Though the effort was significantly better, the Hurricanes came out of Tampa with a 5-4 loss on Tuesday and in the process a two-game losing streak. The team has also dipped below the water line for the tough eight-game stretch that started in St. Louis, now sporting a 1-3-1 mark with three games remaining before the bye week.
The NHL schedule offers nothing easy in terms of quickly righting the ship with a home and home back-to-back set against the division-leading Washington Capitals that starts to tonight. But if the Canes need to wait for the schedule to help, it could well mean that they just are not good enough.
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for Thursday’s match up.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) Hunger, determination, tenacity and all of that other ‘trying really hard’ kind of intangible stuff
A major tendency of good hockey teams is that when they tend to react to losing by doubling down on effort and whatever else it takes to find a win. Weaker teams more often suffer from a bit of self-doubt that can result in tentativeness that more hopes for a break to turn things around versus a determined effort that earns a break. This is where the leadership including Justin Williams comes into play. The compete level on Tuesday in Tampa was much better after a flat outing in Boston on Saturday. On Thursday night, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can take Tuesday’s effort and then dial up from there.
2) A cleaner game defensively
The Lightning are arguably the toughest match up in the league right now in terms of playing fast and attacking in a way that puts constant pressure on a defense, and it showed on Tuesday. But intermittent lack of attention to detail defensively has crept into the Hurricanes’ game again even beyond the challenge against the Lightning. The result has been too many grade A scoring chances against that have not helped as the goalies try to get their feet under them. Against another good offensive hockey team on the road, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can right the ship a bit in terms of the defensive side of the puck.
Per Michael Smith from the Carolina Hurricanes on Twitter, Scott Darling is slated to get the start tonight. With a back-to-back set, one would figure that Ward will then get the start at home on Saturday. Regardless, the game represents yet another chance for Darling to find the reset button and put forward a strong start that hopefully begins a string of them. For me, Darling is a fairly easy read. When he is on, he seems to track the puck better which results in better rebound control, more attacking saves and sounder play. When he is struggling, he looks very much like a young goalie trying to adjust to the NHL level such that he is mostly just trying to fight pucks off without much for rebound control and calmness of motion. So on Thursday, especially early, I will be watching Scott Darling closely to see if he looks sharp early and hopefully ready to put a stake in the ground with a strong effort that he can build on.
4) Leadership rising up
The team needs to find a way to push back into the win column despite the tough opponent. That can happen from a group effort, but very often the difference between winning and losing can be one or two players stepping up to lead the way. With the Hurricanes clinging to a lead and potential win against the Capitals last week in Raleigh, an otherwise quiet Alexander Ovechkin made a play to tie the game in regulation and another to win in overtime. In the process, he propelled the Capitals to a win in a game that seemed lost. On Thursday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find a leader or two to do similar.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Southeast with John, Tripp and Mike.