Very recently, the Carolina Hurricanes were in the first wild card slot with a multi-point gap above the playoff cut line and were looking to move up the Metropolitan Division standings. Fast forward to today, and the Hurricanes suddenly sit in tenth place in the Eastern Conference needing to leap frog a couple teams to move back into playoff position. More significant than the place in the standings which is more or less right at the cut line is the team’s current trajectory with three straight losses mostly in lackluster fashion. The All-Star break is now only two games away, but much better would be to stop the bleeding by winning a hockey game instead of being rescued by the schedule.
Sunday’s match up pits two wounded teams against each other. As noted above, the Canes enter with three straight losses and the potential for a four-loss week with only a single consolation point. The Islanders enter with two straight regulation losses and losses in four of five games. Both teams enter the game not playing particularly well and desperately needing a win.
For the Canes, I feel like it is mostly about finding a positive rhythm and finding a way. Pretty counts for nothing. Two points mean everything. The story heading into Friday’s game was the blue line minus Dougie Hamilton. By no means was the defensive play perfect, but the real issue continues to be the team’s lack of jump and ability to generate much offensively.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Islanders
Starting with the second half of the Canes win last Saturday over the Los Angeles Kings, the Canes have seemed to be out of gas for long stretches of games. A decent portion of the Columbus game was an exception in some regards, but Friday’s game against Anaheim was a struggle again. If there was a match up that could give the Canes an advantage, Sunday would be it. The Islanders played Saturday and traveled. With the 5pm start on Sunday, they have less than a 24-hour turnaround against a Hurricanes team that rested at home on Saturday. With only two games remaining before the All-Star break and playing a team in a back-to-back, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can muster a physical advantage.
2) A cleaner game
I have been intermittently beating this dead horse all season. Even the good version of the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes has been prone to too many errors. With things starting to tighten up at the midway point of the season, increasingly games are being decided not by dictating play, puck possession or general play but rather a couple plays that notch the scoreboard and decide the game. The Hurricanes were the better team for most of the game against Columbus except that two bad third period turnovers led directly to goals and a loss. Both of Anaheim’s goals resulted directly from errors. Especially minus a top defenseman, the task is challenging, but I will be watching to see if the Canes can make strides in this area.
3) A hero or two
Right now, the Hurricanes desperately need a hero or two to rise up carry the team to a win or two leading into the break. Justin Williams should be in the lineup and immediately becomes a possibility. Sebastian Aho has had good pace recently and would seemingly be due for a break out. Goaltending always has the potential to be the difference. The regular-ish rotation would suggest a Petr Mrazek start on Sunday, but after a strong outing on Friday, it will be interesting to see if Brind’Amour goes back to Reimer. Regardless, the Canes could use a heroic effort from someone to chalk up a win right now.
The puck drops at an early 5:07pm at PNC Arena.