After a disappointing 1-1 split in Chicago following a season high point the previous weekend, the Hurricanes move next to a two-game set against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The transition has the potential to be a case studying sticking to your game and forcing it upon an opponent. Against a Blackhawks team that is not particularly strong defensively, the Hurricanes to oblige when the Blackhawks preferred to open things up and run and gun a bit. The result was a somewhat loose 4-3 shootout win and an even looser 6-4 loss. Very clearly, the Hurricanes got away from playing to its strength as a team that could defend and generate offensive via counterattacking and its forecheck. Maybe fitting, next up is a Blue Jackets team that has always had a knack for dragging the Hurricanes into the grinding type of game it prefers and generally excels at. The Blue Jackets force the game to the end walls, make it difficult to move cleanly through center ice and funnel play in the offensive zone outside the face-off dots.
It will be interesting to see if the Hurricanes can rebound, get back to their game and ideally force a bit of it on a Columbus Blue Jackets team that is generally good at dictating style of play.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
1) Back to the core
After being too willing to just play how the opponent preferred for two games, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can get back to basics. The A game for the Hurricanes features a strong forecheck and defensive play in the neutral zone and at the defensive blue line that makes it difficult for opponents to generate much offensively especially in transition. On Sunday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can tighten things up defensively.
2) James Reimer
Reports are that Reimer will play in fifth straight game (first game was technically in relief of Mrazek, but he still played most of it) in the span of eight days. By no means was Reimer the primary problem behind a loose defense in Chicago, but he has now allowed 11 goals in three games. I think Reimer is his best in a 1B or#2 role playing about once per week, so the heavy work load is worth watching.
3) COVID returnees stepping up
Not surprisingly and by no means of their fault, the group of players who returned from COVID protocol earlier this week looked rusty. They seemed to working their way back gradually, but there is still more to give. Teuvo Teravainen has not been his usual self with the puck on his stick yet, and Jaccob Slavin has had some ups and downs defensively (versus normal almost all ups). On Sunday, I will be watching to see if these top players can get back to leading the way to wins.
4) ‘Digging in’ after a loss
Despite the woes in Chicago, the Hurricanes enter the game with an impressive 6-2-0 record. One key to staying at or near the top of the Central Division standings is rebounding quickly and cutting losing streaks short. Sunday will be a chance to measure how this team responds to a loss and poor play.
Perfectly timed for a Super Bowl appetizer, the puck drops just after 3pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with Tripp, Mike, Abby and Shane.