Entering action on Friday, the Hurricanes are one of only five undefeated teams remaining in the NHL. That sets up nicely for a potentially fun back-to-back set both at PNC Arena establishing a leadership position over division foes and continuing a fun run atop the NHL before heading off for the annual NC State Fair road trip.
Despite the winning run, the game features a lineup change courtesy of a Jordan Martinook core muscle injury. He had surgery today and is scheduled to be out of the lineup for six to eight weeks. That draws Julien Gauthier back from the AHL and has him set to make his NHL debut on Friday night.
That recall and the Canes current trend feature in what I’m watching on Friday night.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Islanders
1) Julien Gauthier
I went out on a limb in my list of long shot predictions and said that Gauthier would have a bigger impact in 2019-20 than fellow rookie Martin Necas. Necas’ start that has featured a good number of offensive plays makes me still consider that a long odds prediction, but with both players now in the NHL lineup, it becomes possible. But with Martinook out for an extended period of time, this is not at all an either/or situation. There is room for both players in the lineup, and both thriving at the same time could take the Hurricanes up yet another notch.
As for Gauthier, some might grumble about him starting on the fourth line but with a balanced lineup and a capable offensive center in Lucas Wallmark on the fourth line, I think this starting point is perfectly fine. There are two keys to Gauthier being successful at the NHL level. First, he needs to bring the same power forward offensive ability that he demonstrated throughout preseason. Second and equally importantly, he MUST continue to be difficult to play against when he does not have the puck on his stick. It was this, not the offensive rushes, that caught the coaching staff’s eye in my opinion in preseason.
As an aside, if Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark were paying attention in preseason, they should be pushing hard to get to the top of the crease any time Gauthier has the puck on his stick with a head of steam at the offensive blue line. There are rebound goals to be had from the aftermath of his fullback runs to the net.
2) A rebound of sorts
On paper, the Hurricanes stormed to a 6-3 win on Tuesday in Florida. But the reality is that the team played one good period that had some statistically improbable rate of finishing ability and then played two poor periods of hockey. Florida took it to the Canes in the second and third periods. Only the 5-0 starting point and strong play from goalie James Reimer glossed over what was otherwise the team’s worst stretch of hockey on the season. So on Friday night, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can put together a more complete effort.
3) Petr Mrazek
Despite being 2-0 on the young season, Petr Mrazek will also be looking for a rebound of sorts. In the first period of his last start against the Lightning he had significant trouble tracking the puck. The results were three goals against with two on screened shots and also two more shots that he had no idea where they were but either missed the net or hit him. The Hurricanes dialed it up in the second and third periods such that Mrazek’s night was done after two periods with him seeing only two shots for the rest of the game. So for Mrazek Friday represents a chance to rebound a bit too.
4) The blue line
The engine for this team right now is the blue line playing well defensively and equally significantly being the catalyst offensively. With two division foes on tap for the weekend, I will be watching to see if the defensemen can continue to lead the way.
The puck drops at 7:37pm at PNC Arena.