The Hurricanes enter the game with a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) and trying to make up three points to climb into the last wild card spot.
The Islanders enter the game with a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and the the team three points up that the Hurricanes are chasing.
With only 17 games remaining in the 2019-20 NHL regular season, the game is a HUGE one.
One team will stop the bleeding and at least take a step in the direction of righting the ship and will go be plus two points for the day against another team fighting for the same playoff spot. The other team will go a step deeper into its potentially catastrophic late-season slide.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Islanders
1) Fire in the belly…especially out of the gate
For me, the most disappointing things about the Hurricanes recent struggles has been the team’s inability to muster much for energy, determination and whatever else you want to call it. The team mustered a phenomenal, united, ‘whatever it takes to win’ kind of effort in front of a goalie off the street a couple weeks back and has not won since. An all too familiar component of almost all of the Hurricanes’ losses of late has been lackluster and unenergetic starts. The team has been constantly trying to climb out of an early hole which is tough sledding.
Subject to change quickly with even a single good win, but I feel like the team is quickly approaching the fork in the road where it digs down and finds a higher level of determination or fades meekly into the offseason.
The goaltending situation is complex. Both Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg had stretches where they were outplaying the intermittent mess in front of them. Both also had some issues especially with rebound control for both of them. But with the defense playing too many shifts in sloppy preseason form, it is hard to tell if getting a veteran back would even help. Mrazek and Reimer have both also had games where the team in front of them just was not good enough, and there was little they could do about it. I think if nothing else, getting Mrazek or Reimer back could add a bit of stability and calm which maybe helps a bit.
Regardless of who is in net on Saturday, the position continues to be a watch point.
3) Seeking increased soundness
The two things that stand out as the biggest negatives right now are the lackluster starts mentioned above and the team’s costly sloppiness handling the puck and defending in their own end. As I have been saying for awhile, it becomes increasingly difficult to beat decent hockey teams this time of year if you gift away too many dangerous chances. The Hurricanes have been doing that three times over lately. All four Flyers’ goals had some element of ‘oops’ from the blue line in the mix.
On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can magically clean things up in terms of attention to detail.
4) Leaders leading
The Hurricanes have officially reached the point where the urgency is increasing. The time is now for the team’s best players to lead the way.
I will be watching to see if Aho and company can rebound after a quiet game on Tuesday and also to see who else can step up and lead.
Set your DVR if you have afternoon plans. Saturday’s game is at 1pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.