After a solid 2-1 shootout win against playoff contender Boston on the road on Tuesday, the Canes wrap up the home portion of their 2015-16 season on Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Though the game means little in terms of the 2015-16 NHL season standings, it could be a memorable night both in terms of farewells and a transition to a new era. Just like Eric Staal who was traded on February 29, long-time leader Cam Ward is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. While there is a chance that 1 or both could return in July, there is also a significant chance that this is Cam Ward’s last game in a Hurricanes game in Raleigh.
With possible nostalgia and possible goodbye at the forefront, the Canes take to the ice on Thursday also continuing to look forward to an increasingly positive future.
Here is what I will be watching on Thursday:
1) Cam Ward
As someone whose hobby is playing backseat GM and/or coach, there are many angles and opinions on both Cam Ward’s past and future as a Carolina Hurricane player. But at a simpler level, Cam Ward was an important part of the best days in Carolina Hurricanes history both in 2006 and also 2009 which was nearly as spectacular. He also is a class act as a professional athlete and a person and a player that I was always proud to have as part of our fan community. I would expect Cam Ward to get the start for these reasons, and I relish the opportunity to watch him play on Thursday not knowing what comes after that.
2) Elias Lindholm at center
He was not dynamic or dominant, but I thought he looked solid and comfortable playing center on Tuesday. He has always been a heady player positionally and from his years of playing center prior to being drafted clearly gets it positionally and responsibility-wise. The big question for me is whether he has a higher gear offensively either in terms of scoring goals or creating offense for his line mates back in the center position. Lindholm has quickly become a serviceable, responsible top 9 forward, but is also a player that the team hopes has another level offensively and in terms of driving wins. Can a return to his natural position trigger the next step upward in his development?
3) The shuttle bus group
After Tuesday’s game, Sergey Tolchinsky was returned to Charlotte to play in tonight’s game and aid the Checkers’ playoff push. Unless Di Giuseppe returns (have not heard that to be the case) or the Canes ice Michal Jordan and go with 7 defensemen, the roster is currently short 1 forward. Best guess is that the Canes recall Tolchinsky or another forward in time for tomorrow’s game. These players are very much playing for their starting position for the 2016-17 training camp roster race, so every game is important.
4) Hope for better than last Saturday
After a somewhat surprisingly strong March after the trade deadline departures, the Canes laid an egg last Saturday in the kickoff game for fan appreciation week. If the team has 1 more good game left, ideal would be to spend it on Thursday to send the home faithful off into the offseason on a high note with a positive vibe.
The puck drops at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.