After two mixed but decent efforts with no results in Washington, D.C. the Carolina Hurricanes return home to PNC Arena for the team’s first home playoff game in a decade.
The situation in total is absolutely glorious. Regardless of how the 2018-19 season ends, the team is very clearly rising right now with a fun season that will many years from now be talked about as the “Bunch of Jerks” season. After a monsoon of a weekend, the weather is clearing for weather that will be perfect for as many hours of tailgating as people want to take in. At 6:30pm, what should be a rousing pregame will begin. And at about 7:07pm, the puck will drop for a playoff game in Raleigh, North Carolina.
WHAT A DAY TO BE A CAROLINA HURRICANES HOCKEY FAN!
On the ice, the Hurricanes face the normal process of trying to keep a decent amount of good from the first two games and at the same time make a couple adjustments to improve. Despite the 0-2 deficit, the margin in terms of victory versus defeat was small in the first two games. Even with early deficits to overcome, the Hurricanes played the Caps to a 6-5 score in 120 minutes of regulation not counting the empty-netter. One or two more heroic plays or lucky bounces could easily have made for 1-1 or even 2-0. But could’ves, should’ves and moral victories count for absolutely nothing this time of year. Down two games, the Hurricanes desperately need a home win to play their way into the series.
My watch points for Monday’s game follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) An even start
The process was wildly different, but the Hurricanes started with a two-goal and a three-goal deficit early in game 1 and game 2 respectively. Game 1 actually saw the Hurricanes start strong, dominate play for 10 minutes and then quickly get snowed under by a long shot to break the ice and then two quick power play goals. The start was fine but led to a deficit when the Caps counter-punched. In game 2, the Hurricanes were overwhelmed and looked disoriented and disorganized defensively out of the gate. At about the 10-minute mark the Canes got their feet under them and surged, but at that point they were in a two-goal hole.
On Monday, the Hurricanes need to leverage the home crowd and start better. Equally importantly, be it great play or even just a lucky bounce or two, the Canes would tremendously benefit from netting early results and not immediately having to chase the game.
Early on, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can come out flying and hopefully gain something on the scoreboard from it.
2) Defending the rush
My Daily Cup of Joe worked through possible changes for Brind’Amour. Many of those were possibly lineup/combination changes. I would not expect much to come of those because as noted above, the team really was not horrible in total in the first two game. But especially coming out of game two, the Hurricanes desperately need to find a way to tighten up coverage off of the rush.
Right now, the results from the Hurricanes forecheck have been polar opposites. The team has had good stretches when it has hemmed the Capitals in their own end and given them fits moving the puck. But for the times when the Capitals do manage to quickly get behind the first layer of the forecheck, they are utterly feasting off the rush. With an approach that seems to prefer pushing the puck and with it the Canes defensemen wide and then exploiting the open center of the ice with secondary players slashing to the net, only Petr Mrazek kept that from being a complete disaster in game 2.
On Monday night, I will be watching to see if some video and Xs and Os work can help the Hurricanes clean up their defensive coverage off the rush.
3) A time for heroes
Through two games, the story from the Caps side has been their top players rising up. The Caps offensive leaders Backstrom, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have combined for 10 points through two games. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes top line of Aho, Williams and Niederreiter have only two. Be it that line or be it someone else, the Hurricanes need a couple players or a line to rise up and lead the way to a win. If Aho has a second wind coming, the time to spend it is now. If someone like Jordan Staal is going to have one big scoring surge, today would be the day. Etc.
In Monday’s game, I will be watching to see if a Hurricanes player or two can rise up, make big plays and lead the way.
4) Special teams
The Hurricanes penalty kill was a hero in game 2 in Washington navigating the officiating-dominated second period without any damage done. But the best recipe for success continues to be playing 5-on-5 hockey. Ideal for game three would be for the Hurricanes to clean up the unnecessary penalties a bit and for the officials to step out of the spotlight. On Monday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can keep the game more to 5-on-5 play which I think favors them.
With the series pretty much on the line tonight, Brind’Amour will obviously be coaching with an ‘anything to get a win’ mentality. I would not expect wholesale lineup changes, but it is possible that Brind’Amour makes a move or two with the opening lineup. But if the Hurricanes do not click early, I think then Brind’Amour needs to be ready to try to spark the team. I will be watching to see how Brind’Amour navigates the game especially is the start is ‘meh’ or worse.
Remember that the Hurricanes lost the first two games is the first round in the 2006 playoffs. Those two losses were much worse than the first two in this series, and they both occurred on home ice to boot. With a win, the Hurricanes seize momentum, climb up into the series and put the series on a path to be a long one.
PLAYOFF HOCKEY IS HERE….HERE IN RALEIGH!!!!!!!!!