After a disheartening 6-2 loss on Tuesday that saw the Carolina Hurricanes implode early in the second period and then even more frustratingly just look lifeless as it happened and in the aftermath, the 2017-18 trudges forward on Thursday in Chicago.
But with a big news day in the middle with the removal of Ron Francis from the Carolina Hurricanes general manager position. The move does an another element to Thursday’s game in terms of seeing if there is a jolt or reaction from the team and/or coaching staff after a pillar or the organization was taken down only a day before.
With the loss and both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers collecting points on Tuesday, the playoffs moved another step away and the remaining schedule became another game shorter. I cannot imagine that Coach Bill Peters or the team are declaring the playoff chase over (nor should they), but mathematically the playoffs are very steep odds. If, despite being 2-6-2 in their past 10 games,the Hurricanes can muster a strong 10-5 mark down the stretch, Florida who has games in hand would need to be only 9-9 in their final 18 games to tie the Hurricanes and win a tiebreaker.
The Hurricanes very much find themselves in the limbo of still playing for a current season that seems mostly gone versus just moving forward and using the remaining schedule to look forward to next year. The game is against an opponent who surprisingly finds itself fully looking to next year already.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Chicago Blackhawks
1) Scott Darling in Chicago
Fully 67 games into the 2017-18 season and with Scott Darling still trying to get his feet under him with the Carolina Hurricanes, Thursday represents ice time for Darling but also a return home. At a bit of a grasping for straws stage with Darling’s season, is there a chance that playing at the United Center in Chicago can remind him of what he is capable of and provide the spark necessary to help him re-find that level of play? At this point, anything is worth a try. More tactically, if/when team officially moves on to playing for 2018-19, I would be giving Darling the vast majority of the remaining starts. One of the biggest decisions to made this offseason in terms of player roster is what to do with the goalie position, so trying to jump start Darling is time well spent as is getting as much of an assessment as possible on his prospects for a turnaround.
What was most disconcerting about Tuesday’s bad loss in Minnesota was the utter lifelessness of the team in a game that mattered. The team failed to start on time, imploded in a matter of minutes in the second period and then seemed disinterested about the whole situation for the remainder of the game. If nothing else, I will be watching for and expecting a completely different intensity level on Thursday. If nothing else, Francis’ removal should be a reminder that everyone is playing for their job right now.
The current version is not working anyway as measured by the team’s 2-6-2 record in its past 10 games. BOTH trying to jump start the 2017-18 season and at the same time figure out a better starting point for the 2018-19 season, I have to wonder if the Francis move could also spark a similar ‘needs different’ approach on the ice. Peters talked last week about getting Sebastian Aho time at the center position but then proceeded to play him exclusively at wing in the games that followed. Could Thursday offer some changes possibly in the form of Aho at center and perhaps Noah Hanifin playing regular shifts in the top 4? I will be watching on Thursday and more generally as the season unfolds to see if we see changes aimed at finding a better formula.
The puck drops at 8:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.