What a difference a game makes. The 1-2-1 start to the 5-game home stand still is not pretty, but with a win and a very good one to boot on Friday night against the Ottawa Senators, things feel somewhat better within the Caniac Nation. With a win, the Hurricanes will salvage a 2-2-1 record for the 5-game home run and at least offer some respite for a fan base that could use it.
For the second consecutive game, the home fans will get 2 national anthems with another Canadian team as the opponent. The Calgary Flames come into the game with the seventh playoff slot in the Western Conference and obviously needing every point they can get. Sunday’s game is the final game in a 5-game road trip that currently sports a 3-0-1 record, so the Flames should enter with momentum and confidence.
On the Hurricanes’ side, the game is all about continuing what they did in Friday’s win both collectively and for some individuals in new/different roles.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Calgary Flames
For Wednesday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I put forward a checklist of things to be evaluated/sorted out in March/April. Coach Bill Peters’ wasted no time and started work on #1 and #1 in the Hurricanes’ next game on Friday, and that checklist features prominently in Sunday’s watch points.
1) Eddie Lack
On Friday, he posted a 34-save shutout and won for the first time since October 20 and only the second time in an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign. Ironically, Lack’s first win was against Calgary, so with a win Lack could be 2-0 against Calgary for two-thirds of his wins. The positives on Friday were the result (obviously) and his battling mentality that saw him scramble as needed and never quit on a play. Hidden behind the stellar numbers were 2 posts, a Justin Faulk leg save and also a couple shots that got behind Lack but somehow did not find the net. But details aside, the game should boost confidence and also help shake off some rust such that it is possible for Lack to find an even higher gear. I will be watching closely on Sunday to see if Lack can begin to find a rhythm, string together some solid outings and make a case for being viable as part of the 2017-18 goaltending equation.
2) Noah Hanifin
Stepping into the top 4 after Ron Hainsey’s departure via trade, Noah Hanifin had a strong game playing alongside Brett Pesce. My recent wish list hoped for a chance to see Hanifin in the top 4 and more significantly that a bigger challenge would boost Hanifin’s level of play and be a catalyst for the next step up in his development. On Sunday against a team that has its share of dangerous forwards in the likes of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and more, I will be watching to see if Noah Hanifin can build upon his strong outing on Friday night.
3) Ryan Murphy
Hainsey’s departure also created the opportunity for Ryan Murphy to push back into the lineup on Friday for the first time since January 20. Playing in the bottom pairing, Murphy had a lesser role than Hanifin but played well nonetheless. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if Ryan Murphy can bring another sound effort defensively and equally importantly if he can get comfortable and unleash a bit more of the puck-carrying ability that is his strength.
4) Phil Di Giuseppe
I really liked Di Giuseppe in the predictions part of my Carolina Hurricanes season preview, but his October was a bit of a false start. Di Giuseppe was not horrible, but he did virtually nothing on the score sheet which does not cut it for a top 9 forward. Since returning from a long and successful stint in Charlotte, Di Giuseppe has 3 assists in 3 games and has played very well. Just maybe he is going to be a late bloomer for the 2016-17 season. I will be watching closely to see if Di Giuseppe can continue to bring his solid brand of play without the puck skating, forechecking and back-checking and equally importantly if he can continue to find his way onto the score sheet.
Some may not remember, but this duo actually started the season together, but but was broken up after a handful of games when the team in pairing and the team in total struggled defensively in the first few games. Reunited on Friday after the departure of Faulk’s regular partner Ron Hainsey, the duo played a strong game together. Peters leaned on them heavily to the tune of 25:02 of ice time for Faulk and 24:12 for Slavin. Just like with the other watch points, I will be looking for a continuation of Friday’s strong game.
IMPORTANT: Sunday is an odd 3:00pm part presumably to facilitate travel to and from the military bases not local to Raleigh for Military Appreciation Day.