After wrapping up a successful 5-2 home stand on Saturday, the Hurricanes return to the road with a quick turnaround against a familiar foe in the Washington Capitals. The match up will be the third meeting between the two teams in about two weeks time and is also the last regular season match up for 2019-20. The game also starts a busy stretch run of five games in nine days leading up to the layoff for the All-Star break and bye week.
Despite the Canes recent success including a 2-1 regular season mark against the Capitals, the Caps are a tough match up especially on the road such that picking up two points or even one would be a great start to the busy stretch.
The Capitals enter the game on a bit of a down note having lost two games in a row in regulation for only the second time this season, with a meager 4-5 mark in their past nine games and on the heels of a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of the last place Devils. It is hard to say if the Canes are lucky catching the Caps during a down streak or unlucky catching them when they should be determined/hungry for a win. I guess we will see tonight.
On the Canes side, the past month or so has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, but with three straight wins, the current trajectory is upward. The burning question coming out of Saturday’s game is what the Canes will have for energy level after grinding out a win despite a lackluster effort by all except goalie James Reimer in the second half of the game.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) Energy level
As noted above, in Saturday’s win the Hurricanes played a decent first period and then just seemed to run completely out of gas. James Reimer stole a 1-0 win (not counting the empty-netter) in a game that played like a 3-1 loss. Was the lull just from the back-to-back such that a day off on Sunday enough to recharge? Or are the Canes set to huff and puff through five games trying to reach the All-Star/bye week break for a longer break? I will be watching early and late in Monday’s game to try to assess where the team is at physically.
Since the playoff series last Spring, Canes/Caps games are at a different level in terms of energy level and animosity as compared to a run of the mill regular season game. In the two recent games in Raleigh, the Hurricanes handled themselves well in terms of matching compete level and intensity but not getting distracted with extracurricular activities. Though the Hurricanes have been taking too many penalties, against the Caps they were not a result of overreaching on the animosity side. On Monday, I will be watching to see if the Canes can use the amped up energy level to find a higher gear.
Though the scoring binge has yet to come (he did have a point on Saturday), I continue to think that Aho could be on the brink of his next scoring surge. He has that jump in his step and that buzz inside the offensive zone that usually coincides with his dominant stretches. With Nino Niederreiter getting the monkey off his back on Saturday, could it be time for Niederreiter/Aho/Teravainen to rise up and lead the way scoring-wise like they did for a stretch at a similar time last year?
After a bit of a rough match in net, Petr Mrazek and James Reimer combined for back-to-back shutouts over the weekend to quickly and significantly reverse that trend. Coming out of that strong but so far short rise in level of goalie play, I will be watching Monday and forward to see if the goalie tandem can use the strong weekend to put a stake in the ground and chart a path upward.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.