Just a quick heads up…Canes and Coffee will down sometime Thursday afternoon possibly for short enough that hardly anyone notices but potentially for a bit longer.
Heading into action on February 15 (so exactly two weeks ago), the Carolina Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers were both in the pack of teams competing for the final two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers were up only three points on the Hurricanes who were in the thick of things. The importance of big streaks in either direction could not be more clearly illustrated by what has happened in the 14 days since. The Flyers who have won six straight are now up a whopping 13 points on the Hurricanes and are not so much concerned with the playoff cut line as the playoff seedings and possibly the Metropolitan Division crown. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have lost six straight (0-4-2), are currently four points out of the final playoff spot and find their 2017-18 playoff hopes hanging by a thread.
Tuesday’s match up in Philadelphia pits these two hockey trains going in opposite directions against each other. The Flyers are in one of those grooves right now where everything just seems to be working regardless of obstacles. A couple potential injury setbacks just resulted in the next man up getting it done. The team is playing without Wayne Simmonds right now but seems unaffected. The Flyers also lost both goalies to injury, so they just won twice with an AHLer in net and then hit the trade market to add another next man up in Petr Mrazek who is 3-0 with a .947 save percentage since parachuting into the fray.
The Hurricanes on the other hand have hit a stretch where they just seem to find a way to lose. The team has had a couple abysmal outings that very clearly deserved a loss, but it has also had its share of games that could have been wins. If the Canes are to break the playoff drought, they must quickly find a way to push over the hump and into the win column. One positive is that Jordan Staal is traveling with the team and expected to play on Thursday after a few days off mourning the loss of he and his wife Heather’s infant daughter.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Philadelphia Flyers
1) A much cleaner game
While the compete and effort level were generally there against the Boston Bruins in Tuesday’s overtime loss, the Hurricanes were again sloppy at times in terms of handling the puck and defending in their own zone. A significant portion of the Bruins offensive attack came directly from Hurricanes’ miscues. The team needs to be better in this regard if it is to rebound past an occasional win here or there, so this is something that I will be watching on Thursday night in Philadelphia.
I have not seen word of who will start in net on Thursday. Scott Darling was not phenomenal on Tuesday night, but he was not as bad as four goals against might suggest either with the team in front of him offering intermittent break away or all alone in front of the net type challenges throughout the game. My bias right now is to ride Darling a bit further as long as he is trending in the right direction, but who knows what Peters plans for Thursday. Regardless, goaltending maintains its regular spot on my watch list.
3) The power switch for the broader offense
The Hurricanes scored three on Tuesday which is not horrible, but again the sources were limited to the handful of standbys including the power play and a couple of the players who have been producing. To find any kind of run, the Hurricanes will need to get a couple lines clicking such that they can find a rhythm and have the ability to sustain pressure at points in a game. On Thursday, I will be watching closely for signs of life offensively.
4) The solace of ice cream
Thursday will mark game #2 of my committed run through a Caniac Ice Cream Challenge.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Southeast (not more common Carolinas version) with John, Tripp and Mike.