It sounds strange to say it, but the Canes are looking to rebound despite winning on Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Canes started slow, were just plain bad in the second period in terms of defensive breakdowns and mistakes and were only marginally better in the third period. But thanks to some timely scoring by regular heroes Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom and superb effort by Cam Ward, the Canes stole a huge 2 points in the standings.
It is clearly the time of year when any kind of win is a good win which makes Tuesday a success in terms of results, but if the Canes cannot dial up a better brand of hockey, the success will not be repeated often enough.
Ideal might have been to catch the Maple Leafs next week when the team is minus another 2-4 NHL players, but the game certainly represents a winnable 1. The Leafs are fading before the final sell-off with a 1-6-1 record in their past 8 games.
Here is what I will be watching in another huge game for the Canes:
1) Sounder play defensively
In the second half of January, the Canes had multiple games in which they were sloppy in terms of defensive breakdowns and bad turnovers. After the all-star break to recharge and a horrendous first outing in Calgary, the Canes have tightened things up defensively and even carried it forward through 6 games without Justin Faulk. Ironically, his return saw the defense temporarily (hopefully) implode with a tough night in terms of defensive breakdowns, bad turnovers and whatever else a team could do wrong. The formula for collecting points in bunches is to be sound in terms of goaltending and defense which gives you a chance to win big when you catch breaks and win barely when you do not (or at least get OTL points). The Canes need to quickly get back to sound and solid on defense.
2) A carry forward in net
With the back-to-back, I guess there is a chance that Peters turns to Eddie Lack in the first and easier game to keep him in the mix and saves Ward for the key Boston match up on Friday. We will not know for sure until mid-day Thursday. But regardless of who is in net, it would be great to see stellar goaltending again. I continue to think that another leg up requires a goal-scoring outburst from Eric Staal to balance the scoring for the road-heavy March, but a hot goaltender is as powerful as anything in hockey for running up winning streaks. Can Ward maintain something close to his level of play on Tuesday and lead the way upward?
3) Intensity level and pace from end to end
Trying to identify a cause for Tuesday’s lackluster effort is pure speculation. Did the team just have a rough night? Did Philadelphia’s ultra-aggressive forecheck just keep the Canes from ever getting going? Was it late-season fatigue? The last 1 is the 1 that scares me most this time of year. With the Canes consistent play of late, 1 sluggish game is not a reason to point to tiredness, but at this time of year it is something to watch. Best would be for the Canes to bounce back quickly and put forward a strong effort from beginning to end in a win against Toronto. Any kind of win is a good win, but winning big and early would also enable Coach Bill Peters to spread ice time evenly and leave as much in the tank for Friday against Boston.
4) Eric Staal
He finally broke his scoring drought with a heady goal that saw him wait patiently for a deflected puck to come down far enough that he could bat it in without having it waved off for having a stick above the cross bar. That goal was significant in mostly putting away the win with a 2-goal advantage with only 5 minutes left. What would be even bigger is if it breaks the ice and triggers a scoring surge from Eric Staal and/or his line. With the trade deadline spotlight upon him, can he bear down on the ice and help lead his team to an important win?
The puck drops at about 7:30pm on Fox Sports with John (I think he’s back right?), Tripp and Michelle.