‘Must win’ is always overdone in early February for a team sitting within a point or two of the playoff cut line, but Tuesday’s match up against the Flyers is as close as you can get given the math.
The Hurricanes’ consecutive home losses over the weekend increase the sense of urgency, but the circumstances around those losses magnify the situation by a factor of 5. Both losses were lackluster efforts in which the Hurricanes barely showed a pulse. Had it only happened on Friday, perhaps it could be written off by the back-to-back against a fast team. But with the same result after a day off on Sunday, the level of concern about the state of the 2017-18 season justifiably rose.
Coach Bill Peters went on a tirade in his post-game press conference and then proceeded to bag skate the team at Monday’s practice. He also made it clear that the lineup would change for Tuesday.
Basically, whatever he could muster for shock paddles to try to significantly shift the current trajectory has been employed. If that does not prompt a response from the team, the possibility that the 2017-18 season is officially off the rails and destined to crash is a very real possibility.
While the past few days paint a dire picture, the season is far from lost. As I said on Twitter on Monday afternoon:
1/2 So here's the crazy part…If @NHLCanes win on Tuesday (I know it's a big if), they will be in playoff spot or at most 1 point out will have best record in last 5 games of any of 5 teams battling for 2 wildcard spots.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) February 5, 2018
Tuesday’s opponent is none other than the team that the Hurricanes are trying to catch right now. If the Hurricanes win, they will climb above the Flyers by a single point (Flyers would have one game in hand) and in the process tie the Islanders for the final playoff spot.
And interestingly, the Flyers are sputtering just like the Canes. The Flyers salvaged an overtime loss point with a goal with 2.6 seconds remaining on Saturday but lost their three prior games.
So Tuesday’s game represents a chance for one team to try to right the ship and take a step forward while stepping on a fellow combatant in doing so.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Philadelphia Flyers
1) The lineup
I am on record in Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe as saying that the lineup changes for Tuesday needed to be more significant than simply reshuffling the fourth line and sliding Klas Dahlbeck into the #6 slot as has been done previously. With no AHL call ups today, my call to sit Jeff Skinner and Noah Hanifin would seemingly be the only way to make a bigger statement, but best guess is that we see run of the mill depth shuffling. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if Peters follows through in a meaningful way with lineup changes that aggressively address accountability.
2) The right kind of desperation
If the current state of the 2017-18 season cannot spur the Hurricanes to dial up the intensity, finish checks and play with a physical edge and snarly demeanor, then it just is not happening with this squad. On Tuesday, I will be watching to see if the Hurricanes can use adversity to dial up their game or if instead they wilt and fade under the increasing pressure.
Tuesday’s game is the kind that demands leaders to step up and lead. If I had to lay bets on production from key players, I would bet on Sebastian Aho first and Brock McGinn second. Aho seems to get it, has natural scoring ability and is hot. McGinn does not rate as highly in terms of raw scoring ability, but if I had to bet on player who fully appreciates the magnitude of the situation and will do anything to make a difference, that bet would be on McGinn right now. That said, there should be at least three or four players on the list above McGinn, so on Tuesday I will be watching to see if leaders either formal or otherwise emerge.
Because of the number of other things swirling around right now, I bumped goaltending down from its recent home in the #2 slot. But if Tuesday’s game turns out to be a hard-fought affair between two desperate teams as expected, and if scoring continues to be at a premium for the Hurricanes, the margin for error in net is likely to be tiny with the stakes high. That pressure makes for a challenging game for Cam Ward and something definitely worth watching.
The puck drops at 7:07pm at PNC Arena.