After an NHL trade deadline that featured a bunch of noise around high-end players with term on their contract, the grand finale on Monday primarily featured trades of rental players aimed specifically at the 2017-18 season. The Hurricanes were mostly a non-participant in the end making one minor trade sending depth forward Josh Jooris to the Pittsburgh Penguins for an AHL center. You can read about the Josh Jooris trade HERE, and you can read my broader assessment of the Carolina Hurricanes’ activity/non-activity in the trade market HERE.
Pushing forward into the present, the Hurricanes are back in action Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins.
The game also represents at least a preliminary start to our “Caniac Ice Cream Challenge” which will hopefully provide a tiny bit of fun in March (especially if we really need it) and also support a great cause. Please take a minute to read about that HERE, and please be one of the people who participates such that the event lifts off successfully.
For whatever things are hard for some about being a Carolina Hurricanes fan right now, eating ice cream is easy…and therapeutic to boot.
As for the game, the opponent is a Boston Bruins team that is in the group of six teams seemingly slotted for the six divisional playoff spots. They are a good hockey team that became better and deeper when they added Rick Nash for scoring help and Nick Holden for blue line depth. Evening up the match up at the center position, the Bruins will be without top center and leader Patrice Bergeron leaving a hole in their lineup equal to the Hurricanes hold from Jordan Staal’s absence. After a run of games almost exclusively at home in February and with a high mix of non-playoff teams, this game is the first in a series that sees the tables turn and feature more road games and a consistent run of games against better hockey teams.
On the Hurricanes side, there are a handful of notable moving parts. Jordan Staal is still away from the team after the death of his infant daughter. Scott Darling will get his second consecutive start in net for the first time in what seems like forever and will look to build off of a decent outing in a loss to Detroit on Saturday. Coach Bill Peters has murmured again about Sebastian Aho seeing more ice time at center, but as of right now, it looks like Tuesday will see Elias Lindholm stay there and Lucas Wallmark in the lineup. (Per Michael Smith from the Carolina Hurricanes after the morning skate.)
But at this point, I think it is less about the lineup and those specifics and all about finding some kind of spark that generates a different mindset, mojo and momentum before it is too late for 2017-18.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) Jump, spark, something…
The team has actually had bursts of strong play at least in terms of compete and intensity level, but mixed in have been stretches where the team just looked deflated. The most extreme case was when the team seemed to mail in the second half of the Penguins loss after not catching any breaks during a stretch of strong play early in the second period. With five straight losses, I have to imagine there is some amount of self doubt lurking right now. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can channel that into intensity level and other positives or if instead the team looks tentative and potentially fragile.
As noted above, Scott Darling put forward a better effort despite losing on Saturday. But my count of at least three instances of the bobbles and leaks that have plagued him at times this season were still there but just did not find the net behind him. In terms of rebounding in 2017-18, Scott Darling could be critical. In terms of figuring out a winning formula for 2018-19 and and beyond, Scott Darling is also critical at a minimum in terms of making hard decisions. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if Scott Darling can build off of Saturday’s outing and stretch to two consecutive games that are serviceable or better.
3) Finding the power button offensively
Right now, the Hurricanes are fighting fires on multiple fronts in terms of trying to put everything together into a winning formula, but rising to the top of the priority list of late has been the team’s offensive struggles. The early part of of was masked a bit by a scoring surge from the power play and the blue line in a couple of high scoring wins.
But playing in 13th and final game in February, pickings are really slim in terms of finding goal scoring among the Hurricanes core group of forwards. Jeff Skinner with 5, Sebastian Aho with 4 and Brock McGinn with 3 are at least contributing even if not thriving. But past that the team has struggled. Consider that through 12 games in February, a Hurricanes center has yet to score a goal. Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Derek Ryan and Marcus Kruger are all goal-less. The picture is not much brighter at wing. Lee Stempniak and Joakim Nordstrom run the tally to six Canes forwards who are without a goal for at least the 12 games played in February. Then Teuvo Teravainen has two, Justin Williams one and Elias Lindholm one (while playing wing not center). When you tally it all up, the Hurricanes forwards are averaging 1.33 goals per game in February which averages out to about 9 per player if prorated over a full 82-game season. That obviously does not cut it.
So on Tuesday I will be watching for signs of life offensively from a forward group that has stagnated offensively.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and I believe a healthy Mike Maniscalco (who thankfully was not traded). Grab your ice cream of choice and set up in front the TV for whatever is next in the #CanesCoaster.