After a successful 4-1 road trip, the Carolina Hurricanes return home for home cooking and a quick burst of three home games in five days.
Right now, the the Hurricanes are still three points out of a playoff spot, but the trajectory is unmistakably positive. But as detailed in today’s Daily Cup of Joe, the team is also entering a point in the season that has been unkind in three consecutive years. In the past, the team has been able to play its up to the edge of the playoff chase, but it has repeatedly been unable to sustain a push and break through the ceiling. In addition, over the past three seasons, the Hurricanes have an abysmal 2-11-2 record in the five games leading up to the NHL trade deadline.
So with a positive trajectory but also facing past ghosts, the Hurricanes start a critical stretch in the second half of February against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers come in struggling. The team has already lost a coach and a general manager this season but has not really received a bounce from either move. Because the Western Conference is so much weaker, the Oilers are not completely eliminated from playoff contention, but there 24-27-5 record and losses in eight of their last nine games have the Oilers trending in the opposite direction of the Hurricanes.
This is a game the Hurricanes need to seize.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Edmonton Oilers
1) Playing the role of the aggressor
Playing a struggling team at home after two days off, the Hurricanes need to attack early and often in this game. In two previous games against lesser teams, the Hurricanes mostly played down to that level. A tough first period led to a loss against the Devils, and it took a third period surge to pull out a win against the Senators. Better on Friday would be for the Hurricanes to push early, dictate play, seize the lead and run away from there. I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can play up to a level above the Oilers or if they instead play down to that lower level again.
2) Marking McDavid
For whatever issues the Oilers have right now, they still have a world class talent in Connor McDavid. He is capable of putting his team on his back and carrying it to a win. On home ice, Brind’Amour will have the last change and reasonable ability to match whoever he prefers against McDavid for most of the night. I will be watching to see if Brind’Amour switches back to more of a home configuration on the blue line which sees Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce reunited and in a match up/checking role against McDavid. I will also be watching to see if Brind’Amour prefers to go strength on strength with Aho’s line against McDavid or if he instead puts Wallmark’s line in Staal’s familiar role. Most importantly, I will be watching to see how effective the strategy and players are at containing McDavid.
3) More of the same offensively
The Canes strong play since the start of January has been characterized by balance across the forward lines that sees Brind’Amour spread minutes fairly evenly to keep everyone fresh and has also seen decent depth scoring contributions throughout the lineup. On Friday, I will be watching to see the Hurricanes can overpower the Oilers with strong play across four lines.
The puck drops at 7:30pm at PNC Arena.