Fresh off another rousing home win that pushed the Hurricanes recent home record to an impressive 13-1-1, the team is right back at it on home ice against the New York Islanders on Saturday. And even better yet, the game on January 14 has playoff implications.
The opponent is the down on their fortunes squad from Long Island or I guess sort of Brooklyn these days. After an off-season that saw a few top forwards in Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo depart as free agents and a couple replacements including Andrew Ladd fill the holes, the Isles struggled to put together the pieces in the first half of the 2016-17 season. Their start was okay, but then a 4-6-4 November dug a hole that they are still trying to climb out of. In an unforgiving Metropolitan Division, the Isles 16-16-8 record (which actually is not that bad) puts them last in the division. More recently the Islanders are 1-1-2 in January and coming off of a 5-2 win against Florida last night.
But with the Hurricanes playing pretty well, especially on home ice, the focus should not so much be on the opponent but just continuing to do what is working. The 2016-17 Hurricanes home success has been built upon a foundation of playing a fast, attacking brand of hockey that can tilt the ice into the offensive zone for stretches and also score in bursts across multiple lines depending on the night.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Islanders
Against that backdrop, here is what I’m watching for tonight’s match up
1) Can the Hurricanes FORCE the play with skating
As noted above, a hallmark of the Hurricanes’ best efforts is a skating and attacking style. On Friday against the Sabres, they had it early and then seemed to get sidetracked temporarily when the Sabres scored first on a breakdown. With both teams playing last night, I will be watching early to see if the Hurricanes can find their pace early and use it to gain an advantage.
2) Seeking Jedi mind tricks in net
On Thursday, Coach Bill Peters said that Ward would definitely start on Friday and that no decision would be made on Saturday’s game until after that. At some point, someone else needs to man the net, but my hunch is that Peters sees a game that he needs to and maybe even should win, takes no chances and pushes 1 game farther with Ward.
Vote in today’s polls on what the Hurricanes should do in net.
Whether it is Ward or Leighton, I will be watching closely in the early going to get a read on level of play in net.
3) Special teams
One increasingly big negative of late has been the Hurricanes sputtering power play. The Hurricanes ultimately surged and won on Friday night, but on a different night the special teams’ struggles could easily have tilted the game into the loss column. After getting down 1 goal early, the Hurricanes had 2 first period power plays that both looked ‘meh’ at best and failed to help pull the team even. Then the Canes surged to a 3-1 lead in the second period and had all of the momentum only to have a power play midway through the period jolt the Sabres back to life with a shorthanded goal and multiple other scoring chances while the Hurricanes’ previously surging offense ground to a halt due to inability to even gain possession in the offensive zone.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena with Stars Wars night fun as a bonus.