After consecutive disappointing efforts and results, the Hurricanes head west to try to salvage something from a tough week and rebound during a three-game road trip before an extended layoff for the NHL All-Star break and the team’s bye week.
The Hurricanes have recent experience with this situation. Twice in late December, the Hurricanes entered a Sunday game winless heading into it. In both cases, the Hurricanes pulled out a win to salvage something from a negative week. With the distance below the last playoff spot back at seven points (adjusted for games played), the team desperately needs a win to try to stop the bleeding before playoff hopes die.
The game is an interesting match up schedule-wise in that the Oilers are playing the second half of a back-to-back, and the Hurricanes are playing their first game after the long trip out West.
But more than scheduling, the opponent or anything else, the Hurricanes need to demonstrate that they are still engaged after what was one of the team’s worst outings this season.
My watch points for the first of three #CanesAfterDark games follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Edmonton Oilers
1) A response and a pulse
The Hurricanes were lifeless in Friday’s loss. The team failed to start on time and really never mustered much of a push back once they fell behind. After a similarly ‘meh’ effort in a loss on Tuesday and with a deficit still to be made up, the effort and level of play was both inexcusable and inexplainable. So on Sunday I will be watching to see if the team can muster up a response.
In addition to watching IF the team responds, Sunday also represents an interesting check point for WHO responds. In a similar situation a couple times already, Jordan Martinook has always dialed up the intensity, physicality and desire early in games like this. Micheal Ferland has also shown the ability to feel the pulse of the team and know when it needs something more. And Justin Williams has scored big goals in at least a couple these rebound games. I think games like Sunday’s are when one can both measure a team’s mettle and also see who the real leaders are. So on Sunday I will be watching to see who rises up to lead.
3) Nino Niederreiter
Niederreiter picked (though it was not his choice) a rough first game as a Carolina Hurricanes player. But despite the train wreck of a first game for his new team, he made a decent first impression. One only needs to watch him for a period or two to see that the physical skill set is there. He is a big body but with decent skating ability and straight line speed and good enough hands and puck skills. The key is converting it all to scoring production. He seems to be right on the fence between being a top 6 scoring forward versus dipping a bit and being more of a rugged third-liner who provides only depth scoring. So as his tenure with the Canes continues I will be watching to see if Niederreiter can find chemistry with line mates, fit into the Canes system and produce. That continues on Sunday night in Edmonton.
For the first of three #CanesAfterDark events, the puck drops at 9:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.