For my Daily Cup of Joe on Tuesday, I wrote about the significance of the Hurricanes upcoming stretch of five out of six games at home in the bigger picture for the 2018-19 season. The team proceeded to lay an egg in the first game admittedly against a tough opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you believe that my assertion on the importance of this stretch of schedule, then Thursday’s match up against the Montreal Canadiens takes on even more importance after an 0-1 start. Further, though the current standings might suggest differently, I would say that the Canadiens who sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference are the most vulnerable team that that Canes are chasing. (I think the Pens continue their rise and that the trio of Caps, Jackets and Pens become harder to catch than the last wild card team which is currently Montreal.)

So in my book, Thursday’s game carries more weight than a run of the mill December weekday game.

On the other side of the ledger, the Canadiens come in as a bit of a surprise early on. As noted above, the team currently sits in a playoff spot and oddly that is without goalie Carey Price firing on all cylinders. Montreal comes into the game after a 7-1 drubbing by Minnesota but has generally been playing well with three wins prior to that.

Here are my watch points for Thursday’s game…


‘What I’m watching’ or the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Montreal Canadiens

1) A rebound/response

Tuesday’s loss was not the good kind of loss. The Hurricanes were outplayed by a wide margin in the first period and then outscored by a wide margin in the other two periods. Captain Justin Williams was none to happy in post-game interviews. After his long NHL journey and also being part of the 2017-18 disappointment, he very much has his hand on the pulse of things right now. Along with some other sharp words, he used the term ‘middling’. In the long run, there is no break even or treading water in the long run. All teams ultimately end up on one side of the cut line, and teams that are unable to improve or find a higher gear are ultimately pulled under and drown. This team has not drowned yet, but it has been taking in water here and there for a couple weeks. Can Williams and the leadership help this team find the resolve and determination to push up and through adversity? Or is this team destined to eventually drown when a couple big waves hit as in years past? In that vein, I will be watching to see how the team responds on Thursday night?


2) Janne Kuokkanen

With the Hurricanes struggling to score goals, I have questioned multiple times in multiple ways why the team did not reach to Charlotte for players with at least the potential to boost scoring. Finally after a couple weeks, the team has recalled Charlotte Checkers leading scorer Janne Kuokkanen. Kuokkanen was featured in Brandon Stanley’s player spotlight yesterday. My last plea for Kuokkanen’s recall which you can read HERE came just a dozen or so hours before his recall. To be clear, Kuokkanen should not be expected to be a savior. And from watching a number of other rookies fit in but not necessarily excel so far in 2018-19, expectations should be tempered with reality. But disclaimers aside, I do think that Kuokkanen is an offensive upgrade over roughly half of the team’s current forward group. Combined with heady two-way play, Kuokkanen has the potential to slot neatly into the top 9 without being a defensive liability and hopefully be an offensive boost to a line. So on Thursday, I will be watching to see how Kuokkanen fares in his first NHL action in 2018-19.


3) Getting the band back together on the blue line

After Tuesday’s disheartening loss, I noted an odd positive that came out of the game.

Long story short, Dougie Hamilton who had been trending ‘meh’ already had a horrific game on Tuesday featuring prominently in Toronto’s scoring plays. About two to four weeks too late in my opinion, Brind’Amour at least temporarily abandoned the failing effort to force fit Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin into a top pairing and finally reunited Slavin with long-time partner Brett Pesce. With Calvin de Haan meshing well, the team that has been pretty good defensively anyway should be even better. Slavin and Pesce have practiced together since, so all indications are that Brind’Amour is moving forward in that regard. So on Thursday, I will be watching to see if Slavin/Pesce can instantly rekindle their chemistry and high level of play. I will also be watching to see if moving to the third pairing can actually be a positive for Hamilton as he looks to build a base for his game in a less pressured role.


The puck drops at 7:30pm of Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.


Go Canes!

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