On Thursday night, Columbus squeaked out an overtime win against the Flyers. The win boosted them back to one point ahead of Carolina and Pittsburgh with each team having played the same 63 games. From here out, it is pretty much a white knuckler from game to game.
But the Hurricanes are handling it well right now. The team finished up February with an impressive 10-3 mark and current possesses a three-game winning streak. Right now, the Canes are riding momentum that saw them win a week or so ago almost exclusively because of goaltending. But the two most recent wins were much more impressive and well-rounded. First, the Hurricanes beat a good Dallas Stars team on the road. Then, the Hurricanes dismantled a beleaguered Los Angeles Kings team. With completely different challenges, the Hurricanes met the challenge in both cases.
Timing for dialing up the quality level of all-around play is well-timed with a difficult March schedule kicking off on Friday night. The first in a tough month of games is a St. Louis Blues team that is surging right now. The team that seemed on the brink of blowing things up in the fall have righted the ship and is playing well right now. The Blues are only 2-2 in their last four games but prior to that had won 11 straight.
The game is the first of many against good teams, and the Hurricanes could be short on the blue line (see watch points below).
‘What I’m watching’ style preview for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the St. Louis Blues
1) Injuries on the blue line
The win over the Kings saw the Hurricanes lose two defensemen to injuries. Justin Faulk and Calvin de Haan. Both are officially day to day. The team has recalled Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury, so the probability that one or both Faulk and de Haan is not lineup seems reasonably high. Minus one of the two, the team still has four who I would consider top 4 defensemen and also Trevor van Riemsdyk who has always been a solid #5 with a good knack for being a stabilizing force for the third pairing. If both Fleury and Bean enter the lineup, the situation could be more challenging for Brind’Amour. A coach cannot hide two defensemen for a whole game, so Brind’Amour will be forced to consider who plays with whom and also minutes.
2) Net front presence
One the seal was broken the dam broke for the Hurricanes offense on Tuesday. What looked easy and skilled actually had a huge component of playing the game the right way. The Hurricanes first goal came when Saku Maenalanen crashed the net and took the goalie with him. Staal, Ferland and Niederreiter all had huge games going to the crease as much as possible. After a six-goal outburst on Tuesday, I will be watching on Friday to see if the Hurricanes come out with the same intensity.
3) Special teams
As things tighten up in March, special teams could be critical. After mostly an up and down 2018-19 season, the power play has been better in the past few games. On Friday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can continue the upward trajectory on special teams.
The puck drops at 7:30pm in the black jerseys at PC Arena.