After a couple days off after a busy 6 games in 10 days to start the 2019-20 season, the Hurricanes will reemerge on the West Coast for the team’s annual NC State Fair road trip. This year’s event is an abbreviated one that features a three-game stint in California and then a return home for a four-day rest (and actually maybe attending the NC State Fair) before departing for another game away in Columbus.
Despite entering Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings with a one-game losing streak, the team is off to a fabulous start at 5-1. The key is to bounce back quickly so as not to give away what was earned from the hot start. My rough math (adjusted for games played) has the Hurricanes three points above the playoff cut line and also about the same above the 95-96-point pace that almost always earns a playoff spot. It only takes a couple losses to give it back, so a quick rebound and win in Los Angeles tonight would protect what has been gained so far.
The Kings enter with a 2-3-0 mark and demonstrated ability to score goals but also a struggle keeping the puck out of their own net. Los Angeles has allowed six, eight and five goals in their three losses.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Los Angeles Kings
1) Sebastian Aho, the first line and possibly Brind’Amour’s hand
As the season has rolled forward, the discussion of Sebastian Aho’s early season struggles have increased. His lone scoring point is still his empty-net goal, and he has had some issues in other areas of his game. In Saturday’s loss, he was victimized when he allowed the player we was defending to carry the puck around the net and circles right out front for a prime scoring chance and goal with minimal if any obstruction from Aho. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considered possible options to get Aho going. On the one hand, it has only been six games and some of the advanced statistics suggest that Aho has been as much the victim of puck luck as poor play. On the other hand, the team will need to him to launch into the 2019-20 season production-wise to be successful over the long haul. As such, Aho and his line continue to be a watch point.
2) Special teams
In the early going, the power play has been two sides of a coin with what started as the second unit flourishing and the top unit still trying to find a higher gear. The penalty kill played a key role in a couple early wins but has been struggling of late. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see what adjustments, if any, are made on the penalty kill and also how each individual power play unit looks.
3) Brian Gibbons
With Julien Gauthier returned to Charlotte and Brian Gibbons recalled, Gibbons will make his Carolina Hurricanes debut in Tuesday’s game. Gibbons very much has a Greg McKegg vibe to him as a veteran AHLer with significant NHL experience. He will not get his own skate before warm-ups and be ‘taking it in’. Instead, Gibbons will be heads down knowing what he needs to do to capitalize on another chance at the NHL level. Like McKegg, Gibbons brings the kind of speed and aggressiveness that is a great fit for Brind’Amour’s system, and he has some ability to score. As such, I will be watching on Tuesday to see if Brian Gibbons can have a strong debut and start to build a case for becoming an NHL regular.
It is the return of #CanesAfterDark with a 10:30pm opening face-off on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.