Canes fans who wandered away during the busy holiday season figuring the season and are returning for the new year missed a pretty good run of Canes holiday hockey. The Hurricanes finished December with a solid 8-5-1 mark that included some high quality wins against last year’s Cup-winner in the Blackhawks and the 2016 frontrunner in the Capitals.
Starting anew in January, the Hurricanes are simply looking to keep doing what they have been doing for a few weeks which is not something that has happened much over the past few years. After a random blender mix of line combinations through the first third of the season, Coach Bill Peters has settled into a formula that is working right now.
The Hurricanes will also look to accomplish a couple firsts on home ice. The team will look to climb back to break even after playing the entirety of the season below .500. This will mark the third try to get back to where the season started. The Canes will also look to go 2-1 for the week and string together consecutive winning weeks for the first time this season.
Shorter version: Nearing the midway point of the season and declaration time for even an outside chance at a playoff chase in March, the Hurricanes are playing well.
The Nashville Predators bring the annual return of former coach Peter Laviolette who sadly will not be in Raleigh for the 10-year anniversary of the Cup victory in February because he will be busy coaching obviously. The Predators currently sit in the last playoff spot in the Western Conference and need points wherever they can get them.
Here is what I am watching:
1) More of the same
It feels strange to write this, but right now the Canes are getting mostly what they need on a nightly basis. Especially at home, Jordan Staal with Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom are serving as a shutdown line extraordinaire and chipping in some offense to boot. Eric Staal has surged the past couple games driven in part by a Kris Versteeg resurgence and with help from Elias Lindholm. And Jeff Skinner has scored sporadically in bunches and equally importantly been at least solid/quiet defensively when not scoring on a line with Victor Rask and Phil Di Giuseppe. And the fourth line of Jay McClement, Riley Nash and Chris Terry has held their own and played a role in the penalty kill which is rounding into form.
We have seen enough of this with success that it is almost not necessary to check in after the morning skate to see who is playing together.
2) Foot on the gas/willingness to grind
Another key when things are going well is to avoid that 1 game where you take things for granted and do not put forward the effort. Tonight’s match up is dangerous in that regard. Nashville can play the aggressive forechecking and blue collar lunch pail type of game that has been the Canes’ Achilles heel at times this season. It was forever ago, but the teams’ first match up saw the Predators get the puck deep, attack and hem the Canes in their own end. One can bet that Laviolette will bring this same approach and game plan tonight.
The key for the Canes is to get the puck behind the first/second forechecker(s) quickly and moving with speed into the neutral zone such that the forecheck needs to back up a bit. If the Canes struggle to make the first pass, the Predators will push forward and make it real difficult to generate any flow through the middle of the ice and into the offensive zone.
3) The leaders leading
The first 2 games after the break featured game-winning goals by Justin Faulk. The next 2 games featured 3 goals by Eric Staal despite earning only a split. Jordan Staal has been playing well in his checking role. And both goalies have at least played well enough to give the team a chance. If the Canes are going to continue to win, the top players will need to continue to play well on a nightly basis.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.