After storming through a generally soft patch of schedule for a 4-0 mark two weeks ago and then fighting through a gauntlet of tough opponents for a 3-1 record last week, this week sees the Hurricanes with a lighter three-game schedule and more middle of the road match ups.
The week kicks off at Madison Square Garden against a New York Rangers team that seems to be in an odd in between state having traded off a few veterans like a rebuilding team might do but still being led by an elite veteran goalie and a group that includes a good chunk of the old guard. Regardless of the state of the Rangers who enter with an 18-20-7 mark, Madison Square Garden has always been a tough building for the Canes. Here is hoping that times are changing in that regard.
On the Hurricanes side of the puck, the key is not to exhale or become overconfident. Many things have gone right over the recent run. Last week the hockey gods tossed in a bunch of bonuses with two opposing goals disallowed after replays and some crazy series of own goals or deflections where the puck found the net after going off an opposing defenseman. On the ‘earned’ side of the ledger, the top line hit a scoring burst, the team is suddenly four lines deep and the defense and goaltending has continued to be solid. But at the core of the second half of the positive run beating good teams has been the team’s consistent level of compete across the entire roster and 60 minutes. Critical is not losing track of that.
My watch points for Tuesday’s game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) Staying hot at the top
Since Micheal Ferland rejoined Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, the line has been red hot and the flag bearer scoring-wise. Here is hoping that the group can stay hot and carry the team a bit further, as it tries to take the last few steps to play their way all the way back up to the playoff cut line. The Rangers no longer have a pure shutdown defense pairing, so the door seems to be open for another big night for Aho and company. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if they can continue their run.
2) Relying on desire and effort not confidence
Confidence can be a funny thing. Winning seven out of eight and the mojo that comes with it is generally a positive. But oftentimes the end of a good run comes when confidence boils over into complacency and shifting from fighting for wins to just assuming they will come. On the front part of the wins streak, the Hurricanes were more faking it to try to make it with a couple decent but incomplete efforts against weak teams that were good enough for wins. But this past week saw the team string together a series of a solid 60-minute efforts even in the loss to Tampa Bay. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the team can avoid the dreaded exhale loss and can instead keep the pedal down.
3) Special teams
The power play has truly been a Jekyl and Hyde case over the past 4-5 weeks. The group looked completely inept and could not even seem to gain the offensive zone only a few weeks back. More recently, the power play has been a positive and big contributor to the scoring and winning run. Especially on the road, winning the special teams battle can often be the difference between winning and losing. On Tuesday night, I will be watching to see if the special teams can again lead the way.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.