After a fun win on Friday night against the New York Rangers made the Caniac Nation’s long wait for the home opener worth it. Jeff Skinner’s temporary (3rd goal was later credited to Bryan Bickell) hat trick was the highlight of the night, but the game also featured a superb performance by goalie Cam Ward, defenseman Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal. When you consider the leadership group of this team that I pegged as a key to success in 2016-17, this was by far the best game for the group in total. The result was a 3-2 win that sent a full PNC Arena pouring out into the parking lot in a good mood.
Meanwhile, the Flyers played the Penguins last night and lost 5-4 which makes the early 5pm even earlier for the Flyers who played and traveled last night. The Flyers also come in with 2 consecutive losses including the rivalry game last night, so they could be a bit snarly.
‘What I’m watching’ for Carolina Hurricanes vs. Philadelphia Flyers
1) The same brand of hockey as Friday
Friday’s game was not perfect. I would actually consider the game a draw in terms of level of play, scoring chances and broad evaluation of who had the advantage. But the game was by far the Hurricanes’ best in terms of playing a sounder brand of hockey in its own end and avoiding costly turnovers in bad places. The game was also the best yet by a Hurricanes goalie in 2016-17.
For the first time this season, the Hurricanes enter their next game mostly trying to simply do what they did in the previous game. Can the Hurricanes bring the same level of play as Friday? Or was it a 1-time anomaly, a home cooking boost or something else fleeting? I will be watching closely to see if the Hurricanes can use Friday’s win as a repeatable blue print.
2) Cam Ward
Ward’s effort on Friday was not perfect, but it was incredibly good and the best that the Hurricanes have received in net this season. The Hurricanes are now 2-0 in games in which they have allowed 2 (or fewer which has not happened yet) goals. Was Ward’s outing on Friday the start of him finding a rhythm that leads to solid and importantly consistent goalie play? Or was it just a 1-off for which he picked a great night? Especially if the team in front of him can repeat and give Ward a reasonable game, I will be watching anxiously to see if Ward can step-wise build upon Friday’s strong outing.
3) The Skinner surge
Jeff Skinner more or less picked the team up, put it on his back and dragged it forward on Friday. The positive results good vibes coming out of Friday’s game might make some forget that the Hurricanes actually started slow and were down 1-0 when Skinner made something out of nothing, netted a goal for his efforts and in the process jolted the Hurricanes awake. His scoring surge is arriving early this season and is not a sustainable pace over 82 games, but with the Hurricanes trying to claw back to .500 and get deeper into the 2016-17, I will be watching Jeff Skinner closely to see if he can continue leading the team both in terms of raw production but equally importantly in terms of lifting the team up when it really needs it.
4) Justin Faulk
I have been hard on Justin Faulk this season. Coming into Friday’s game, I had labeled him as a “high event” player. He was making plays and producing on offense, but in my opinion his defense had been sub-par and had contributed significantly to the Hurricanes early struggles. Skinner was front and center on the highlight reel and rightfully was named the game’s first star, but in terms of feeling positive about the path forward for the Hurricanes, I would actually rank the play of Cam Ward and Justin Faulk higher. Faulk had by far his best game defensively. He made plays and avoided mistakes which is the objective, but more significantly than that his crispness and quickness to engage and win pucks was at a higher level than seen previously this season. Despite not getting on the score sheet, I had Faulk as the third star (bumping Victor Rask who also had a solid game). I think it will be incredibly hard for the 2016-17 Hurricanes to be successful if Justin Faulk is not 1 of the team’s best players night in and night out. Friday marks a run of 1 great game for Faulk and presents a solid foundation hopefully to be built upon.
The puck drops at 5pm at PNC Arena or on Fox Sports Carolinas if you can attend the game.