After a weekend split following the bye week that saw the Hurricanes grind out a 3-1 win in Detroit on Saturday and then fall flat in a 5-1 loss at home to Vegas on Sunday, the Hurricanes next play a so-called four-point game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Penguins, like the Hurricanes, are very much in the logjam from the middle to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. Both Eastern Conference wild card teams are likely to emerge from this fray making the game more than just another two points.
Thus far the teams have split two games during the 2017-18 season with Pittsburgh winning 2-1 in Raleigh on December 29, and the Hurricanes collecting an impressive 4-0 win a week later in Pittsburgh.
The Hurricanes come in still struggling with inconsistency, questions in net and a sub-par 3-6-1 record in their past 10 games. The Penguins come in having won five of seven games since the January 4 loss to the Hurricanes.
Against this backdrop, here are my watch points for Tuesday’s game.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Pittsburgh Penguins
1) An attacking style against the Penguins defense
The 4-0 win featured a number of positives, but what stood out to me most was the Hurricanes ability to pressure the Penguins blue line with an aggressive forecheck and pace coming through the neutral zone and entering the offensive zone. The Penguins have enough high-end skill to counter punch offensively, but I still think the Hurricanes gain an advantage if they play fast and force the Penguins defense to defend speed.
(Cut and paste) After another tough outing for Scott Darling who was pulled after allowing three quick goals on Sunday, I will be shocked if Cam Ward is not in net again. He allowed only one goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win and two in more than two periods of action on Sunday, so the trend is positive. Here is hoping that it continues on Tuesday. I am on record as saying the better goaltending is an absolutely required ingredient for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs.
3) A Jeff Skinner outburst?
I thought he was really good on Saturday despite not scoring. He was maybe not as good on Sunday, but then who was? With crunch time here and Sebastian Aho still out of the lineup, the time is now for Skinner to find his next goal-scoring binge before it becomes stat padding after the season is mostly over.
4) Getting the band back together on the blue line
Roland McKeown was returned to the Charlotte Checkers on Monday which suggests that Brett Pesce is probable to make his return on Tuesday. At a time when the Hurricanes are desperately trying to put it all together, his return is obviously a positive. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if he can quickly get up to NHL speed after a two-week layoff. Past Pesce’s return, I will also be watching to see if his return can help solidify the team defense in total.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Southeast (not the usual Fox Sports Carolinas) with John, Tripp (hopefully he is feeling better) and Mike.