On Friday night in Raleigh, the Hurricanes 5-game home stand will try again. The troops suffered a casualty from the 0-2-1 start when Ron Hainsey became the Hurricanes first trade deadline departure yesterday. And with the Hurricanes suddenly 8 points (adjusted for games played) out the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the 2016-17 season suddenly has a decidedly ‘looking forward to 2017-18’ feel to it. It is not a great place to be as a Canes fan, but it is what it is.
The game is also the Carolina Hurricanes “Hockey is for Everyone” game which is a great formal statement by the NHL that the sport is inclusive for everyone. You can find a bit more information about the “You can play” and “Hockey is for Everyone” themes on the team’s web site.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Ottawa Senators
With a strong ‘building for next year’ tone, here is what I will be watching in Friday night’s game:
1) Heart, character, hunger, leadership, etc.
Despite turning forward a bit to next year, by no means am I giving the team a free pass to shut it down for the season and just mail it in. Especially at PNC Arena with the loyalest of fans still in attendance, the team needs to continue to show up and should still be playing with a mentality that is desperately trying to generate a playoff miracle. To be fair, the Hurricanes did exactly that on Tuesday night despite losing. The effort, compete level and every other measure of intangibles rated incredibly high despite the disappointing result. On Friday, I will be watching and expecting more of the same.
2) Ryan Murphy’s return
Yesterday I wrote a detailed article on options for Ryan Murphy after the Ron Hainsey trade. We will not know for sure until game time, but Thursday’s practice suggested that Murphy will be paired with Klas Dahlbeck and will reenter the lineup. The timing of his return to the lineup is somewhat fitting in that the game features a match up against Ottawa and Erik Karlsson. I really think it is time for Ryan Murphy to play with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality. He should be looking at Erik Karlsson in warm ups and thinking that that is the kind of player he was meant to be. And from there, he should be playing a skating and attacking style of play that tries to make things happen offensively. The exercise has the potential to end badly, but I really think it is time for that ‘nothing to lose’ approach to either flies or crashes and burns. So on Friday night, I will be watching closely for some kind of spark in Murphy’s game and not an effort to play buttoned down hockey and just survive another shift without incident.
3) Phil Di Giuseppe
For whatever reason, I think he has higher-end potential than the collection of depth forwards. Somewhere along the way, he transformed his game to have much more of a grinding power forward element to it which the Canes lack. And I continue to think that still buried in his tool bag is average or better finishing and other offensive skills. If he could ever put all those together, I think he could seize a top 9 forward slot and bring a little more physical and difficult to play against to the Hurricanes lineup but not without giving up scoring. Now in his third game since being recalled, I will be watching Phil Di Giuseppe to see if this is the time that he puts it all together.
4) Noah Hanifin in the top 4
I love it when the team reads Canes and Coffee and grants wishes. Just Monday, I posted an article entitled “5 wishes if we can’t have late April hockey.” The team has made quick work of it, already taking steps in the right direction on 3 of the 5 wishes. One of them is to see Noah Hanifin get a run of ice time in the top 4 to see if it can jump start his development. Thursday’s practice saw Hanifin move up into the top 4 with Brett Pesce, so it looks likely that Hanifin will in fact see top 4 ice time tonight. A little bit in the same vein as Murphy, I will be watching to see if Hanifin can begin to use his skating to create more. But for Hanifin, I will also be looking to see if perhaps a bigger challenge is just what he needs to help him focus, dial up his intensity and improve the attention to detail that is critical to playing in the top 4 in the NHL.
Though I refuse to completely give up on the 2016-17 season until the math says that I have to, I will still be watching with an eye for 2017-18. The puck drops at about 7:37pm tonight at PNC Arena.