After an exciting and well-played 3-2 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the Hurricanes are right back on the ice on Wednesday in Vancouver. The game is the team’s last before an extended eight-day layoff for the NHL All-Star break followed by the team’s bye week.
As I said yesterday after the Calgary game, Wednesday’s game is as close to must-win as possible in January. By virtue of a horrid December, the Hurricanes currently sit six points off the playoff pace (adjusted for games played) with the need to catch and pass two teams. Each and every point is critical as the Hurricanes try to defy the odds, climb the ladder and get to a point where the team’s all too common March surge is not too little too late.
The opponent is a team of surprises. First, the Canucks are surprisingly in a dog fight for the final playoff spot. Second, the odds on favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie is Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson. His dynamic play and 23 goals and 44 points in only 39 games are maybe what Canes fans envisioned for Andrei Svechnikov whose development has been more step-wise fits and starts. Important to note is that Pettersson is a year older, so perhaps Svechnikov’s break out is just a year away.
On the Hurricanes side, the key is simply to keep the pedal down and muster exactly the same effort as Tuesday despite playing in the second half of a back-to-back.
My watch points for Wednesday night follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Vancouver Canucks
1) More fuel
As noted above and in Tuesday’s game recap, despite losing in overtime Tuesday’s effort by the Canes ranks among the team’s best on the season. The team played well from wire to wire and dictated play against the best team in the Western Conference. The question is whether they can find fuel for an ’empty the tank’ effort before eight days off. On Wednesday, I will be watching especially early and late in the game to see if the Hurricanes can again find and maintain a higher gear.
2) A concerted effort to score ugly goals
With a back-to-back and the last game before the break, Wednesday has the potential to be one of those where the Canes go light on the hard stuff. Despite not getting much for results, I thought the Canes actually did a pretty good job, especially in the second period, of sending bodies and pucks to the crease. Wednesday sets up to be a ‘hot goalie’ not if they come up a step short and do not do the same. As such, I will be watching closely to see if the Hurricanes seem determined to score an ugly goal or two or if they are content to pile up shots playing ‘try to beat the goalie’ from the outside.
3) The rookie showcase
While the game and two points are my main focus, I am curious to see Andrei Svechnikov and Elias Pettersson in the same game. I have mostly only seen Pettersson’s impressive batch of scoring highlights, so seeing him shift after shift will be interesting. I will also be curious to see if playing in the same game as Pettersson boosts Svechnikov. He had a three-point outburst against Edmonton but otherwise has been limited to seven obstruction penalties as far as making the score sheet in January. On Wednesday, I will appreciate the chance to watch Pettersson first-hand for a full game and will also be watching Svechnikov to see if perhaps he can use the match up to push through his mid-season lull.
4) (Maybe, doubtfully) The goalie
With a long flight out West, three games in four days and the second half of a back-to-back, today’s game would logically be one for the backup. But with the Canes needing every point they can get, Mrazek playing well and an eight-day break to follow, I will be moderately surprised if Brind’Amour gives Alex Nedeljkovic his first NHL start today. If he does, that is most definitely worth tracking, but I put the odds at 80/20 in favor of Mrazek getting the nod in net.
#CanesAfterDark is in full effect for the road trip finale with a late 10:30pm start. It is days like this that the site really should have a local coffee sponsor. Brew some Joe and catch John, Tripp and Mike with the call on Fox Sports Carolinas.