Coming off a challenging 1-3-2 road trip to start the 2016-17 season, the Carolina Hurricanes will finally play their home opener against the New York Rangers on Friday. Already 2 games below .500, the urgency to win is increasing and the anxiousness to see a sounder brand of play is also rising.
The games pits the Rangers who are second in the Metropolitan Division with a strong 5-2 start against the last place Hurricanes and their 1-3-2 start, so the game represents an opportunity to make up some of what was lost on the road trip. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe talked in more detail about the importance of the next stretch of schedule.
I think the Rangers are a horrible match up for the current version of the Hurricane. The Blue Shirts have a history against the Hurricanes of quietly playing reasonably sound hockey even if being outplayed and then pouncing on a couple miscues to build a lead. From there, the Rangers button things down, force play to the outside and let Lundqvist handle however many low percentage shots the Canes want to throw at him for the rest of the game.
‘What I’m watching’
Here is ‘what I’m watching’ for Friday’s home opener:
1) Bill Peters ability capitalize on home ice rules
Playing at home is an advantage for many reasons across virtually all sports, but hockey is 1 of only a few where the rules change. The home team gains the advantage of the last change on face-offs such that the visitors are required to put their players on the ice first affording the home coach the ability to match up player combinations how he chooses. There are interruptions when there is not a face-off for awhile and also from special teams, but the home coach does more get to dictate who plays against whom.
With this being the first home game of 2016-17, I will be curious to see 3 things:
First is simply to see how Peters plays his cards. In 2015-16 on home ice, Peters chose to use Jordan Staal’s line as a shutdown line against the other opponent’s best scoring line, skated Eric Staal’s line against the team’s second line and looked to opportunistically get favorable match ups for the third line that included the Skinner/Rask combination. The situation is obviously different with two-thirds of Eric Staal’s line gone, Skinner/Rask elevated and Jordan Staal’s line changed and yet to gel.
Second is to see if Peters shuffles his lines with greater ability to hide weaker combinations and also greater ability to match stronger lines how he wishes. It is just a hunch, but I would not be surprised to see Peters go back to Slavin/Pesce pairing the team’s 2 best defenders right now and then matching them against the Rangers’ best.
Finally, I will also be curious to see if being able to cherry pick match ups sparks the Di Giuseppe/Lindholm/Teravainen line. As a scoring-capable third line, Peters might choose to play them against the Rangers’ lesser defensemen.
2) A sounder game
Against the Hurricanes, the Rangers have been a master of just hanging around and then riding a short burst of strong play coupled with Hurricanes ‘oopses’ to build a lead. With a lead, the Rangers play a simple game, force things to the outside and let Lundqvist take care of the rest. The fact that the Rangers are playing well right now, are scoring in bunches and have this history makes for a deadly recipe if the Canes follow form for 2016-17 and play a game full of mistakes.
3) The goaltending
I long for the day when the goaltending is steady even if not spectacular and is not something to be watched closely each and every game, but until we see a run of that, expect to see this boringly noted for each and every game preview.
4) Continued scoring ideally with Skinner
Amidst the unfavorable results, a positive story so far in 2016-17 has been the Hurricanes ability to score goals. The Skinner/Rask/Stempniak line has been among the NHL’s best, and lo and behold the Hurricanes power play is also clicking. The team does need to tighten up defensively, but hopefully not at the expense of the offense.
Jeff Skinner missed Tuesday’s game with a “middle body injury” (?). He has been skating after practice and sounds like a 50-60% probability to play tonight. Twitter should have an update from the morning skate at about lunchtime possibly with some clarity. He is obviously a big loss if he is not in the lineup.
The puck drops at 7:30, but I would imagine that there will be people tailgating by mid-afternoon.