The past two games probably offer the widest gap in terms of hockey goodness and hockey badness for the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes. On Thursday, the Canes beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins on the road in resounding fashion by a 4-0 score. Then on Saturday, the Hurricanes failed to show up for the start of the game, were down 5-1 by the end of the first period and never recovered, ultimately losing 7-1.
One needs to look back only a couple weeks to see how the Hurricanes might rebound after a debacle like Saturday’s game. After being thumped 8-1 in Toronto on December 19, the Hurricanes rebounded two days later with a strong effort and a quality 4-2 road win in Nashville.
Here is hoping that the Hurricanes respond similarly when they travel to Tampa to play the Lightning on Tuesday because they will need to. Tampa Bay is the best team in hockey so far and is currently tracking at an impressive 123-point pace.
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for Tuesday’s game:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Tampa Bay Lightning
1) Resiliency and determination
Most important is that the Hurricanes use Saturday’s bad loss as motivation to dig down and find a higher gear versus the alternative of allowing the game to stir up self doubt. The Hurricanes have generally been a good hockey team of late and just need to get back to that.
I will be watching for a couple key measuring points:
–Can the goalie be sharp early and inspire confidence from the team in front of him?
–Do the Hurricanes come out with pace and intensity?
–Maybe most importantly, can the team tidy up its defensive play and attention to detail?
Cam Ward (who I would expect to start on Tuesday) put together a nice run in net that helped push the Hurricanes up into the playoff position that they still maintain if you adjust for games played. But he has not been great in two of his last three outings. He gave up five goals in the 5-4 overtime loss to the Capitals, followed that with a shutout, but then was pulled really early after giving up soft goals on each of the first two shots that he faced in Saturday’s implosion in Boston.
With Darling still trying to find his way and Ward having a couple lesser outings in the span of a week, I will be watching on Tuesday to see if the team can get a rebound in net.
3) Another elite line challenge
In my preview for the Bruins match up, I mentioned Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak as a challenge, especially on the road where the Hurricanes could not dictate match ups against the top line. The trio, led by Patrice Bergeron, ate the Hurricanes alive scoring four goals.
Tuesday features a match up against the highest scoring line in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos come into the game at #1 and #4 (tied) in the entire NHL in scoring. As points of reference, Stamkos and Kucherov’s combined 44 goals are nearly double the 24 registered by the Hurricanes top two goal scorers (Aho and Skinner with 13 goals each).
Without the ability to match up with the dynamic Tampa Bay duo, the Hurricanes will need to be solid defensively from top to bottom to avoid a repeat of Saturday night.
4) Leadership rising up
To the Hurricanes’ credit, the team responded well last time they laid an egg in Toronto. A challenge is thrust upon the leadership to make sure the uses Saturday as fuel to reach a higher gear in terms of intensity and level of play. Early in Tuesday’s game, I will be looking for leaders like Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Justin Williams to set the tone for a better effort.
The puck drops at 7:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.