The Hurricanes losing streak is 1 game. And prior to that loss the Hurricanes had reeled off 4 consecutive wins. But when you are teetering on the cut line for the playoffs and have not been there in the current decade, energy swings wildly with every win or loss. In addition, the way Tuesday’s loss went down does merit additional concern. Starting goalie Cam Ward was chased by the midway point of the game and the Hurricanes never climbed back into it.
But Friday offers a return to home ice where the Hurricanes have been incredibly good. The Hurricanes have lost in regulation only once in more than 2 months now and sport a 14-1-1 mark over that time span. The game is also another Hurricanes Homegrown night with local beer, food, music and art.
But the opponent does make for a challenge. The Penguins are the defending champions and also sit in third place in the NHL’s best division. The Penguins feature a high-powered offense that is first in the entire league in goals scored per game and is third in power play proficiency. But the Penguins are also without Kris Letang who is a key component of the offense and also a key cog on a blue line that is not the Penguins’ strength.
In Pittsburgh on December 28, the Hurricanes proved that they could play with the Penguins. In that game, the Hurricanes dictated play, attacked and generally outplayed the Penguins to the tune of a decided 46 to 26 shots on goal advantage. But in the end, the Hurricanes were tripped up by a couple of miscues that turned a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period into a disappointing 3-2 loss.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Penguins
1) The goaltending
Cam Ward is coming off a rough outing in which he just seemed out of sorts and was gone by the midway point after allowing 4 goals in half of a game. At a basic level, the Hurricanes obviously need to the points and the win, but with a deteriorating trend for the team defensively and an up and down January for Ward, this game has bigger implications in net even above the 2 points on the line.
I have beaten the goalie thing to death over the past week and will leave it at that. If you have not been following along at CandC, here is the context:
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe – “Could this weekend drive Francis’ course of action over the next month?”
2) Tightening up defensively and marking the Penguins’ elite forwards
The current Hurricanes’ lineup is generally balanced and minus the pure form of a Jordan Staal shutdown line as existed this time last year. In a reversal of styles, Jordan Staal’s line at home last week was nothing short of a high event situation for anyone and everyone on the ice. McGinn/Staal/Lindholm went on a massive scoring binge, but they were also incredibly generous in terms of giving up scoring chances and goals too.
I would still expect Peters to use Jordan Staal against Evgeni Malkin as is usually the case, but his line is more so built to win partly by attacking themselves. Before the Columbus loss, I wrote an article entitled “Readying for the road: Are fun wins hiding a growing problem on defense?” As the title suggests, the article was looking forward to road games, but the challenges of late defensively definitely come into play on Friday against an elite Penguins’ offense.
Can the Hurricanes bring the same attacking style that they iced in Pittsburgh but also tighten things up defensively? If so, the Hurricanes have a very good chance to run their home winning streak to 5 games. If instead, defense is minimal and the game becomes a shootout, the Penguins can run and gun with the best of them.
3) Resiliency from the leaders
Even if the Hurricanes are to emerge from the fray and return to the playoffs this season, there are going to be numerous ups and downs over the second half of the season. The key is to bounce back quickly and keep losing streaks short. The quick return to home ice after a loss is well-timed, but it is also going to take the Canes’ best players stepping up to match the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. I will be watching closely for a big night from veteran leaders including Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal and Cam Ward.
IMPORTANT ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE GOING TO THE GAME — The start time is 7:07pm not the usual 7:30ish that is the norm on Friday night, so make sure you start your pre-game hockey routine about 30 minutes early.