In what shapes up to be a challenging week schedule-wise, the second game features another high-powered offense in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Thus far, the Maple Leafs lead the entire NHL with 4.4 goals per game. (Insert jealous face.) The game represents another challenge for the defense which is still a work in progress and an even bigger one for the Hurricanes’ offense to try to keep up. The slight positive compared to Tuesday is that Maple Leafs are not nearly as well-rounded as the Lightning in terms of defensive acumen, coming in at 22nd in the league in goals against.
With the Hurricanes riding a two-game losing streak and facing the prospect of dipping below .500 for the first time this season, here is what I’m watching…
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Toronto Maple Leafs
1) The right kind of desperation
As I have said a couple times in the past few days, good teams that are struggling have an uncanny ability to find the right kind of desperation before things are truly desperate and can use it as a boost to grab a win or two even when things are not clicking. Bad teams are only able to muster desperation when things are truly desperate, and it is usually too late.
Call it random coincidence or consider it more, but Justin Williams who last fought on December 18, 2014 has had his gloves off in each of the past two games when the Hurricanes were struggling and needed to somehow find a higher gear. It is purely speculation on my part, but my hunch is that he senses the need to manufacture a higher intensity level and gear when things are not going the Hurricanes way.
On Thursday, I will be watching to see if the leaders and also the team in total can use the current bout of adversity to dial up the intensity level and roar out of it instead of meekly trying to wait out a slump.
2) The blue line
Especially on the road where Toronto can dictate match ups, Thursday will present a maximum test for the blue line which is still a work in process. Best bet is that Peters is forced to split Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin again, but when he tried that to start the season, it lasted exactly one period. Regardless of how Peters mixes and matches and how Babcock tries to dictate match ups, Toronto is deep enough offensively to come in waves, so it should be a good test for all six defensemen.
On Thursday night, I will be watching to see how the blue line performs against another top-tier offense.
3) A spark or two offensively
Now with one-goal offensive efforts now being the majority (four out of seven games), the Hurricanes need to find something that clicks. It is all hands on deck. Can the power suddenly find cohesion and more scoring chances? Can a player or two have a big game offensively when the team needs it? And can Coach Bill Peters find combinations that have chemistry and generate more offense? Regardless, as much as anything is possible in the NHL, going into Toronto with the current offensive power outage still intact and hoping to come out with a tightly played 2-1 win seems like a really dicey proposition.
On Thursday night, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can muster some semblance of sustained offensive that results in scoring.
4) Bill Peters and his ability to find something that clicks
Already mentioned above, I will be curious to see how the Hurricanes line up on Thursday. I have been beating the drum to put Sebastian Aho in a slot where he can handle and distribute the puck more for a full week already, but per usual Peters is not taking my calls. (Sigh.) Regardless, I will be watching to see how the Hurricanes line up on Thursday to see if different combinations can provide a spark or two.
A few other random comments as I ramble in 3-3-1 angst…
–This is a leadership game. Much was made of the captaincy this summer and the chips fell Staal-C, Faulk-C and Skinner-A. I have no idea what tools the group has at their disposal, but the very clear task for the captains right now is to rally the troops, help them find a higher gear and get any kind of win.
–Timing would also be right for a statement game in net that helps steal a needed win.
–Sebastian Aho at his core is a playmaker accustomed to playing with the puck on his stick in transition. With an offense desperate for scoring, PLEASE put Aho either at wing with less puck-centric center (Rask) or at center himself. Not putting Aho who is arguably the team’s second most dynamic offensive player in a position to leverage his natural skill set and potentially boost line mates in the process seems more bizarre with each passing game that sees the offense mostly sputtering.
The puck drops at 7:00pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.