After losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time since late November/early December, the Canes are trying to dig in and keep seeing the 2015-16 season go over the cliff in the last few days of February. The week has been a tough 1 for the Canes. The team picked up an undeserved win on Tuesday thanks largely to Cam Ward but then paid the price for not playing well when it lost on Thursday in Toronto. Then facing a quick turnaround, the Canes uncharacteristically lost both halves of a back-to-back when Boston beat them on Friday night in Raleigh. If you adjust for games played, my math has the Canes currently 7 points behind the Penguins who are eighth in the Eastern Conference.
To say that Sunday’s game is vital if the Canes are going to turn things around would be an understatement.
The game also has the potential to be the last for the 2015-16 team as we know it (if they are all still there come 3pm face-off even). With the trade deadline on Monday, it is reasonable to think that a couple players will be traded. It also sounds like Andrej Nestrasil could be finished for the season, and one has to wonder what Justin Faulk’s status is if the games are suddenly not so important.
But I fully expect the team to show up Sunday trying to push their way back into the win column and here is what I will be watching:
Tuesday and Thursday featured horrible starts by the Canes. The start on Friday against Boston was not as bad but still was not great, but the Canes did eventually find the higher gear and play a solid second half of the game only to be stoned by Tuuka Rask. Here is hoping that the Canes can find the higher gear from the outset and sustain it for 60 minutes. While the Canes are in the middle of a busy stretch, they do catch a St. Louis team that played and traveled today, so at least in theory they should have the upper hand physically.
2) Fewer mistakes
The biggest problem in the second half of February is the same as the second half of January. The Canes have reverted back to making bad miscues in bunches between odd angle soft goals, bad turnovers and issues in the neutral zone that have led to many an odd man rush. Playing sound hockey even when tired is a key component to staying in games and winning close ones which the Canes are suddenly struggling to do.
3) Second source of offense
Jordan Staal’s line which carried the forward lines in all respects for multiple months now has gone scoreless in consecutive games. The Canes notched only a single goal and lost both games. I continue to say that the path upward for this team requires a scoring burst from Eric Staal’s line. Time is running real short for that to even matter or maybe even be possible.
4) The last hurrah?
Who knows what happens before Monday’s afternoon trade deadline, but as I said above, this game could represent the last chance to watch the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes as we know them. Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg, Cam Ward, John-Michael Liles, Nathan Gerbe, Brad Malone and Riley Nash are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in July, so per today’s NHL any/all of them could be in the trade mix.
The puck drops a little bit after 3pm at PNC Arena.