When the Carolina Hurricanes take the ice in Chicago on Tuesday night, the team will be gunning for a fifth straight win which would be the longest current win streak. (The Philadelphia Flyers also sit at four consecutive wins but have the night off.) After an impressive three straight wins against the two 2020 Stanley Cup Finalists, the aim right now for the Hurricanes is just to stay on the same path. The team should gain reinforcements from players coming off the COVID list, but based on the play of the taxi squad players who performed well, that is more about changing personnel rather than necessarily needing help.
On the other bench, the Chicago Blackhawks are suddenly a team on at least a modest upward trend. Minus captain Jonathan Toews to start the season and with a young team and two young goalies, Chicago struggled out of the gate allowing five goals in each of their first four games and limping to an 0-3-1 start. But since then the Blackhawks have transitioned to Finnish rookie Kevin Lankinen in net and are 3-1-1 in his starts (with another overtime loss in a game that Lankinen did not start). So while the Blackhawks 3-4-3 is unimpressive, the team has been better than that of late.
Against that backdrop, my watch points for tonight’s game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Chicago Blackhawks
The Hurricanes are playing their best hockey of the young season so far. Are they finding another higher gear, as I suggested was possible in yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe? Did they just get a short-term burst of adrenaline from pulling together in the face of COVID-induced adversity? Is it just a part of the normal ups and downs of a long NHL season? Tuesday’s game offers another piece in the puzzle in terms of figuring out what is really going on and is something I will be watching/noting.
2) Second line rising
Though a significant amount of their production has not been together (OT goal, empty-netter, couple power play tallies, etc.) Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas who have been mainstays on the all-important second line have been among the team’s most productive players thus far. Trocheck leads the team in goals with four (tied with Aho and Svechnikov) and points (tied with Svechnikov) and had a big three-point night in Saturday’s 4-1 win. Necas has three points in the last three games. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the duo can continue to produce, ideally together at even strength.
3) James Reimer
With Petr Mrazek now expected to be out a bit longer than maybe first expected, James Reimer is front and center as the Hurricanes #1 goaltender. He played well in his first start of the season and has won twice since then. The weekend wins were a bit of an odd variety with the Hurricanes’ complete dominance on Saturday almost making him a non-factor despite nearly pitching a shutout in relief of Mrazek. His basic statistics on Sunday were not tremendous with three goals against, but he made saves early to keep the Canes in the game and was good enough for the win. I think Reimer was at his best in 2019-20 with a regular but reasonably rested workload. With Mrazek out of the lineup, Reimer will see more action. Tuesday will be his third game in just four days. On Tuesday and in general, I will be watching to see how James Reimer responds to more time between the pipes.
The puck drops at 8pm on Fox Sports Carolinas (when does the name change?) with Tripp, Mike, Abby and Shane.