A full 68 games into his first season in the NHL, Noah Hanifin will make his first trip back to Boston to play in front of friends in family against his childhood favorite team in TD Garden.
Against the backdrop of a special day for young Noah Hanifin is a chance for the Canes to run their streak of games with points to 3 straight since the trade deadline. The team has proven resilient multiple times this season and continues to play winning hockey minus 5 key players lost – Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg and John-Michael Liles to trade and Justin Faulk and Andrej Nestrasil to injury. A ton of credit goes to Coach Bill Peters and his no-nonsense mentality that makes no excuses and works with the attitude that the goal is to win the next hockey game regardless of whatever else is swirling around.
The game itself features a rematch from a recent ugly loss to the Bruins. The Bruins were the middle game of the 3-game losing streak leading into the trade deadline that seemed at the time to spell the end of the 2015-16 season. But per Peters’ mentality noted above, the team has since rebounded, ignored the standings math and returned quickly to winning hockey. The 4-1 home loss on home ice was part of a set of back-to-back losses that started the night before in Toronto and featured a rare off night from Jordan Staal and his line. Important to note was that this was the first game minus key component Andrej Nestrasil who I wrote about for today’s daily post. In that game, Jordan Staal was not horrible, but Patrice Bergeron was better and that was 1 of the key differences in deciding the outcome. That game featured a slow start but a Hurricanes surge in the second half of the game that was turned away by a strong game by Tuuka Rask.
Here is what I will be watching for tonight’s match up against the Bruins:
1) Jordan Staal
After an adjustment period from losing line mate Andrej Nestrasil to injury and brother Eric Staal to trade, Jordan Staal has shown signs of getting back to his elite brand of hockey that carried the team up the standings from December through February. It is not certain how Boston will line up when able to dictate line match ups, but the Bruins feature 2 strong lines and a challenge for Jordan Staal and his line to meet if the Canes are to get a big road win.
2) Noah Hanifin
Now playing in a top 4 role with the departure of John-Michael Liles, Hanifin has been searching a bit lately trying to find a well-rounded game. He continues to grow rapidly as a puck carrier and power play driver and is quickly becoming a solid first unit option with the man advantage or when looking to play aggressive go-go hockey. His play without the puck defending in his own end has been ‘iffy’ at best of late and continues to be a work in progress. Can a special game in front of friends and family help him find a higher gear and the every second intensity level that helps him reach a higher level as a defender?
3) Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe
After being reunited after the trade deadline shuffling, this trio has been the Canes best line in recent games. Jeff Skinner is heating up and collecting the majority of the credit on the score sheet, but the set of 3 in total has been very good and shown to have complementary skills that regularly result in playing with the puck in the offensive zone which is a great starting point for scoring any time Jeff Skinner is on the ice.
4) The ongoing tryout
Tonight’s game will feature another round of the ongoing tryout mixed in with still playing for 2015-16. Ryan Murphy is coming off a very good game with 2 assists and equally importantly staying out of trouble defensively. Brendan Woods saw limited action on Tuesday but got on the score sheet by fighting long-time NHL heavyweight Chris Neil. He should see game 2 of his try out today. The collection of other players who are playing to be part of the 2016-17 team is a big 1 that includes Chris Terry, Michal Jordan, Riley Nash, Brad Malone and Nathan Gerbe. All of these players need to use the time they get to make an impression and show where they fit on this team going forward after each’s current contract ends this summer.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.