On the heels of another solid win over a good hockey team at PNC Arena on Friday night, the Carolina Hurricanes are right back on the ice Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.
The game is the first of four straight sets of back-to-back games (so roughly 40 percent of the last quarter of the season) on the weekend in March, so being able to play well, travel, rebound quickly and do it again will be important down the stretch.
The opponent is a Florida Panthers team that is on the outside looking on the playoff chase. But right now, the focus for the Hurricanes is simply to keep doing what they have been doing for some time now.
My watch points for Saturday’s game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Florida Panthers
1) The battle of Finland’s best
In total, Florida has struggled to find a higher gear this year, but like many teams that does not mean that they are without talent. The Panthers top line led by Finnish center Aleksander Barkov is a very good one. In the teams’ last match up Barkov and company burst out for three quick goals in the second period when the Hurricanes ever so briefly paused after building a two-goal lead. Aho’s line also chimed in on the score sheet that game courtesy of Justin Williams’ face and a power play game-winner late. In that game, Florida chose to play best against best much of the night. If that happens again on Saturday, who wins between Aho and Barkov could well determine who wins the game. As such, I will be closely watching each team’s top line especially if they play against each other again.
2) Soundness defensively
A calling card of the Hurricanes recent success has been solid play by the team’s deep blue line. The defensemen have been playing an increasing role offensively but equally importantly, they have tightened things up defensively over the past 4-5 games. The Hurricanes goaltending continues to be incredibly good, but it has not been the story of the game in any of the last four wins which is a testament to the team’s defensive play. It is the time of year when even teams that are dialed in can have an occasional night where the skaters just do not have it physically. The way to stay in every game is to be good on defense and good in net. Especially in the back-to-back sets, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can maintain their high level of play defensively even if they hit a game or two with a physical lull.
3) Maintaining an attacking style
Though playing against regular season NHLers, the same level of domination is not (and cannot be) there, the Hurricanes have been winning with an attacking style of hockey. When the Hurricanes have their legs and play up and on their toes, the result is that their forecheck and puck hounding generates offense. The result of late has been a fairly balanced offense with goal scoring from more sources. The key for the team right now is to simply continue to skate and attack the puck. On Saturday night, I will be watching for a continuation of that style.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.