After a heartbreaking on loss on Sunday that saw the Hurricanes mostly get outplayed but do a role reversal making a few plays and appearing ready to steal a win. Then it happened. With 43 seconds remaining, an odd double carom off of Pesce, off of Ward and into the net sent the game to overtime. And we all know how that ends lately. With another 1 shot loser, the Hurricanes have now seen 4 of the last 5 shots taken against them in overtime find the net and yield an overtime loss.
But for better or worse, the March schedule offers no time to dwell on past successes or failures. The Hurricanes are right back at it against the Panther on Tuesday night. Florida is roughly in the same place in the Eastern Conference standings as the Carolina Hurricanes but headed in the wrong direction. The Panthers seemed to be putting things together in February, but in March the team is 2-6-1 in March.
Both teams are in the weird version of March NHL limbo. Do they desperately need to win to keep chasing a playoff miracle? Or are they better offer sliding down the standings and up a few slots in the 2017 NHL draft?
Personally, I am just unable to root for the Hurricanes to lose, so I hope for wins and use the draft order thing as some consolation to soothe frustration if the good guys lose.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Florida Panthers
1) Sebastian Aho at center (depending on lineup)
I was a bit surprised to see Sebastian Aho moved to center mid-game in a game still to be decided. The move seemed like odd timing, but I guess Peters was desperately trying to pull levers to spark the team on a night when they had nothing for energy and were being outplayed. To Peters’ credit the move did seem to generate enough offense for a win though the team was unable to convert. As for Aho at the center position, I give it a ‘meh’ rating. He did not magically start generating scoring chances in bunches for both of his wings. But by the same token, he did not look horrible either.
Per my March/April checklist from awhile back, I do think giving Aho a run of games at the center position makes sense in preparing for the summer and ultimately the 2017-18 season. As of right now, I count only Jordan Staal and Victor Rask as nearly sure things at the center position next fall. That leaves 1 slot to be won by 1 of the wing/center chameleons on the current roster or an addition next summer. In possibly searching for an impact forward during the summer, understanding if perhaps Aho can fill the center slot would provide some flexibility in terms of what position is added.
With no practice on Monday, it is uncertain what the forward lines will look like, but IF Aho does stay at the center position, I will be watching closely to see how comfortable he looks and whether playing in the middle of the rink better fits his natural playmaking ability.
2) Jeff Skinner rising
After a bit of a slump, Jeff Skinner now has 6 goals and 3 assists in 10 games in March. Further, he is suddenly within 4 goals of reaching 30. When Jeff Skinner gets hot, he is worth watching on a nightly basis.
3) Jaccob Slavin
Like Skinner, Jaccob Slavin has been on fire offensively. Out of nowhere, Slavin seemed to perfect the ability to use some combination of lateral movement and timing to find shooting lanes past the defender in front of him and to the front of the net. The result has been bucket loads of chances for forwards willing to go to the front of the net for a tip or rebound chance. A subtle but important thing to note is that Slavin is not ripping wild slap shots that require courage and/or some amount of insanity to step in front of. Rather, he is shooting crisp but controlled wrist shots accurately to areas that create scoring chances. After only 3 scoring points in February, Slavin has 3 goals and 7 assists in 11 games in March for a scorching pace. He continues to be a fun player to watch on a nightly basis.
4) The ongoing forward try out
The depth forwards continue to try to catch attention and establish themselves as front-runners to win slots for the 2017-18 season. I am on record repeatedly as liking Phil Di Giuseppe’s game most but have also acknowledged that he needs to pot some goals to be more than a depth forward. These games are important for all of Derek Ryan, Brock McGinn, Patrick Brown, Phil Di Giuseppe, Joakim Nordstrom and Valentin Zykov (when he returns from injury). As such, I continue to watch these players closely.
The puck drops at about 7:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.