Friday night in Raleigh, the Carolina Hurricanes earned a much-needed win against a struggling Columbus Blue Jackets team. It was the Canes first win of 2016 after a 0-1-1 start, pushed the team to 1-1-1 for a challenging travel week and inched the team closer to the big pack of teams in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
With no rest for the weary, the Canes are right back at it on Saturday night in Columbus. It is at least what I call a fair back-to-back in which both teams played and traveled the night before and actually about as fair as you can get since the teams played each other. And though it guarantees exactly nothing in the NHL, the opponent is favorable with the Blue Jackets continuing to struggle in 2015-16.
The game will mark the Canes seventh try to claw back to break even for the first time after losing the season opener and offers an important 2 points as the Canes try to close the gap between them and the second tier of teams in their division and conference.
Here is what I will be watching on Saturday night:
1) Lack of generosity defensively
After a very tough outing defensively in Wednesday’s loss, the Canes got back to playing at least sound hockey defensively on Friday. The team did have some trouble getting out of its own end at times and gave up a fairly high volume of shots, but gone were the horrible version of breakdowns. With mostly medium grade chances, Ward had a chance in net and put up a solid game.
2) Creation of scoring chances or a willingness to grind it out
The Canes did score 3 goals on Friday (not counting the empty-netter), but it was still nothing close to a lights out night offensively. The Terry goal was the result of a nice Skinner pass on a 2-on-1 rush, and the Canes did generate a few other good chances. But the offense largely came from a simple game of winning/keeping the puck in the offensive zone, feeding the point and getting bodies to the net. The hockey gods rewarded the Canes when 2 tips found holes and the back of the net.
Early on I will be watching to make sure the Canes again show up willing to do the work to score blue collar goals in case they need them. It would be nice to see that mixed with a bit more of the pure offense that has been hard to find of late.
3) Desire to push through
I suspect that the team is a bit worn out right now. Saturday sets up as another of those ‘long season grind’ games in which heart and manufactured desire are important. Just like Friday it is another important ‘any kind of win’ game. I will be watching to see if the leaders step up and lead through the grind.
4) Seeking energy
In a game like this, it is a bit of a wild card who somehow has their legs going and who does not. It is not always who you would expect. It could be Jordan Staal who is just playing well and looking strong right now, but sometimes it can be lesser players who are seeing less ice time and are therefore fresher. Regardless, these are sometimes games in which coaching can make a difference by figuring out quickly who has the higher pace and getting those players more ice time and sometimes shuffling lines a bit to get them on the rink together. I will be watching to see if Coach Bill Peters and his staff can find some right combinations to coax a win out of a challenging game physically.
5) Victor Rask?
It would also be a nice surprise to see Victor Rask back in the lineup. He practiced and was a game time decision (did not play) on Friday, so it is at least possible that he returns. If he is still ailing in a way that gets better with rest, I might be more inclined to sit him. The Canes have Sunday and Monday off, so 1 more missed game buys 3 days of healing. That said, he would be a huge addition that makes the team deeper in terms of reliable forwards on a night when the team could use as many players as possible.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.