I recognize that the Carolina Hurricanes are more clinging to the edge of the cliff than thriving right now, but the fact that game 70 still matters is in itself a huge accomplishment. And with 12 games yet to be played, the Canes have already bettered their 2014-15 point total by 3.
Tuesday’s game sets up as a ‘must win’ game for the Canes just like every other game will be until the Canes either pull off a minor miracle or are forced to turn the page on the 2015-16 season. The game sets up as anything but favorable. The opponent is the Washington Capitals who have all but wrapped up the President’s Trophy awarded to the best regular season team. But just maybe this game catches the Caps at the right time. They come in with 2 consecutive losses (1 in overtime) and just returning on Sunday from a 4-game road trip that took them from east to west.
For the Hurricanes, the game finds the team coming off a disappointing overtime loss in Buffalo on Saturday but still in the middle of a 5-game point streak for March that has them sitting at a solid 3-0-2. Despite the winning ways, the game finds the Canes in the middle of a streak that has been more about being opportunistic and finding a way than playing dominant hockey and/or finding a repeatable formula.
For Tuesday’s game in Washington, DC here is what I will be watching:
1) Young Canes D against NHL elite
WRITTEN MONDAY NIGHT: Especially on the road against a talented and deep team, there is nowhere to hide as a defenseman or as a coach trying to protect a young pairing. The Hanifin/Pesce pairing that has not jelled since being put together after the trade deadline will face probably its biggest challenge yet. Young top pairing defenseman Jaccob Slavin and his veteran partner Ron Hainsey will also be in the cross hairs of Washington’s fire power.
UPDATED TUESDAY MIDDAY: News today was that the Canes recalled Trevor Carrick to replace Ron Hainsey who is out for tonight’s game. The pairings at the morning skate were Slavin/Pesce, Hanifin/Murphy and Jordan/Carrick. In this lineup, Ryan Murphy is suddenly the gray beard in terms of NHL experience, and if you had shown me this lineup in September, I would have guessed it was the set trying to move up the standings in the AHL not the NHL.
2) One more Jordan Staal surge
During the Canes surge starting in early December, Jordan Staal was the Canes best player. Since the injury to Andrej Nestrasil, Jordan Staal and his line have dipped ever slightly in trying to find new chemistry and a slightly different formula for success with Elias Lindholm in Nestrasil’s place. If the Canes are to rise up 1 more time during the 2015-16 season, it will need to include a final surge down the stretch by the team’s best forward this season.
3) The ongoing try out for 2016-17
The latest entry into the ongoing March tryout is Brody Sutter. I wrote up evaluation points for Brody Sutter HERE. Earlier this week, a daily post had Riley Nash and Phil Di Giuseppe noted as the 2 players who have most improved their prospects thus far heading into the offseason. Games like Tuesday’s that feature tough match ups against top-end competition offer arguably the greatest opportunities for players to shine and separate from the pack.
4) The big line
The Canes best line of late has been the Skinner/Rask/Di Giuseppe line. Against the Caps it will take another big night from this trio to match the talent and depth of a strong opponent. Games like this present a big test to see if the hot line can push forward even when they are in the spotlight and facing tough match ups against a good team on the road.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm on Fox Sports with John, Tripp and Michelle.