Through three games of the current seven-game home stand, the Hurricanes are a good, even if not perfect, 2-1. That mark looks even more impressive when one considers that two of the three games were against the top team in the NHL in the Washington Capitals. The second leg of the home stand starts with a match up against another top team in the Eastern Conference. After a slow start, the Lightning are only in third place in the Atlantic Division, but they are rising right now with a 7-2-1 record and looking to climb back to the top of the division that they won in 2018-19.
Like the Capitals, the Lightning are a team with an overabundance of star power such that if you have a lull and leave an opening, they are capable of sprinting through it for multiple goals. The Lightning also enter the game with six straight wins including three on the road.
But the Hurricanes have bested the Lightning in two prior meetings this season with a 4-3 overtime win early in the season and a 3-2 win at the end of November. The Hurricanes also receive a benefit schedule-wise with the Lightning having played Saturday night in Ottawa and traveling for the Sunday’s early 5pm start.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Tampa Bay Lightning
1) Trying to capitalize on the schedule with pace
With the Hurricanes in a nice rhythm of playing every other day-ish without travel, they should theoretically have a physical advantage over the Lightning who will have finished playing only about 19 hours prior to Sunday’s game and traveled after that. I will be watching especially early and late to see if the Hurricanes can parlay rest into an advantage in terms of quickness/jump to lose pucks and at transition points in the game.
2) Jordan Staal’s line
More than at other times during his coaching tenure, Rod Brind’Amour has recently been apt to use Staal’s line in a bit of a match up role. With the fire power that Tampa Bay has, I expect Staal’s line and likely also Slavin/Hamilton will be asked to do the heavy lifting against Tampa Bay’s best. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if the trio of Warren Foegele, Jordan Staal and Andrei Svechnikov can again be even or better against the Lightning’s best. The same goes for Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton.
3) Special teams or ideally avoiding special teams
During the recent road trip, a recurring theme in the wins was the Hurricanes taking a few too many unnecessary penalties but also the Canes penalty kill being invincible and mostly just wiping them away. During the stumble that occurred following the road trip, the special teams plus/minus reversed and the Hurricanes lost partly due to special teams scoring differential. Though the Hurricanes did score two power play goals late to even up the special teams scoring in Friday’s loss to the Capitals, I still paint special teams a negative. The Capitals used a power play goal on a Canes offensive zone penalty to at least temporarily halt a Canes push when they scored to start the third period. And Dougie Hamilton’s minor for a punch to T. J. Oshie with just under three minutes to go seemed to end the game prematurely. Against a Tampa Bay team with a ton of offensive fire power, special teams could again be a factor.
The puck drops at an early 5:07pm at PNC Arena.