The trade deadline rumblings are increasing. The season is quickly nearing the last quarter. And the Canes are still just going about their business playing good hockey, winning more than losing and slowly pushing their way up the standings.
If you break down the games since the all-star break into chunks of 3, the Canes managed a respectable, ‘treading water’ 1-1-1 mark in 3 road games coming out of the break. The team then followed that up with a solid 2-0-1 run in 3 home games. That puts the post all-star game mark at 3-1-2 which is about the pace that the team needs to play at to reach 94-95 points and still be playing games that matter in late March and early April.
Tonight’s match up in Ottawa starts another run of quick 3 games through the weekend. The game also marks the team’s first road game minus Justin Faulk who is still sidelined by a lower body injury. The group on defense has been very good and achieved solid results in 3 games without its leader, but all 3 games were at home where it was easier for Coach Bill Peters and his staff to select match ups. Ottawa enters the game sitting at .500 and recently falling from the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference with a 4-6 mark in their last 10 games.
The game, like every one right now, is another huge one for the Canes who sit below the middle of the pack but closing the gap and certainly within reach.
Here is what I will be watching for tonight’s game:
1) More of the same, especially the strong start
The Canes have not been perfect, but they have been pretty good in recent games. There are no major adjustments for the Canes to make. They just need to keep bringing the same brand of hockey especially the fast starts that have built leads early.
2) The D on the road
Minus its leader Justin Faulk, the Canes blue line has held up incredibly well. In 3 games, the group was touched for 1 goal against twice and only allowed goals 2 and 3 against the Isles after the game was mostly in hand. Things are a bit tougher on the road where Ottawa can dictate match ups and take a shot at picking on the Canes third pairing and provides a deeper test for the Canes blue line depth minus Faulk. Getting another solid top-to-bottom effort from the defense could be a key factor on Thursday night.
3) Continued offensive surge from Jordan Staal and company
On the road, Coach Bill Peters will not be able to just send Jordan Staal out against whoever he chooses. In a strange reversal of roles, Thursday could see Ottawa sending their best defensive units out to try to slow a red hot Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom line.
4) Still seeking more scoring help
The Canes scoring has been sporadic since the all-star break. Mixed in with a couple huge scoring outbursts, the Canes have also had nights for which it was a struggle to get to 2 goals. Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg are playing a decent possessional hockey but not generated a ton offensively. Skinner/Rask/Lindholm has also played some pretty good games without a ton of even strength scoring to show for it. I continue to think that the next leg up for the Canes will require deeper, more balanced scoring likely driven by a scoring surge driven by either Jeff Skinner or Eric Staal in time for the road-heavy March schedule. Why not start early?
The puck drops at about 7:30pm with John, Tripp and Michelle on Fox Sports Southeast. (Nothing worse than setting the DVR for the wrong Fox Sports.)