After a three-day layoff, the Canes are back in action on Friday with another game on Saturday for a quick run at four more points in the standings. The opponent on Friday is the Columbus Blue Jackets who are competing with the Hurricanes for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With a two-point cushion over Columbus and a game in hand, the game is by no means a must-win for the Hurricanes but with the four-point swing and only a dozen games to follow, the importance is clearly magnified.
On the Hurricanes side, the team is coming off their last extended layoff of three days. Interestingly, the sample size is small, but the Carolina Hurricanes are an abysmal 1-5 in 2018-19 with three days rest (not counting coming out of the All-Star break/bye week). But many of those losses were when the team in general was struggling in general.
On the Blue Jackets side, the team has been mostly treading water and at times seemed ready to sink since going all in at the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets are only 5-5 in their last 10 games but are coming off a big win over a good Bruins team on Tuesday. That Tuesday win relieved pressure a bit, but with a two-point deficit and minus a game in hand to the Hurricanes, the game is even more important for Columbus.
The Hurricanes enter the game with a 2-1 record against Columbus this year with the loss being with Scott Darling in net. Curtis McElhinney was in net for both wins and would be the odds on favorite to again get the start in Columbus where he played for a number of years.
My watch points for the game follow
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
1) Pace and crispness to start and throughout
The issue in many of the three-day rest losses was sloppiness and disjointed play. Like most teams, the Hurricanes seem to be at their best and play a more cohesive brand of hockey when in a regular rhythm. In a game that could have a playoff-like feel to it, the Hurricanes must find their legs and timing early. Trying to play their way into the game could be a recipe for problems. As such, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can maintain their recent high level of play despite the layoff.
2) Sebastian Aho
We have reached the time of year where big games are very often decided by the biggest players. After a bit of a lull at least in terms of goal scoring, Aho has been back at it in recent games. With the importance growing with each game, I will be watching on Friday to see if Aho and his line mates Justin Williams and Nino Niederreiter can again up their level of play and lead the way.
3) Special teams
The Hurricanes gyrating up and down play on on the power play has resumed of late. After a dry stretch, the Hurricanes have netted a few power play goals led by Teuvo Teravainen’s ability to get pucks to team mates at the front of the net. Oftentimes, tight games swing on a plus one or two on special teams. That could be the case on Friday, so I will be watching to see if perhaps the couple days off for practice have a positive effect on the power play.
4) Battling Bob
Perennial Vezina candidate Sergei Bobrovsky figures to be in net for a huge game for both teams. The Hurricanes have cracked him twice in three tries this season, but becoming complacent because of that would very likely be a recipe for a Friday loss. One key for the Hurricanes is to do the work to generate chances to score an ugly goal. I will be watching on Friday to if the Hurricanes do the dirty work to get both pucks and bodies to the net instead of settling for the outside and playing ‘try to beat the goalie.’
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.