In addition to the Hurricanes game tonight, Monday is also a big night for local hockey. The Backyard Brawl returns to PNC Arena tonight with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Tar Heels taking on the North Carolina State Icepack. The preview for the local hockey spectacular is HERE.
After fun 4-0-1 start, the Carolina Hurricanes have hit the first skid of the year. The team’s losing streak now stands at three games and the team’s record at more of a good but middling 4-3-1. After two tough road match ups with travel spanning most of North America between then and then another try at home on Saturday, the Red Wings offer the next chance to get back into the winning column.
At first glance, the Red Wings and their 1-5-2 record look to be a well-timed gift, but deeper inspection suggests maybe not as much as one might hope. After a slow start, the Wings are trending upward with their first win in overtime against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
But more so than the opponent, right now is about the Hurricanes trying to keep a couple things that have been very good (even strength play and the aggressive skating style) but at the same time rectify some problems (horrid special teams play and the usual goaltending struggles).
Against that back drop, here are my watch points for Monday’s game.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Detroit Red Wings
1) Special teams
The team’s league worst power play and penalty kill were the subject of today’s Daily Cup of Joe. Read HERE if you think you can stomach it. The short version is that a special teams goal differential of a full goal per game has been a significant drag on results. There is not a path to the playoffs that includes league-worst power play and penalty kill performance, so until they improve special teams will be under the microscope every game.
And true to form, here we are again. After a stellar first outing by waiver addition Curtis McElhinney, he has trended downward. He did manage a couple more wins behind a Canes team that surged offensively early, but he was ‘meh’ or worse in Saturday’s loss with a soft goal early and left Canes fans jealous watching summer addition Philipp Grubauer play lights out at the other end. By my count, Mrazek also had one good outing and has not been great otherwise. The headline numbers tell the same story with the Hurricanes sitting at 28th in the NHL with a .874 Save Percentage. Like the special teams, the team needs to be better here to have a chance.
3) The effectiveness of the forecheck and attacking style
The story for the Hurricanes in their 5-0-1 preseason was an ‘everyone forward’ aggressive forecheck and attacking style. The Hurricanes smothered and disrupted opponents before they could even get started. The result was dominant puck possession, opportunistic transition scoring chances and a game with the ice tilted into the offensive zone. That same style with the same results carried over into the regular season. Early on, the Hurricanes continued to win by virtue of their aggressive style. The high point was an utterly dominant effort on the road in Minnesota. But since then, the team has not won and the effect of the forecheck and attacking style has been less noticeable. Right now, special teams and to some degree goaltending are garnering the headlines, but actually the biggest burning questions for me have to do with the long-term effectiveness of the Hurricanes greatest strength early in the season. Has the team just hit a couple-game lull driven mostly by the other problems? Or with some game tape now available, are good teams learning how to neutralize the Canes puck-hounding attack? Or is the answer somewhere in the middle? Given that the style of play has been the team’s single greatest strength thus far, the answer to this question is significant. As such, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can return to using a puck-attacking style to dictate play and generate offense.
4) Just win baby
In his post-game interview on Saturday, Justin Williams touched on the need to quickly put an end to the losing streak before it carried to far. With three straight losses, the importance of results increases. Monday is definitely one of those games where any kind of win would be a good one. Here is hoping the team can find a way to get it done to cut any adversity short and forge forward to the next leg of hockey with the losing streak halted.
The puck drops at 7:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.