In trying to climb first up above the .500 mark and ultimately above the playoff cut line, it is common to break down the season into small chunks of games and set targets for them.
From my article entitled, “25 days that decide fate of the Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 season,” I am on record as saying that the current stretch of 12 games that includes 11 at home will ultimately decide the fate of the Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 season.
If the team treads water at 6-6, they will enter late February still in the hunt and still with playoff hopes with a strong finish. And even if they hit or exceed my 9-3 target for the 12 games, they will still have work to do in the final quarter of the season. But if the team is going to push up into the playoffs, my gut instinct is that it MUST start now.
Coming out of the All-Star break, things started well with two wins, but the Hurricanes suffered their first setback with a sluggish 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. That makes Sunday’s 1pm match up against the San Jose Sharks a pivotal game for the week and the start of the home stretch. With a win, the Hurricanes are on target with a solid 3-1 start. With a loss, the week instead falls to a disappointing 2-2 that pushes four games further into the season and burns four home games without any progress.
More succinctly, Sunday’s game is a huge one as far as early February games go.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the San Jose Sharks
Against that back drop, here are my watch points for Sunday…
1) More jump
The story of the game in Saturday’s 4-1 loss was the inability of the Hurricanes pretty much to a man to find the gear necessary to compete with a fast and energized Red Wings team. The fact that the game was the second half of a back-to-back for the Hurricanes against a team that rested the night before, but the Hurricanes have actually fared reasonably well in these games, so this game was an anomaly and maybe worth watching.
With another fairly short turnaround between Friday night and Sunday early afternoon, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can recharge, repower their skating legs and play at a higher pace on Sunday.
After moving up to #1 for Friday’s game, goaltending returns to its standard #2 slot for Sunday’s game. Cam Ward is coming off consecutive strong starts in 2-1 and 2-0 wins on Tuesday and Thursday and had the expected day off on Friday, so hopefully he picks up right where he left off on Thursday and can be a difference-maker if the team in front of him needs it.
3) Seeking offense of any of three varieties
As I noted in my game recap for Friday’s loss, despite a huge six-goal outburst in Montreal last Thursday and a couple wins this week, a struggling offense lies below the surface of the current Carolina Hurricanes if one looks. As noted in my recap of Friday’s game, the Hurricanes have been held to a single goal four times in their past eight games (all losses) and have been held to only two goals in two other games. And in my opinion, the production is a reasonable even if not perfect measure of the team’s level of play recently. The team needs to find a couple more sources of scoring to avoid having to be perfect in net and on defense to win.
Jeff Skinner: He has actually had a couple really strong games offensively of late (biggest was Tuesday’s game against Ottawa) but has not been justly rewarded. I continue to say that if he has another goal scoring outburst in him for the 2017-18 season, it needs to happen while it still matters.
More ugly goals: The group following Justin Williams’ lead is growing. Brock McGinn who I have termed the Robin to Williams’ Batman spends his fair share of time near the crease. Elias Lindholm has played a vital role in the power play’s improved production by parking (not going there and then leaving when the shot is coming) in the goalie’s line of sight. Williams himself continues to lead by example. But there is more to given in this regard from the entire lineup fighting for ice at the top of the blue paint maybe looking to score but more just being willing to pay a price to create havoc there.
Justin Faulk and the power play: The power play had an odd game on Saturday in that it mostly looked disjointed, but one good play made for a power play goal and a productive night when Elias Lindholm parked himself in front of the goalie, Justin Faulk fired a shot that the goalie never saw and Sebastian Aho batted it in out of mid-air (was likely going in anyway). Faulk also had a post and another good shot on net. He represents another player, like Skinner, who could seemingly be due to heat up scoring-wise. The team needs it, and the timing is right.
A one-game hero: Obvious is to call out the leading offensive players, but sometimes in hockey, it can just be any player having a day.
Regardless, the Hurricanes need to find more offensively and get out of the rut of trying to scratch and claw for a couple goals and then play flawless defensive hockey to make it stand up.
So I will be watching for signs that the team can find more offensively.
The puck drops at 1:07pm at PNC Arena for a nice hockey then football Superbowl Sunday doubleheader.