On Tuesday night in Raleigh, the Hurricanes will close out a quick burst of four games in six days to start the 2018-19 season against the Vancouver Canucks. With a win, the team will take to the road for a shorter than usual three-game North Carolina State Fair road trip with an impressive 3-0-1 mark to start the season.
The game comes on the heels of a sloppy but wild in a fun way 8-5 win over the New York Rangers on Sunday. The Vancouver Canucks come in after a 7-4 loss to a Bill Peters-coached Calgary Flames team. The game also features a match up of rookie phenoms Elias Pettersson and Andrei Svechnikov. At least based on the headlines and a really short trend line, the game has the potential to be entertaining.
Below are my watch points for the game both in terms of on the ice and also a couple Rod Brind’Amour-related items.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Vancouver Canucks
1) A cleaner game
As fun as Sunday’s win was, the game strayed significantly from sound and solid. The Hurricanes had multiple defensive break downs, took too many penalties and were just sloppy in general. Were it not for a similarly sloppy effort from the opponent and a generous night from the opposing goalie, Sunday would have ended battle. I give credit where it is due for ‘finding a way’, ‘sticking with it’, ‘overcoming early adversity’, etc., but I would also like to see the team tighten things up a bit on Tuesday.
2) More of the same attacking style
The single best element of the team’s play and the most significant difference in my opinion is the pace, intensity and aggressiveness of the team’s attack especially from the forwards. The players have obviously been cleared to pin their ears back and attack even at the expense of making some errors of aggression. Thus far it is working. And I also think it is an incredibly good approach for a group with young legs and minimal experience in some cases. Trying to be perfect is a failing game, whereas playing to the strengths in a fast-paced game fits the group.
3) Rod Brind’Amour’s first foray into the challenging game of goalie management
I touched on this in my game recap on Sunday. On the one hand, Curtis McElhinney played better on Friday than Petr Mrazek has in his first two starts. On the other hand, Mrazek entered the season as the starter and despite not playing well in my opinion is 1-0-1 with no damage done thus far.
If one goes completely on the earned ice time approach, the McElhinney would start on Tuesday. But I think this is a trap that ignores the fact that the goalie position is different and fails to consider the long game of the 2018-19 season. McElhinney is a 35-year old career backup. He has played more than 30 games exactly once in his career, and that was five years ago. He has averaged 14 games per season in the four years since then. No doubt, if tomorrow’s game were to decide a playoff berth, McElhinney would be an easy choice. But the odds are strongly against McElhinney morphing into a starter who is capable of starting 40-50 games, being strong throughout an 82-game season and being good enough to be part of a playoff push.
So getting to the point, I think betting on McElhinney to be the starting goalie that leads the the team to the playoffs is a lower probability bet than Mrazek or Darling. Some might say not to take it one game at a time, but I think ousting Mrazek from the starting role only two games into the season especially with a win and an overtime loss in two starts could ding his confidence and possibly even trigger an early end to his potential viability as a starter.
With a back-to-back set this weekend, I would go back to Mrazek despite his early struggles and then certainly use McElhinney again in one of the two games this weekend.
So on Tuesday, I will be watching to see how Brind’Amour handles his first quiz on goalie management. And especially if Mrazek gets the start, I will be watching to see how he plays.
4) Keeping the pedal down
The Hurricanes actually had a couple tiny bursts of wins in 2017-18, but one of their biggest issues was a seeming inability to stay heads down. After a couple wins, one could almost feel the sigh of relief or complacency or whatever else set in. The result time and again was a one step forward, two steps back path through the season without any ability to put together a win streak. The 2018-19 team deserves high marks thus far for maintaining a consistent level of intensity. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the team can maintain its intensity level and avoid the ‘we’re good now’ lulls from the 2017-18 season.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.