Had Canes fans been browsing the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes schedule in late September or early October and been told that the Hurricanes would would make it to upcoming five-game home stand sitting in playoff position and just needing to maintain it, they most certainly would have accepted that fate.
That is exactly where the Hurricanes are playing game #71 at home against the Buffalo Sabres as the first of five straight at home.
The week has already been a roller coaster. On Monday, Petr Mrazek absolutely stood on his in net to grab a win for the Hurricanes. On Friday, Sergei Bobrovsky and the Columbus proved that turnabout is fair play in blanking the Hurricanes 3-0. The game also features another quick turnaround and need to rebound quickly just like after last Friday’ loss.
On the opposing side, the Buffalo Sabres were an early season surprise but have since faded. The Sabres are now one game below .500 and are 2-7-1 in their last 10 game. So after a run of five straight games after higher-end competition, at least on paper the Hurricanes will face a team from a lower rung on the NHL ladder. But the wild cards are significant. Jack Eichel will return from a couple-game suspension and former Hurricane Jeff Skinner will likely have a bee in his bonnet returning to Raleigh.
As for the Hurricanes side, the Hurricanes will again be trying to follow a loss with a win before it becomes a losing streak. Aside from the slow start that was costly, the Canes played a solid game and were denied a win only because of outstanding goaltending. The key for the Hurricanes is to just pick up where they left off in the latter part of Friday’s game.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Buffalo Sabres
1) Pace, pressure and predatorial instinct for 60 minutes
As noted above, the Hurricanes should be the better team in this game. But ‘should be’ counts for pretty much nothing once the puck drops. The Hurricanes need to show up with an expectation to win but more so a determination to win. That starts by attacking the Sabres at the outset like the Blue Jackets attacked them on Friday. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can launch on time and then play at a top level for a full 60 minutes.
2) Sebastian Aho’s line
Now back on home ice for five straight games, Brind’Amour should be able to find at least some favorable match ups for Sebastian Aho’s line. With a playoff berth on the line, the time is now for the team’s best players to push the team upward. Sebastian Aho is very clearly on the short list of best players. On Saturday, I will be watching to see if he can lead the way scoring-wise.
3) Marking Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner
Even when they were winning, the Sabres scoring was a bit top-heavy with a scorching Jeff Skinner leading the way scoring goals and Jack Eichel making sure Skinner had as many good scoring chances as possible. On home ice, Brind’Amour will be able to dictate match ups for Eichel and Skinner. I will be watching closely to see how Brind’Amour matches up against Skinner/Eichel and how successful that match up is for neutralizing Buffalo’s top scorers.
The puck drops at 7pm at PNC Arena.