Tuesday’s return to action after the All-Star break was a bit of a grinding affair. The first period was not horrible but was sluggish at times and mostly without cohesion, but the Hurricanes found a higher gear in the second period and played a pretty strong 40 minutes of hockey in claiming a 2-1 win. When considering the struggling opponent and the five-game losing streak that it entered with the game was not overly impressive.
But we are very much at that point in the season when results trump context and any kind of win is a good one.
So the Hurricanes check off game one coming out of the All-Star break as a success and now turn their attention to game two. The game is the second of three again teams currently out of playoff position and therefore games that the Hurricanes should hopefully win. Thursday’s opponent is the Montreal Canadiens who the Hurricanes defeated in a wild 6-5 game just prior to the break.
My watch points for Thursday’s game are as follows…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Montreal Canadiens
1) Maintaining the foundation
Despite maybe not being a perfect game, Tuesday’s win did include a few vital elements to consistent success down the stretch.
Goaltending: Ward was steady in allowing only one goal which is all the Hurricanes should need most nights. If the Hurricanes get 32 more games of what he did on Tuesday, I think they are a playoff team.
Sound defensive play: The game also featured a solid night defensively. All three defense pairings were sound, and the Hurricanes made Ottawa work for whatever they received for scoring chances.
Multi-line puck possession in the second period: In the second period which was in my opinion the team’s strongest despite being outscored 1-0, the Hurricanes had a couple great runs of offensive zone puck possession hockey that saw one line come off the ice after playing in the offensive zone for the entire shift such that the next shift started still playing offense. I thought McGinn/Rask/Williams and Skinner/Ryan/Stempniak were both strong in this regard.
For now goaltending will take up residence in the #2 slot every game because I continue to think it will be the single greatest determinant in the Hurricanes’ 2017-18 success.
3) A Jeff Skinner outburst?
For a few weeks now, I have felt like Skinner’s next goal scoring outburst is like the little chick poking at the inside of the shell trying to get out and ready to emerge. Despite not scoring on Tuesday, Skinner was buzzing and had some chances including a post. On Tuesday, I will be watching two things. First is to see if he can stay heads down and just keep doing what he did on Tuesday offensively. Second is to see if he can avoid the temptation of a ‘gambling for goals’ mentality that can sometimes be the dark side of his game that has matured but still has occasional relapses where he leans too much to the offensive side of the game and compromises his two-way play in the process.
4) Attitude coupled with determination
The Hurricanes are the better team in this game and are playing on home ice to boot. I will be watching to see if they can play with an attacking mentality that strikes a balance between expecting to win and doing the work necessary to make sure it happens.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.