If you missed it, Friday’s Daily Cup of Joe had a ‘state of the Canes’ after 77 games that includes more detailed context relevant for Saturday’s game.
After consecutive losses to the Washington Capitals, the Hurricanes surrendered most of their cushion but still enter the final five games of the season in playoff position. With a step down in competition, the time is now for the team to seize the opportunity in front of it and end the long playoff drought.
That journey starts with a matinee match up against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday at PNC Arena.
The Flyers are two points away from being eliminated from playoff contention and are not really in the chase at this point. But by no means are the Flyers a bad hockey team. The team still has a good amount of high-end talent and has beaten the Maple Leafs, Penguins and the Islanders twice in the month of March.
But more than anything, this game is about the Hurricanes digging down deep inside, putting a quick end to their losing streak and seizing the opportunity to control their own destiny down the stretch. If the Hurricanes play an aggressive and solid game, the team will be fine. If instead, they are hesitant and cautious because of the magnitude of Saturday’s game, it could very well bite them.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Philadelphia Flyers
1a) Attacking mentality
Critical for the Hurricanes right now is not to freeze up and try to play a super cautious game. That is not the team’s style nor is it the team’s strength. The Hurricanes are at their best when they are attacking on the forecheck and hounding the puck in all three zones. More than anything, I will be watching to see how the Hurricanes approach this game early on. Do they play aggressive and attack? Or do they look cautious to the point of possibly being tentative?
1b) The forecheck
Part of the Hurricanes challenge against the Capitals was that the Caps largely handled the Hurricanes forecheck. The Hurricanes did have bursts of success (best was probably the second half of the second period on Thursday), but overall the Hurricanes were unable to generate significant offense from its forecheck. Without that catalyst, the Hurricanes offense sometimes struggles to generate enough good scoring chances. So related the the intensity and attacking mentality, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can get back to dictating play with its forecheck against a slightly lesser opponent.
The Hurricanes netminding has been a strength since the start of the new year. In a game with an extra dose of pressure, the Hurricanes will need the same steady and solid play to help weather the storm if and when a few mistakes are made. I will be watching and hoping for just more of the same in net.
3) Leaders leading
This time of year, a team’s best players need to lead the way in big games. Largely due to Nino Niederreiter being staked out between the face-off circles all game, the first line came really close to having a huge game but had to settle for a goal and a number of near misses. If players like Aho, Teravainen, Staal, Williams and others have one more scoring burst in reserve, now is the time to spend it. The time is also right for the blue line which has been a strength to put forward a couple of its best efforts. On Saturday, I will be watching to see which players rise to the occasion.
As I said on Twitter after the loss to Washington on Thursday, I really think Saturday’s game has the potential to define the 2018-19 season and a crucial first step toward putting a results-based (read playoffs) stake in the ground saying that this team is in fact different from recent years.
I think Saturday's @NHLCanes game is the game that ultimately decides if this team truly is different from recent years.
Win and the playoff push resumes after brief interruption.
Lose and it's more of the same.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) March 29, 2019
The puck drops at 1:30pm at PNC Arena. If you do not have a ticket, find one.