After a feel-good win after a COVID-induced layoff in the home opener against the defending Stanley Cup Champions on Thursday, the Canes continue to test against the best. Next up is a quick two-game set against the Dallas Stars. The Stars were the other Stanley Cup finalist only four months ago and are among the best teams in the NHL right now with a 4-0 start that includes a couple of lopsided wins courtesy of two seven-goal outbursts. The Stars feature a blue line that is among the best in the NHL, and somewhere along the way an offense that was struggling through much of the 2019-20 season found the ignition switch.
The season still has a long way to go obviously and the Hurricanes are still playing with less than a maximum lineup, but the game still represents a good early season benchmark for how the Canes stack up against other good teams.
My watch points for tonight’s match up follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Dallas Stars
1) Matching up top to bottom
One of the things that jumps out about the Stars is the team’s depth. As noted above, the Stars’ blue line is among the best in the NHL including both top pairing talent but also solid depth 1 through 6. The team also boasts enough offensive fire power to build a bona fide first scoring ling and power play unit but also depth through the forward ranks. One of the Achilles’ heels of the past two Canes playoff teams is that the forward group has been a bit top-heavy offensively. With Vincent Trocheck off to a good start, there are indications that the Hurricanes might be on the way to finding more depth and balance scoring-wise. Against a team that has good players from top to bottom, I will be watching to see what the Hurricanes can generate across three if not four lines offensively.
2) Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov
The game will also be a good measure for how the Hurricanes best offensively (minus Teravainen) fare in a game where there are not really any favorable match ups to tilt the ice favorably. Winning in the playoffs against good teams requires a team’s top scorers to be able to produce even when the match ups are tough. Aho and Svechnikov are both off to good starts. They also played well and had chances against the Lightning but did not crack the score sheet. This two-game set offers another chance to see what they can do against strong competition. In addition, I suggested recently that an interesting move to consider could be reuniting Aho and Svechnikov and moving Teravainen to another line hopefully to serve as a playmaker. With Teravainen out on Saturday, the game also represents another chance to assess how the duo looks minus Teravainen.
3) The auditions
It is reported that the Canes COVID crew was back on the ice Saturday for practice before the game group. They will not play Saturday but should be back soon. That makes Saturday an important game for players like Jake Bean and Steven Lorentz to stake a claim to additional NHL ice time even when the team has its full roster back. Steven Lorentz jumped straight into a middle six role on Jordan Staal’s line. He did not light things up offensively a la March 2020 Morgan Geekie, but he was competent defensively and did not look out of place. Similarly, Jake Bean played a solid game on Thursday. Saturday represents a chance for these players to build trust and be considered for more ice time going forward.
4) The measuring stick
With groups of seven or eight teams quarantined within their own divisions, it is difficult to rank teams league-wide, but Dallas’ fast star coming off their 2020 NHL Playoff run has to put them somewhere near the top. I will be watching to see how the Canes match up against one of the best right now.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas (or did they change the name already?) with Tripp, Mike, Abby and Shane.