After a disappointing loss and already playing 4 games this week, the Hurricanes get right back on the horse only about 19 hours after finishing up on Saturday. Such is the crazy March schedule with the World Cup delaying the start of the season and then ice melt chucking another game into the hectic schedule.
No doubt, the Hurricanes 2016-17 season took a huge hit on Saturday with the Hurricanes’ loss and also the Bruins’ and Maple Leafs’ wins. I will be watching, or at least checking in, on the Bruins game at 12:30 against the Blackhawks to see if that game can re-crack the door open ever so slightly heading into Sunday night’s game. But regardless of the outcome of that game, the Canes might as well finish strong at this point. There are only 8 days remaining, the momentum that they are building has the potential to carry over to 2017-18 and the possible upgrade in draft order is minimal at this point.
The Penguins are near the top of the NHL standings, are the defending Stanley Cup champions and are expected to contend again when the playoffs start in less than 2 weeks. But they are actually sputtering a bit right now. The Penguins come in with a very modest 1-2-2 record in their past 5 games and are trying to get healthy and right the ship before the playoffs start. Recent history would suggest that they are a beatable opponent.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Hurricanes versus the Pittsburgh Penguins
1) Rebound and recharge
During the magnificent 13-game point streak that ended on Saturday at the hands of the Dallas Stars, the Hurricanes consistently put forward at least a decent effort and played with good pace. The lone exception during that run was a really tough outing in Philadelphia that was also a Sunday game following a home game and travel on Sunday. The Hurricanes were unable to get going skating-wise in that game and were outplayed by a wide margin but managed to make a couple key plays and claim an overtime loss point. Sunday will be the fifth game in 7 days for the Hurricanes this week. There is also the potential for a letdown especially if Boston wins in the afternoon. I will be watching closely to see if the Canes can find what it takes in terms of energy level against a good Penguins team.
2) The top 4 on defense
Sunday represents a good challenge for a Hurricanes blue line that has generally been pretty good of late. At home Peters has leaned more toward going top heavy with Slavin/Pesce and Hanifin/Faulk though there is a chance that he goes back to the flip-flopped road version of Slavin/Faulk and Hanifin/Pesce. Regardless of how Peters sorts them out, the Penguins represent a tough challenge especially in the second half of a back-to-back.
3) Character and fight
I will also be watching to see how and which players respond to the team’s current bout with adversity. Who leads now that things are not as rosy?
4) The Bruins at 12:30pm
As noted above, I will be watching or at least checking in to see if just maybe the Bruins can crack the door open ever so slightly before the Hurricanes take the ice.
Be ready early or set your DVR. The puck drops at an early 5pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.