After struggling in a short run of games against teams near the bottom of the NHL standings, next up for the Hurricanes is a bigger challenge. (grimace) In the next 10 days, the Hurricanes play 6 games. 5 of those games are against teams currently in playoff position, and the other is against a team sitting in ninth place trying to get in. And of the 6 games, 5 are at 1400 Edwards Mill Road in Raleigh.
The team needs to quickly find a higher gear, level of desperation or something to fuel better hockey or it is going to be a rough 10 days for the undyingly loyal part of the fan base who will be at PNC Arena while the majority of local sports fans are tuned into basketball with the ACC Tourney this weekend and the NCAA Tourney starting next weekend.
The opponent for the first game is the New York Rangers. The Rangers enter the game in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division but within a couple points of second place and with first place and the President’s Trophy that probably comes with it not completely out of reach. The Rangers enter the game after a successful start to a 4-game road trip that began with wins against Florida and Tampa Bay.
If you need some sunshine and rainbows to convince yourself that it is all going to be okay, check out today’s Daily Cup of Joe which features 32 John Forslund-isms.
Then check out what I am watching for the first game of a 6-game home-heavy run if you need ideas for what to watch to stay engaged regardless of the situation on the scoreboard..
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) Something, anything after Tuesday
After a disappointing loss and a mostly listless effort against the bottom-dwelling Colorado Avalanche, I am looking for some kind of response back home Thursday night. I am not picky at this point – something, anything will do. Give me a spark and a huge game from 1 of the players wearing a letter on their chest. Just give me a much better effort in which the Hurricanes skate hard, finish checks and compete with a much higher level of intensity. Give me a win of any kind. Or at this point even give me a super snarly effort with visible anger at the situation. The last option is not preferred, but it is better than leaving me wondering if there is even going to be a pulse with the die-hard part of the fan base needing to push through 18 more games after Thursday.
2) Valentin Zykov
Due to injuries to Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe, Valentin Zykov is the latest forward to get his chance to make an impression at the NHL level. Last night, I wrote about Zykov’s 2016-17 season in a bit more detail pulling in insight from Jordan Futrell who covers the Charlotte Checkers at CandC. The simple version is that I will be watching closely to see if Zykov can match NHL pace which is a prerequisite for even having a chance in today’s NHL. If that first test goes well, I will be watching closely to see if his combination of ruggedness and size, skill and hockey sense are capable of making a positive impression in his NHL debut.
3) Continued progress for the young blue line
Amidst raging fires on the score board and elsewhere, recent times have seen the young blue line continue to build on already strong progress. Noah Hanifin has taken a big step up since Hainsey’s trade. Ryan Murphy is actually settling in, growing more comfortable and starting to open up the throttle a bit in terms of carrying the puck and creating offense. Like Hanifin’s, Justin Faulk’s game has taken a step up with a new partner in (mostly) Jaccob Slavin. And the duo of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have been separated (at least for the first halves of games) and tasked with individually solidifying 1 of the top 2 defense pairings. That is a tall task for 2 players only in their second season of professional hockey, but they have both been up to the challenge so far. But defense is all about consistency and being able to play through lulls with minimal dips in defensive play. As such, I will be watching on Thursday to see if the Hurricanes can continue to build in the right direction on the blue line significantly against a bigger challenge in the Rangers who rank fourth in the entire NHL in goals scored per game.
4) The goaltending
Much like how the season started, I am back to the point where goaltending is an every game watch point. I have not seen official word on who will get the start on Thursday, but my wild guess is that Peters will go back to Ward after the loss with Lack in net on Tuesday. Regardless, I will be watching to see what the Hurricanes get in net on Thursday night.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.