game before the Christmas break, the Caps were staking a claim to being the best team in the NHL and were red hot. Fast forward about a week, and the Caps have tacked on 3 more wins without a loss. The Jedis of the NHL right now come in with a 9-game winning streak and have picked up at least a point in 17 of their last 18 games.
Impressive would be an understatement.
In the previous meeting, the Hurricanes played a solid hockey game, pushed hard and had chances to tie in the third period, but ultimately lost 2-1 despite putting forward a solid effort.
This is 1 of those games that the Canes really are not supposed to win which I think makes it even more important. To get past the 3 steps forward, 2 steps back treading water version of decent play, the Canes need to string something together soon. The team’s 2-1 mark since the break is good, but a loss tonight drops them to a respectable but not good enough 2-2 that clicks off another 4 games with no progress. Games like this are also incredibly important for the core fan base. It is no secret that we have seen some hard times over the past years, big wins over good teams on holiday celebration nights offer fuel to keep pushing forward with a positive outlook.
There really are no significant changes from that game. Winning will take a similar effort, good goaltending and some combination of timely finishing and maybe a break or 2.
Here is what I will be watching for the Hurricanes New Year’s Eve tilt with the current leader of the NHL’s elite:
1) The leaders need to be very good
In general, I have been looking for the top third of the Canes roster to make a push coming out of the break. So far, that has happened for the most part. Justin Faulk scored game-winners to help the Canes earn 2 wins. Eric Staal notched 2 timely goals in the Canes third game and seemingly had his team on target for a win before a few odd bounces stole it. And Jordan Staal’s line continues to play well in a checking role and provide at least some scoring.
The Canes will need all of that to win on Thursday night. Jordan Staal’s line will play 18ish dangerous minutes against elite scorers and must hold even. Justin Faulk will similarly see a ton of minutes against the same dangerous opponents and be asked to help score. And Eric Staal along with the rest of the roster will need to find a way to put the puck in the net 2-3 times against a team that is giving up less than that most nights these days.
2) A full roster push from the quieter part of the team
The Hurricanes have seen sporadic scoring of late with Jeff Skinner playing a stretch of phenomenal offensive hockey, a power play sighting and other scoring. The key is to try to find a more consistent push across multiple lines that can generate sustained pressure and momentum. Skinner has been quieter of late. Lindholm has been quiet in general in 2015-16 except for sporadic flashes.
The margin for error is small against a surging Capitals team. The Canes will need to be good in net to have a chance.
Note that the puck drops an hour earlier than normal at 6:07ish pm because of the holiday.