Oh how quickly things can change over the course of a long NHL season.
Only a week ago the Carolina Hurricanes were making a triumphant return from an impressive 4-0-1 road trip. Fast forward just seven days, and the same team is now facing a bit of adversity from being mired in an 0-3 slump with an ugly loss in the middle.
To add to the drama, Saturday’s match up against is division and playoff foe Washington on a Saturday in the middle of the holiday season. The building will be full, and the atmosphere on and off the ice will be up a couple notches on the dial.
On the Washington side, the Capitals are atop the entire NHL with a 27-7-5 record. The team figures to again be hosting the last wild card team.
And just like last spring, the Carolina Hurricanes are set to be that first-round match up. After climbing to third in the division while winning out West, the Canes three straight losses have them sitting in the second wild card slot with a modest five-point lead that is really more like three points if you adjust for games played.
But more significantly, right now the Hurricanes are trying to get things back on track after an ugly loss in Toronto on Monday and a middle period mess that led to the same against the Rangers last night.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) A rise?
After struggling recently to dial things up for a full 60 minutes (even in many of the wins), can playing the Capitals in front of a full house help them find the 60 minutes of intensity that they had last spring in beating the Capitals in the playoffs? I will be watching to see if perhaps this match up can help the Canes find what has been missing.
2) Better from the best
Both of the last two losses have seen the Hurricanes struggle to contain the opponents’ top scorers. Mitch Marner and company went off in carrying the Maple Leafs to a wild 8-6 win. Then on Friday, Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider surged and defeated the Canes. Alexander Ovechkin and company represent another top shelf challenge but this time on home ice. I will be watching to see if the Canes top players can go toe to toe against Washington’s elite and be even or better.
3) Better attention to detail
Despite being in a good place in the standings, the Hurricanes have yet to really find a clean brand of hockey that does things like take care of the puck in key places and situations, close out games in the third period, keep penalties to a minimum and just more generally play sound hockey games. As the season wears on, good or better teams improve and generally settle into a rhythm of pretty sound play such that try to outgun or outrun mistakes for 5-4 wins is really hard to do against good teams. I continue to watch to see if the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes can find a cleaner brand of hockey. For specifics, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can avoid unnecessary penalties and turning the puck over in bad places for odd man rushes.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.