On a night when pre-game festivities include a huge ceremony for the 25-year anniversary of the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, the Hurricanes will try to do the nearly impossible in winning at Madison Square Garden. I exaggerate only slightly when I say that the Carolina Hurricanes have never won in that building. The most recent visit saw a hot Hurricanes team fall completely flat and not recover until they had lost that game and the next one just as badly due to a Madison Square Garden hangover.
Poor history aside, the Hurricanes come into the game with two huge road wins. I was in the minority questioning the process in Tuesday’s win in Pittsburgh. That lack of attention to detail seemed to boil over in Buffalo on Thursday night, but the Hurricanes somehow emerged with a wild 6-5 overtime win after being outplayed and blowing two-goal leads in the second and third periods.
But more than anything February and forward in the long NHL season is about results, so regardless of formula, a third consecutive road win would be huge for a Canes team that is still four points back (adjusted for games played) of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Here are my watch points for Friday.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) Pace and energy level
With the back-to-back set and the non-routine pre-game ceremony, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can start on time and push pace throughout the game. When the Hurricanes play fast and aggressive everything seems to fall in line in terms of generating offense with pressure and relieving pressure on the defense. Can the Canes muster that again on Friday after playing in Thursday?
2) Sounder defense
This has been my mantra for the week. Despite the 4-0 shutout win on Tuesday, I called out the Hurricanes lack of defensive zone coverage and the volume of grade A chances they gave up. Thursday was more of the same. Curtis McElhinney stood on his head for half of a game to cover up ‘iffy’ defense, and then the Hurricanes won a wild 6-5 slug fest in the second half of the game. But winning in spite of defense instead of with defense is not sustainable at the NHL level. As such, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can re-find a higher gear defensively. In the same vein, I will be watching to see if Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour makes some changes (maybe going back to Slavin/Pesce and de Haan/Faulk).
3) Petr Mrazek
A key part of the formula for both wins this week was outstanding goaltending by Curtis McElhinney on Tuesday and then for as long as he could hold out on Thursday. If the Hurricanes are some combination tired and possibly just not that great defensively, Mrazek could be under pressure. I will be watching Mrazke early to see if he is sharp and capable of keeping his team in the game.
4) Special teams
The last visit to Madison Square Garden ended with a resounding loss. In the game, the Rangers were a perfect three for three on the power play. The Hurricanes special teams have been up and down of late. On Friday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes power play can get on track and if the penalty kill can hold its own.
The puck drops at 8pm. Tune in with John, Tripp and Mike on Fox Sports Carolinas.