What a difference a day makes. With a much-needed win to break a six-game losing streak and a Columbus Blue Jackets loss, the Carolina Hurricanes are suddenly only two points out of a playoff spot.
To boot, the win on Thursday was an impressive one. The Hurricanes were clearly the better team from beginning to end against a Flyers team that came in with an opposite six-game winning streak. Taken by itself, the win points to a brighter March, but in the up and down world of NHL hockey, a team is only as good as its most recent game, and by this time tomorrow, Friday’s solid win will be replaced with whatever happens on Friday night in Raleigh against the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils come into the game as a surprise in the Eastern Conference. After nearly falling back to the pack in the Metropolitan Division fray in mid-February, the Devils used two wins against the Hurricanes in the span of a few days to march back higher in the standings. The Devils gave the Hurricanes fits in a 5-2 win with their ultra-aggressive forecheck in New Jersey on Thursday, February 15 and then followed it up with a narrower 3-2 overtime win three days later on Sunday. They key to the Devils is twofold. First is matching up with their top scoring line that is led by Taylor Hall. Second is dealing with their aggressive straight line play with pace and the forecheck that comes with it.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New Jersey Devils
1) Slowing Taylor Hall and company
Jordan Staal, likely to be flanked by Brock McGinn and Justin Williams again, faces a tall task in trying to slow Taylor Hall who comes into the game with an impressive 23-game point streak. It is not necessary to shut them out, but it will be important to hold them in check and not let them drive the momentum and tilt the ice throughout the game. On Friday, I will be watching this match up closely to see if Jordan Staal can work his shutdown magic on one of the hottest players and lines in hockey right now.
Best guess is that Scott Darling gets the start in the second half of the back-to-back, but we are rapidly approaching the point in the season when a coach sometimes plays his best an extra game here and there. Regardless of who is in net, goaltending continues to be an every game watch point.
3) The Devils’ forecheck
What jumps out about New Jersey’s game is how aggressively they forecheck. They play in straight lines and generally get the puck to the end wall even if they must temporarily give it up to do so. From there, one can regularly count three forwards all below the face-off circle on the forecheck hounding the puck and jumping passing lanes really early. Theoretically, the key is to make a first pass quickly and get behind the initial wave, especially when it includes all three forwards. There should be open ice and a manpower advantage behind that, but thus far in two tries the Hurricanes have not had much luck advancing the puck quickly enough to capitalize. And the there is the matter of the Hurricanes’ intermittent sloppiness moving the puck from their own end. The potential ranges fully from feast (getting behind the foreceheckers and attacking) to famine (coughing up the puck in the defensive zone). As such, I will be watching closely to see if Peters, his staff and of course the players can make adjustments to better handle the New Jersey forecheck in round three.
4) More sources of scoring
Offensive leaders Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen chipped in two goals on Thursday, but the Hurricanes also received welcome help from Justin Williams who was among the group of second tier scorers who largely had a quiet February. Here is hoping that Williams’ two goals on Thursday are a harbinger of good things to come in March from Williams and also the broader group of forwards.
The puck drops at 7:37pm at PNC Arena against the New Jersey Devils.