Even with a heartbreaking loss to the Lightning mixed in, the ball is on the tee for the Hurricanes to have a second consecutive positive week if they can win on Sunday. A win makes for a solid 3-1 mark whereas a loss sees four more games come off the schedule without any gains. Such is the pressure on the Hurricanes trying to make up for a tough December.
The opponent features another reunion with Peter Laviolette and the Nashville Predators in town. Nashville who leads the Central Division represents another challenge in a week of tough competition.
From the Hurricanes side, the key is not to exhale or get comfortable. Even in the loss to the Lightning, the Hurricanes have been consistent with their compete level. More of the same will be required to beat a good Predators team.
The game is also another afternoon start (12:30pm) which should be reasonably familiar to the Hurricanes who will be playing their fifth afternoon game.
My watch points for Sunday afternoon are:
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators
1) More of the same balance and compete level
For me, the two key differences that stand out as changes/improvements for the team’s current upswing are the team’s ability to compete evenly for nearly all of 60 minutes each game and the sudden four-line balance. Especially playing their third game in less than four days, I will be watching to see if the Canes can again dial up 60 minutes of full on compete and if Brind’Amour can again roll four lines throughout to keep everyone fresh.
2) Ugly goals
Against a Predators team that is strong and deep on the blue line and in general and ranks first in the NHL in defense as measured by goals against per game, the Canes are unlikely to happen upon a bunch of break downs and gifted grade A scoring chances. Instead, the key will be getting pucks and bodies to the net at the same time such that the team can score an ugly goal or two. After doing exactly that against the Sabres, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can keep things simple and net an ugly goal or two.
3) Special teams
If both teams’ defense and goaltending step up as expected, the outcome of the game could very well be determined by a special teams edge. In what has been an up and down season special teams-wise for the Hurricanes, the power play is trending upward right now which is a positive. The penalty kill which has generally been strong for awhile has actually been touched up a bit in the past few games. Especially if the game is tight-checking, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes special teams can be the difference.
Set your DVR if you have afternoon plans and cannot make it out to PNC Arena. The puck drops at an early 12:30pm.