With the trade rumor winds starting to swirl and scoreboard-watching on the rise, the Hurricanes take to the ice against the New York Rangers for the last of three home games. Thus far, the team is a perfect two for two, but as I have noted in both game recaps, that is a bit misleading. Each win featured phenomenal goaltending and not enough else.
But it is late February. The Hurricanes are very clearly in the playoff chase at only a single point behind the Penguins. Because of that, results trump all else. So on Tuesday the Hurricanes will be seeking any kind of win.
The opponent is a Rangers team that gets most of its press right now about what it might do with valuable veterans at the trade deadline. Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid are all taking turns in the 2019 NHL trade deadline rumor mill right now. Despite the trade deadline buzz, the Rangers are not to be taken lightly. The Blue Shirts recently shellacked the Hurricanes in New York and have wins over the Maple Leafs, Sabres and Bruins to their recent credit.
On the Hurricanes side, another goalie-led win would be fine per the ‘results matter’ (most) mantra, but at some point this team needs to re-find a higher gear to get back to a more sustainable formula for winning.
Here are my watch points for Tuesday.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) A repeat of the forecheck and pace early
When the Hurricanes are at their best, more often than not the foundation is the team’s ability to overwhelm the opponent with pace and pressure. The Hurricanes have managed to pounce on lackadaisical opponents early. Both weekend wins featured a pair of early goals before the opponent found their legs and played their way into the game. As the team demonstrated with consecutive wins, an early lead goes a long way in the NHL and can even cover up ‘meh’ performances for most of a game. I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can carry forward that early attacking mentality and again make it pay.
2) A return of the forecheck and pace past the first 10 minutes
As noted above, the Hurricanes really did not play well either weekend win. I liked the Dallas win for the team’s ability to avoid break downs in their own end even when playing under duress, but that does not change the fact that they were outplayed. The Edmonton win had even less worth keeping past the first 10 minutes. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can find a second wind, a fresh start or whatever it takes to get back to their peak level of play heading into the last quarter of the season.
The theme of this entire preview is hopefully not requiring the goalie to stand on his head and steal a win. But hey, if that is what it takes and it is again possible, then so be it. Though hopefully less heroics will be required, the Canes will still need consistent and solid netminding down the stretch. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if that continues.
4) Special teams
The volume was low, but the Hurricanes won the special teams battle on Saturday, and the penalty kill held a 2-1 lead multiple times on Friday. So it was a plus weekend for special teams which have been an intermittent problem all season long. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the weekend success can become a longer-term trend.
5) Jordan Staal?
He practiced in a regular jersey on Monday, so I guess that makes Tuesday a possibility. Best bet is that he gets a couple more days and returns later in the week, but the regular jersey definitely makes morning skate reports worth a check in.
The puck drops at 7pm at PNC Arena.