Only eight days ago, the Carolina Hurricanes hockey community woke up after another deflating loss even if in overtime and with a three-game losing streak. After a two-win start to the long eight-game home stand the Hurricanes were suddenly five games deep and with a meager 2-2-1 record that was not good enough. But true to form, the #CanesCoaster then did a 180. The Hurricanes have since won three straight against Western Conference foes and closed out the home stand with a respectable and productive 5-2-1 record.
Next up is the lone road game mixed in with 11 out of 12 games at home. My target was 9 wins and 3 losses for for the 12-game stretch that started on January 30, so while 5-2-1 is not bad, the team still has work to do. And the importance level is double for the final four games since all four are against teams that are part of the group competing with the Hurricanes for a playoff spot.
The game is against the New Jersey Devils which is significant on multiple fronts. First and foremost, the Devils are currently up only a single point on the Hurricanes (but with one game in hand), so this is very much a four-point game against a fellow playoff contender. In addition, the Devils enter the game struggling a bit with a 4-6 record in their past 10 games. In addition to collecting two points of their own and giving the Devils zero, the game could further fuel New Jersey’s current descent down the standings. Finally, with the odd NHL scheduling, these teams have yet to meet, but Thursday’s game represents the first of four games in the last 25 games of the season. As such, this game has the potential to set the tone for what will be an important series down the stretch.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New Jersey Devils
1) Keep on keeping on
The play of the Hurricanes in the three wins was not perfect, but it was incredibly good. The key is to bring the same pace, intensity and ‘play to win’ mindset and not exhale and let up. Per today’s Daily Cup of Joe, I think the blue line plays a huge role in flipping the ignition switch for the rest of the team. Especially early on Thursday, I will be watching to see if the same team shows up still with the hunger it had when it had lost three straight and was desperate for a win.
I have not decided yet if I must simply slot goaltending in at least the #2 slot for the rest of the year to avoid any weird jinxes, so for right now it stays. Goaltending has been somewhere between ‘good enough’ and good in all three wins, so the goal for Thursday is just more of the same. The Devils are without starting goalie Corey Schneider for another week, so this position should hopefully be an advantage for the Hurricanes. I will be watching to see if that advantage materializes on the ice.
3) Peters’ work
For Tuesday’s win, Coach Bill Peters shuffled the lines significantly despite the previous two wins and put Sebastian Aho at center. The team put forth a dominant performance, but I am not sure I would actually attribute it to the line combinations. Three of the goals came on the power play, another came from a defenseman and two came late in the game after Peters reverted back to some old tried and true lines. Especially on the road, I will be watching early to see if Peters goes back to more familiar combinations or if he sticks with Aho at center and some of the other changes.
4) Power play and blue line scoring
On Tuesday, some combination of the power play and the defensemen accounted for the first five goals and ultimately decided the hockey game. That kind of production is not realistic on a nightly basis obviously, but I will still be watching to see if the Hurricanes can continue to ride this secondary scoring to a big advantage.
The puck drops at 7pm with John, Tripp and Mike on the TV for the first time in February.