Fresh on the heels of playing the #9 team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs. With the win, Toronto pushed up into the #8 spot. Next on the Hurricanes’ schedule is a quick back-to-back set against the New York Islanders who were #8 in the Eastern Conference but fell to #9 on Saturday. Playing teams who desperately need the points makes for high intensity and a bit of a playoff atmosphere.
Despite losing on Saturday, the Islanders just completed a successful, long road trip with a 5-3-1 record. Monday represents that first game back home which can be a tough one.
On the Hurricanes’ side, the game represents a continuation of the ongoing process of building for 2017-18. After a promising NHL debut for Valentin Zykov that was followed by an injury early in his second game, the next man up appears to be Lucas Wallmark (profiled here) who was recalled from Charlotte yesterday. He is expected to make his NHL debut tonight.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the New York Islanders
1) Ability to dial up intensity
The Hurricanes have had a couple lackluster games, but when playing other teams with something at stake like Toronto on Saturday, the Hurricanes have been able to dial up and match intensity against teams battling for playoff position. Out of the gate on Monday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can again find the higher gear.
2) Lucas Wallmark
As noted above, Monday is a chance to see another NHL debut by a player who could play a role in 2017-18. From watching him in preseason, Wallmark’s game was reminiscent of Victor Rask’s rapid rise to the NHL. Wallmark displayed the same ‘ahead of his experience level’ hockey sense/IQ and decision-making at the center position. The challenge for him, like Valentin Zykov, could be matching NHL pace. I will be watching on Monday to see if Wallmark can play at NHL speed and also how he holds up physically as a somewhat undersized 21-year old now playing against the world’s best.
3) Ongoing progress on the blue line
In total, things have progressed favorably on defense with a domino effect putting a number of players in bigger roles since the departure of Ron Hainsey. I continue to watch for more of the same in a position where every game consistency is s key component.
4) Continuation for Skinner/Rask/Lindholm
Though they did not have an outburst on the score sheet (Rask did score a goal), this line was incredibly good on Saturday. The game marked a resurgence for Skinner who has been slow to refind his top-end game since a couple-game layoff. I will be watching to see if this line can pick up where it left off on Saturday and play another strong game.
IMPORTANT: The puck drops at about 7:30pm on NBCSN, NOT the usual Fox Sports, as the Hurricanes get a rare turn on the national television scene.