After some time to digest the Hurricanes season-opening 2-1 overtime loss, there really is not too much one would want to change. Maybe too eerily reminiscent of recent years, the Hurricanes did a lot of things right, were the better team in total, won the possession/shot stats battle by a wide margin, but just could not score enough to win.
But if you toss in a lucky deflection goal or two and convert the game to a 2-1 or 3-2 win, it would easily be a game that fans emphatically point to as a sign that Brind’Amour has the conversion fully underway.
But when trying to climb up into the playoffs for the first time in a almost a decade, moral victories and consolation prizes just do not carry much weight.
So entering Friday’s game in Columbus, there is much the team will look to keep but also a need for different results.
Against that backdrop, here are my watch points for Friday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Columbus Blue Jackets
1) Just win baby!
By no means is game #2 of a long 82-game season a must win, but given the team’s propensity to dig sizable holes in October and November, the urgency does increase by a notch with each game. The Hurricanes early schedule is favorable with three out of four games at home against 2017-18 non-playoff teams. With one of those games by the wayside without a win, Friday represents a great chance to make up for it.
2) A continuation from Thursday for the most part
As noted on Twitter and in my game recap, there was more to like than not like with Thursday’s effort. Most significantly, the tenacious and smothering style of play from the forwards carried over from preseason. The result was a massive advantage in terms f puck possession, offensive zone time and shot totals. Canes fans know from experience that this does not guarantee points in the standings, but it is still a positive starting point. On Friday in Columbus, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can continue to brand this into their identity and make it a consistent part of their play.
The single biggest negative in Thursday’s game was the team’s inability to finish chances where players had a chunk of net to shoot at. A number of times, players fired right over the net from point blank range and others managed to shoot into the middle of the goalie. There is an element of luck with finishing partly shown by the near miss posts from Svechnikov, but there is also an element of players bearing down and hitting open bits of net when given the chance.
4) Rod Brind’Amour and the youth on the road
Friday also offers the first look at how Brind’Amour will build lines and try to match up on the road. He did some amount of just rolling defense pairs, but he also showed a preference for pairing Staal’s line with Pesce/van Riemsdyk for a shutdown set of five. On the road where the opposing coach will be better able to dictate match ups, it will be interesting to see what Brind’Amour does to balance the lineup a bit and try to get okay match ups for the kids. Will Brind’Amour reconfigure his blue line for the road as Peters did? Will Slavin/Pesce be reunited as they were late in Thursday’s game to provide support some of the younger groups? Or will Brind’Amour just challenge the kids to rise up?
In that same vein, Friday represents the first chance to see the youth caught in match ups against higher-end NHL lines. As such, the game offers an early read on how well the kids can hold up when challenged.
His top stat line was not horrible with only one goal allowed in regulation and two in 20 shots total, but per my game recap, I did not get the steadiness, calm and feeling of comfort that I was hoping for in game #1. Whether Mrazek goes again or newly-acquired Curtis McElhinney is thrust into action, I am back to having goaltending as a standard watch point for most, if not all, games.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike. Get your ice cream, adult beverages or whatever else you need ready for either celebration of consoling.