After a stellar 3-0-1 start, the Carolina Hurricanes will embark on what this year will be a brief North Carolina State Fair road trip. The trip will present a good test for Rod Brind’Amour and his team matching up against playoff caliber competition and facing teams that have defensemen who can move the puck. As such, Saturday’s game and the two that follow could represent a meaningful benchmark at this early point in the season.
From my Daily Cup of Joe from Friday, I am on record as having concerns with the repeatability of the team’s 3-0-1 start. Saturday will represent the first of three tests to hopefully show that my concerns are unwarranted.
In the first of three tests, my watch points are below.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Minnesota Wild
1) The effectiveness of the forecheck
The Hurricanes bread and butter so far have been the ability of the forwards pretty much across all lines to utilize an aggressive style of play to win pucks, win the possession battle and tilt the ice into the offensive zone. Minnesota brings a stronger defense group than some of the early wins, so I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes forecheck is still effective.
2) Brind’Amour on the road
When asked about the team, Brind’Amour almost always adds something along the lines of ‘the focus is on us.’ The attitude and approach is straight out of the Peter Laviolette handbook. And the Hurricanes deep and balanced blue line does make it possible to just mostly roll three defense pairings. But at forward, Brind’Amour does match up a bit more and adjust ice time to situations. So Saturday represents a second road game this season to watch how Brind’Amour deploys his lineup on the road without the last change.
Curtis McElhinney followed up a stellar Hurricanes debut on Thursday with a decent even if maybe less spectacular win on Tuesday. Almost for certain, the back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday will see each goalie play a game. Regardless of who starts, goaltending continues to be an every game watch point.
4) Special teams
After a strong preseason in terms of special teams, the team has struggled so far in the regular season. The has an empty-net power play goal but otherwise is 0 for 9 so far. The penalty kill is only 10 for 14 and also struggling. Winning on a consistent basis in the NHL is hard for teams who are minus on a regular basis in the special teams battle. As such, on Saturday night, I will be watching closely to see how the team fares on special teams.
The puck drops at an odd 6pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.