Coming off an impressive 4-1 win against the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, the Carolina Hurricanes are right back at it on Friday in Raleigh. In a January that has been very good with a 4-1-2 mark with the 4 wins being the most recent 4, the Canucks are the 1. Last Wednesday in Vancouver was the only regulation loss in January and was also the only truly bad game of the month. The Canes defense was atrocious. Breakdowns were numerous. The neutral zone was a free skate area for the Canucks. And only a heroic effort by Eddie Lack and Jordan Staal made the game 3-2 instead of the 5-1 that it deserved to be.
With the Canes playing well overall, the hope is that that game can be chalked up to fatigue or just an off night and that it is not an indication of what to expect tonight.
My ‘what I’m watching’ starts with that:
1) Better play in the neutral zone
As noted above, the game in Vancouver last week was an anomaly in that it saw the Canes beat with speed through the neutral zone all night and saw multiple Canucks breakaways. The Canes need to be much better (which they have been in general) slowing play through the middle of the ice, so the night is not another heavy dose of odd man rushes with skill and speed.
2) The shutdown line
On home ice, Canes coach Bill Peters should be able to dictate match ups. That means Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom against the Sedin line. Of late, Peters seems to like Slavin/Hainsey as a pair at home often grouped with Jordan Staal’s line for a shutdown set of 5 that sees the ice together much of the night. Regardless of who the defense is, Jordan Staal and company get another round of shutting down the other team’s best which they have excelled at of late.
3) Who’s next for for offense?
After a stretch of games that saw scoring hard to find, there has been a ‘scoring catalyst’ baton over the past few games. Elias Lindholm had a huge night with 3 assists, 2 of the great play variety, to provide the fuel for a win over the Penguins. On Thursday, Jeff Skinner had the magic hand notching a goal and an assist to go with multiple other near misses. Who rises up to fuel the offense tonight?
4) Energy level
Friday night is what I call a fair back-to-back. Both teams played last night and traveled, so things should be fairly even in terms of any physical lag. The Canes have actually been incredibly good in back-to-backs of late going 10-1 in their last 11 back-to-back games, so that bodes well. It is worth watching how players look. Justin Faulk has been hit or miss in second halves of back-to-backs this season and played a big 25 minutes last night. It will be up to Bill Peters and his staff to gauge jump and figure out out ice time, match ups and possibly line tinkering accordingly. Per the TV broadcast last night, there seems to be a chance that Phil DiGiuseppe or Nathan Gerbe reappears which would offer 1 more fresh body and possibly a spark.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena. If you do not have a ticket get one. The Carolina Hurricanes are getting younger and better at the same time and are playing hockey games that matter in mid-January. That is something to relish and enjoy!