After a heartbreaking loss on Friday to the Capitals that saw the Hurricanes go from having two points in hand late in the game to one point in hand to suddenly walking away with nothing after mostly falling on their own swords, the Hurricanes get a single chance to rebound before starting their bye week on Monday.
A win would be huge on multiple levels:
1) It would remove the bad taste from everyone’s mouths after Friday’s debacle.
2) It would close out the tough eight-game stretch starting with the St. Louis game with a respectable 3-4-1 mark which is only a single point shy of the break even target that I set at the beginning.
3) Most significantly, it would launch the Hurricanes into the bye week tied (based on games above .500) with the Flyers and possibly the Penguins if they also win on Sunday for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As has been the regular theme of late, the opponent is another tough one. The Calgary Flames currently sit in a playoff spot and enter the game with an impressive six-game winning streak including three straight on the road.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Calgary Flames
1) Scott Darling (if he starts)
I have not heard official word, but I will be surprised if Scott Darling does not get the start after playing extremely well in a big road win in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. With crunch time coming and Cam Ward sputtering a bit of late, the timing is right for Darling to retake the reins and help the team push upward. By my math, Darling has not had two consecutive strong starts since November. If he does get the start, I will be watching closely to see if Thursday’s win looks to be the needed reset and start on a different course.
2) Resiliency and a push back
The Hurricanes have actually responded to poor outings very well this season. That is the task at hand again on Sunday after Friday’s punch in the gut type of loss. Will the Hurricanes use Friday’s disappointment to fuel better play or instead look defeated and to be suffering from self doubt? History suggests the positive option, but it is still something I will be trying gauge early in the game.
With players out of the lineup due to injury and a sense of urgency, a number of players have logged extra minutes in the past couple games. As the Hurricanes close out the week with three games in four days with the last game even being earlier than usual, fatigue and sluggishness could be a concern especially for key defensemen like Jaccob Slavin and Trevor van Riemsdyk. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find their pace against a team that can skate and attack offensively.
4) Matching the Flames top line
In recent losses, the Hurricanes defense has largely been eaten alive by top-end offensive talents. Patrice Bergeron’s line feasted for five goals in a lopsided 7-1 win. Tyler Johnson surged to a hat trick and a Lightning win. And Alexander Ovechkin has a two-goal and a three-point night to his credit in the two wins over the Hurricanes.
Up next is Gaudreau/Monahan/Ferlund. The top line for Calgary has been flying of late, and represents a big challenge especially without Brett Pesce in the lineup. On Sunday, I will be watching to see how Peters tries to match up and more significantly if it works.
5) Skinner AND Aho?
I think the ceiling version of the Carolina Hurricanes probably happens when Jeff Skinner finds one of his scoring outbursts at the same time that Sebastian Aho and the TSA line are clicking. After an extended quiet stretch, Skinner seemed to benefit from Lee Stempniak’s return and scored. Aho scored too. Could we be on the brink of having both players clicking at the same time? On Sunday I will be watching to see if they can both continue their scoring ways.
The puck drops at an odd 3:07pm at PNC Arena.