The #CanesCoaster continues it tumultuous ride. After a pair of wins last weekend and a resounding 7-3 victory on Tuesday to rise to new highs, the team has since turned back down with two losses to Metropolitan Division foes and teams also in the playoff chase.
What a difference a couple days can make this time of year. With a win over the Devils on Thursday night, the Hurricanes could leap-frogged them into fourth place in the Metropolitan and the first wild card slot. But with a loss and another that followed to the Islanders on Friday coupled with another Devils win on Saturday, the Hurricanes will enter Sunday’s rematch suddenly five points behind the Devils and on the wrong side of playoff cut line.
But despite the two-game losing streak, with a win on Sunday the Hurricanes could emerge back in a playoff spot if the Blue Jackets lose on Sunday.
A couple interesting story lines
1) The lineup. Coach Bill Peters has already said that Haydn Fleury will step back into the lineup in place of Klas Dahlbeck which is fairly standard fare with the two swapping in and out fairly regularly. More interesting could be a second development. The Hurricanes returned Patrick Brown to the AHL and recalled Lucas Wallmark. On the one hand, it seems odd that the team would swap AHLers if Peters intends to just healthy scratch the player anyway. On the other hand, I would have guessed that the Hurricanes would have recalled Wallmark in time to practice with the team on Saturday if he was expected to play on Sunday.
I voted recently to at least try to boost the lineup with an AHL call up or two. The team is struggling to score right now and while there is some risk, the high-scoring AHLers at least have the potential to boost the offense.
2) The Devils. With an odd schedule, the game against the Devils on Thursday was the first of four between the two teams. What jumped out about the Devils was how aggressively they attacked on the forecheck. The Devils were faster and their aggressive, ‘pedal down’ style gave the Hurricanes problems at times. With a game of experience, video to watch and home ice advantage to dictate match ups, it will be interesting to see if Peters can make adjustments three days later.
Another wild card is the fact that the Devils played and traveled on Saturday night which theoretically should give the Hurricanes a physical advantage.
“Must win” is overdone, but “really need to win after two losses” is not by any stretch of the imagination.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New Jersey Devils
The Devils forecheck is as aggressive as any that the Hurricanes have seen this season. Pretty regularly, the Devils had all three forwards below the face-off circles when the Hurricanes were trying to move the puck off the end wall. The Hurricanes solved the puzzle only intermittently and were never really able to get behind the first wave with speed to generate odd man rushes that would seem to be available. Early in Sunday’s game, I will be watching to see if Peters can make tactical adjustments to beat the forecheck, quickly get moving north/south behind and counterattack with speed.
Here it sits at #2 very likely for the rest of the year. The biggest story in the 5-2 loss to New Jersey was a tough night for Scott Darling. Best guess is that Cam Ward gets the start on Sunday. The Devils are an interesting contrast to the Hurricanes right now. Minus starting goalie Corey Schneider who has played a key role the Devils’ surprising success, the backup tandem of Keith Kinkaid and Eddie Lack has just reeled off three straight wins. Lack played and won on Saturday, so with the Hurricanes current starter in Ward going against New Jersey’s #2, a goaltending advantage would be helpful.
3) Leaders rising up
After a fun home win on Tuesday, the Hurricanes are facing another mini-bout of adversity with two straight losses. I will be watching to see which players rise up to lead when the team really needs it.
4) Lucas Wallmark? …the lines? more forward scoring?
With the 5pm start, we probably will not know until just before puck drop if Lucas Wallmark will be in the lineup. Regardless, the team needs to find something that boosts scoring across the forward group. Anyone who has been reading my previews and recaps last week should have the list of forwards who have not scored a goal yet in February memorized. The issue has been glossed over in a couple wins with a big scoring outburst by the defensemen and power play and production from the few (Skinner, Aho, McGinn) who are clicking, but at some point the Hurricanes will need more contributors to consistently score enough to win.
The puck drops early at 5:07pm at PNC Arena.