If you are checking in expecting to find Thursday’s game recap at the top of the list, you can find that HERE.
So far so good coming out of the All-Star break.
The Hurricanes have collected consecutive wins against current non-playoff teams on home ice to start the week. The wins were not spectacular but stood out favorably in terms of sound and solid play and just methodically grinding out wins against beatable teams.
The schedule offers one more game of this variety before the level of competition increases. The third and three games is against the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings currently sit a game below .500 and are on the outside looking in on the playoff chase right now, but the fact that they enter with a win over the San Jose Sharks is a reminder that nothing comes easy in the NHL.
The Hurricanes also enter the game back in playoff position tied with the Flyers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
To say that the two points are huge is obvious this time of year, but the game is significant in a couple other regards. First, the game will likely see Scott Darling make his first start since being pulled early in a 5-1 loss to Vegas on January 21. Second, games like this are the difference between gaining ground or just sort of treading water in a positive way. With a win, the Hurricanes have three straight wins. With a loss, the mark falls to 2-1 which is only a point above .500 instead of three.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Detroit Red Wings
I unofficially anchored goaltending in the #2 slot for my watch list a few games back but am going to bump it up to #1 because of the circumstances surrounding Friday’s game.
While it might be tempting to ride momentum and the hot hand in Cam Ward on Friday, I think that would be a mistake. The Hurricanes still have 31 games and more than two busy months of hockey remaining. Peters should remember how Ward seemed to burn out in 2016-17 after a run of playing every game without rest. At a minimum, the Hurricanes are going to need a few starts from Scott Darling in a backup role. This game should be one of those anyway, and I also think there is an advantage to getting Darling work sooner rather than later to see if one of these rolls of the dice is the one that sees him find his game.
The schedule ahead further illustrates the need for Darling to at least be serviceable as a backup. The Hurricanes face five consecutive weeks with a back-to-back set. Then after a single week without a back-to-back set, the team has four back-to-back sets with travel in a little over two weeks time in late March. Total is nine back-to-back sets remaining. Nine starts for the backup would be roughly the desired pace to keep a starter fresh down the stretch.
So on Friday, I will first be watching to see if Coach Bill Peters does in fact go with Scott Darling. If he does, I will be watching and hoping that the recent layoff sees him re-find his game or at least be serviceable.
2) A continuation on defense for the blue line
Tuesday’s game was decent in terms of not having big break downs and maybe slightly less impressive in terms of minimizing scoring chances. I think Ward made the team look a bit better than it played. But I actually think the reverse was true in Thursday’s 2-0 win. The defense was air tight to a level comparable to the last shutout in Pittsburgh.
In terms of trajectory, things look good right now for the defense to minimize what Darling faces and help serve him a game that does not require him to stand on his head to keep the goals against count down. Here is hoping that the Hurricanes can continue in the same direction and not see Friday be a poorly-timed off night.
3) More offense
Thus far in the 2017-18 season, the Hurricanes seem capable at times of being the solid ‘squeeze the life out of you defensively’ team that many thought it might be with the young, emerging blue line. And at other times the team has shown an ability to score in bunches. But the team has been unable to put the two together. Thus far, it seems to be a choice between one or the other.
On Friday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can maintain their level of solid defensive play and then add on top of it more offense.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.