Yesterday I detailed what is a fairly difficult remaining schedule for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The probability of running into a few nights that are just tough sledding make it even more important for the Canes to capitalize on favorable match ups. On paper, Friday’s game at home against a New Jersey Devils team that is below them in the standings and mostly playing for draft lottery position would appear to be just such a game. But the Devils enter playing pretty good hockey having won three of their last four games. More significantly, the Hurricanes have been abysmal against Metropolitan Division foes below them in the standings with a 1-7-1 record including a loss to New Jersey. The inability to beat the bottom half of the division right now has a good chance of being identified as the greatest fatal flaw if the Canes miss the playoffs.
The Hurricanes enter the game with decent results on a 2-2 road trip but still a feeling that something is off. The team too regularly has been outplayed and pulled out points via crazy heroics and not steady play. In that regard, Friday represents yet another chance to put a stake in the sand and chart a course forward that includes steadier play from period to period and game to game.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New Jersey Devils
1) The top line
Even in the most recent loss, the top line has been stellar. The question is if/how long Brind’Amour will be able to leave them together if the rest of the lineup cannot muster more offensive production. But at least until it ends, Aho, Svechnikov and Teravainen are worth watching on a nightly basis.
2) Team defense
Much is rightly made of the Canes choppy play on the blue line especially since Dougie Hamilton’s injury. But as I noted in my Daily Cup of Joe for Friday, the dirty secret is that this problem is not just about the blue line. The Canes have too many forwards who tend to float at times which makes for break downs with defensive zone coverage that require five doing their job. I am a fan of making the playoffs any way possible but am long on record as believing sounder play will need to be a part of that. I will be watching on Friday to see if the Canes can tighten things up a bit.
3) Heroes rising up
This time of year sometimes it takes a hero or two to lead the way. The Hurricanes have had those of late. On Friday I will be watching to see if Sebastian Aho can continue his torrid scoring pace or otherwise who might step up to lead the way.
The puck drops at 7pm (mark that if you have tickets because it is 30 minutes earlier than the Friday games were originally scheduled).