For the 2016-17 season, the NHL implemented a new ‘bye week’ that sees NHL teams with most of a week (5 days in the Hurricanes case) off from hockey and also practice. It is not a layoff between games because the players actually get a vacation out of it, and practices are not allowed.
The Hurricanes’ bye week comes on the heels of a tough 0-2 week and leading into an even more important 5-game home stand. With the Hurricanes sitting 4 points out of a playoff spot (adjusted for games played), both the stretch and the timing is critical. The team will emerge from the home stand with only 24 games remaining and their best chance to make up ground sitting in the rear view mirror. The team will also emerge from the stretch only 3 days from the 2017 NHL trade deadline. If things go poorly over the next 2 weeks, the stage could be set for general manager Ron Francis to follow the game plan from the past 2 years which is to sell off anything not bolted down by contracts that extend past the season’s end. But if the Hurricanes who have been incredibly good on home ice in 2016-17 can reel off 4 or 5 wins, the team will push into March with a chance to contend for a playoff spot.
It all starts on Friday against a Colorado Avalanche team that is the worst in the entire NHL with a 15-37-2 record. But the Hurricanes need to look no farther than the Avs recent win against the Atlantic-leading Montreal Canadiens and also the poor record of teams coming out of their bye week to understand that there are no sure things in the NHL.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Colorado Avalanche
1) An aggressive, attacking mentality
Theoretically, after 5 days off and against a team that is inferior on paper, the Hurricanes should come out of the gate aggressively looking to attack early, often and throughout the game. If they do that, they should be the better team and should win. But there is always the chance for sloppiness after the layoff, tentativeness knowing the importance of winning and any other number of issues that limit the effort. I will be watching early to see if the the Hurricanes start with jump and intensity.
2) Offense across 3 lines
The pre-bye week Hurricanes squad was sputtering a bit in terms of scoring from the forwards. I detailed the scoring slumps from key Hurricanes forwards in my Daily Cup of Joe entitled “Seeking a fast rebound from Canes’ slumping forwards.” The Aho/Staal/Lindholm line has been both solid and productive offensively, hence Peters’ hesitance to split them up to balance scoring. Per Cory Lavalette on Twitter today, today’s practice had Skinner/Teravainen/Stempniak and McGinn/Rask/Ryan to to with Staal’s line and the regular fourth line. Regardless of what Peters tries for combinations, the Hurricanes desperately need to again become 3 lines deep offensively. Early in Friday’s game against the Avalanche, I will be watching closely to see if some of the underperforming forwards can emerge from the bye week with a spark.
3) Matt Duchene at PNC Arena
The other high-profile side show in Friday’s game is the chance to see Colorado players Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog in person at PNC Arena. Both players are rumored to be available via trade and any article that delves into possible destinations includes the Hurricanes on the short list because of their need for offense, ability to fit salary and potential to offer a defenseman of some variety in the trade. I wrote a detailed post pondering the pros and cons of a trade of Matt Duchene for Justin Faulk earlier this week.
We have already seen a coach hailing a cab outside of PNC Arena after being fired after a game and all kinds of craziness with the NC State basketball court sitting on top of the ice. As bizarre as it might seem, a situation that sees Matt Duchene and a Hurricanes defenseman cross paths in the walkway between the locker rooms before or after Friday’s game almost seems like the next logical event.
4) A strong outing from Cam Ward
Saturday’s loss saw a couple strange goals that make you shrug, but along the way Cam Ward was also ‘meh.’ I do not think it is possible for the Hurricanes to win at the rate necessary to stay in the playoff chase if they do not get at least average if not better goaltending. In total for the 2016-17 season, I would say Ward has done that but it is by virtue of being very good for the middle part of the season and less so recently. I will be watching on Friday to see which version of Ward emerges from the bye week break.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena. In my estimation, needing at least 4 out of 5 wins for the home stand, the opener against the league’s worst team feels like a must win to chart that course.