After a bounce back win to end a tough 1-2 week that included two lackluster losses, the Hurricanes face a stiff challenge on Tuesday night against the Western Conference-leading Calgary Flames. Though the team is a unfamiliar foe from the Western Conference, the faces will look very familiar when the Canes face Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Derek Ryan and Bill Peters for the first time. On the Hurricanes side, the game is a return to Calgary for Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton.
Aside from the family reunion aspect, the simple ‘points in the standings’ aspect is critical for the Hurricanes. After a setback with two losses last week, the Hurricanes still face a significant six-point gap (adjusted for games played) suddenly approaching the 50-game mark for the 2018-19 season. Tuesday’s game is very similar to the recent tough road match up against the Tampa Bay Lightning in that it is a game that maybe charts as a loss on the schedule and therefore represents a chance to make up for one past wrong with a win.
The key from the Hurricanes side is to find the higher gear and consistency that was part of the recent winning streak before suddenly disappearing in consecutive losses last week. The Canes looked better in Sunday’s win over the Oilers, but it is hard to tell how much of that was simply facing a struggling team that had also played the night before. Regardless, the Hurricanes will need to be at the top of their game and do it for a full 60 minutes to beat a very good Flames team.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Calgary Flames
1) Pace and intensity out of the gate and throughout
As noted above, I am torn on how much Sunday was a rebound and return to form versus just being a soft spot in the schedule against he Oilers who played the night before. So on Tuesday I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find the pace and intensity from the opening puck drop and maintain it throughout the game.
2) Petr Mrazek
Assuming Mrazek again gets the start, he is worth watching. The recent Hurricanes losses were a function of the team in front of him just not playing well enough to win more than anything else, but I still think that Mrazek’s level of play has been a small notch lower too. When he is playing well, he anticipates the play and next shot incredibly well. In the past few games, he has looked a bit more reactionary to me. Especially against a top-tier opponent, I will be watching to see if Mrazek looks sharp and can be difference-maker.
3) The top lines
Calgary’s top line with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm is among the the best in the NHL right now. Sebastian Aho’s line is pushing hard to play its way up into that stratosphere. How well each of those lines can drive scoring chances and results and how well each team can neutralize the other team’s best could easily be a two-goal swing in this game. As such, I will be watching closely to see how the Canes fare in trying to hold down Gaudreau and company and also if Aho and company can step up and have a huge game.
The puck drops at 9pm on Fox Sports Southeast with John, Tripp and Mike.