In a strange fit of NHL scheduling and deja vu, after playing the Arizona Coyotes at home in Raleigh on Friday, the 2 teams will be right back at it again on Sunday in Arizona.
For the Hurricanes, the game represents a chance to claim a much-needed win and 2 points. That part of the equation has not been going well with the team suffering 5 straight losses (2 in overtime).
The game also represents an opportunity for the young players to continue their development and mount an ascent on playing time in the top half of the lineup. Despite the negative results on the scoreboard, that part of the equation has actually been going very well.
In my game recap from round 1 of the back-to-back on Friday, I found (legitimately even) 3 big positive trends in terms of building the roster for 2017-18. And watching those stories unfold will be a focus again for Sunday’s game.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Arizona Coyotes
1) Noah Hanifin
His development sits atop my list of interesting, mostly fun things to watch in March and his play since the Ron Hainsey trade ranks at the top of my list of positives despite the losing streak. In 5 games playing in the top 4, he has had only 1 game in which he seemed to be in over his head. Important to note is that even players who are legitimate, proven top 4 defensemen still have those days once in awhile. And more exciting for me is the fact that he seems to be gaining more confidence which is starting to show up in the offensive part of his game. At the risk of being a broken record, the ceiling version of Noah Hanifin’s game utilizes his skating ability to drive offense.
2) Phil Di Giuseppe
Every time he gets a chance to shoot, I rise up in my seat. Even a modest amount of finishing is the only thing that is holding him back from rising above the fray of Hurricanes’ depth forwards. His game has been solid in every other regard, but to be a good top 9 forward and not a filler requires scoring at least 15-20 goals per season.
3) Just win baby – to hold it together
With 21 games remaining and still playing games in which there is a winner and loser, focusing only on player development is not possible. There is also a need for the team to win some games and avoid the possibility of having the locker room splinter under the weight of a disappointing season outcome. Part of that is leadership and good people working together, but there must also be some wins in the formula to keep people from getting frustrated. It is speculation as to what Peters’ motive was for chucking Eddie Lack under the bus on Friday afternoon, but I think it is fair to say that there was at least a dash of frustration involved. Down the stretch is a good time to watch leaders emerge or sometimes not emerge and how the team team handles itself playing the last quarter of the season under less than ideal circumstances. Last season, Jeff Skinner rose up and seized a leadership role in the process, and I think the team fared well in terms of coming out of the season intact and ready to start from a good place during the next training camp.
4) Looking for leaders to rise up
Sort of in the same vein as #3, now is the time for leaders both old and new to rise up and assert themselves. Other than some tough luck finding the back of the net and intermittent goalie issues, the Hurricanes have actually played decent hockey over the past few games. I think you could make a decent case that all of Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal and others have played well since the trade deadline. As we push into March, I will be watching to see who finishes the season on a high note.
ADDED AFTER SEEING MIKE MANISCALCO REPORT THAT LACK WAS GETTING THE START
5) Eddie Lack
After Friday’s brief Bill Peters’ verbal tirade, Eddie Lack will get a chance to respond on the ice on Sunday. This is obviously a watch point given Friday’s fireworks.
The puck drops at about 8:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.