After a solid win against the NHL’s top team on Tuesday and a couple days off including a fun day at PNC Arena yesterday, the Hurricanes kick off a back-to-back set at home on Friday and Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. With Philadelphia and Tampa Bay winning yesterday and the Hurricanes looking to stay ahead of the Lightning and close on the heels of the Flyers, the weekend set presents 2 games that the team really needs to win. Even a split would be leaving points on the table against 2 beatable teams on home ice.
The Sabres played, lost and traveled last night while the Hurricanes were lounging at home, so the Hurricanes have the schedule advantage and theoretically a physical edge. The Sabres are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 16-16-9 record but are by no means an easy win. With a little more luck in overtime, they could be much higher in the standings, and the team is also 3-1-1 in January even with Thursday’s loss.
Regardless, the Hurricane need to be less concerned with the opponent and just stay focused on doing what they have been doing on home ice which is winning. After finally surrendering a points streak on January 3, the Hurricanes are back at the winning thing with 2 wins that push their home record to 12-1-1 since November 10. That is pretty darn good.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres
1) Jump and a physical advantage
The Hurricanes who have generally “started on time” to use Bill Peters’ parlance have had a few games of late that saw them slow out of the starting gate. Against a team that played the night before, Friday is a good opportunity to come out on fire and attack with speed and pace from the opening puck drop through the final horn. I will be watching early to see if the Hurricanes can seize a physical advantage early.
2) Cam Ward
Cam Ward will make his 18th straight start. I wrote about Cam Ward and the Canes’ goalie situation in great detail for today’s Daily Cup of Joe. He has had a strong first half of the season overall, but he has taken a step back intermittently in January. He was not good in Tuesday’s win and ‘meh’ in Sunday’s win. He was tremendous in the 2-1 loss to the Blackhawks and also good in the 4-2 win in St. Louis prior to that. I would describe his play as up and down of late. That combined with the potential negative effects of the heavy work load have goaltending back on my regular list of ‘what I’m watching.’
Both Friday and Saturday’s games are games in which the Hurricanes are the favorite against (slightly) lesser teams on home ice. But in the NHL, favorite is much more like 55/45 or 60/40 odds of winning not 90/10. All being a favorite offers is a chance to rise up and seize a win if you show up and do the work. On Friday (and Saturday for that matter), I will be looking for the Hurricanes leaders to rise up and drive the game. Jordan Staal needs to play his elite brand of puck possession hockey helping shut down Eichel and company and driving play during his shifts into the offensive zone. Jeff Skinner needs to attack and be a factor offensively on a regular basis. And Justin Faulk needs to solidify the second defense pairing and also help push the play and the offense in the Hurricanes’ direction.
The puck drops at about 7:30pm at PNC Arena. If you are not a regular there for Hurricanes games these days, you are missing the best run of winning home hockey in years.