After an odd weekend off in March to digest the change at the management level, the Carolina Hurricanes are back in action on Monday against the New York Rangers.
If you were away from Canes hockey over the weekend, below is some quick catch up reading:
Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe offers an early look at the team’s goalie predicament for the offseason.
On Sunday, the Hurricanes announced that Valentin Zykov had been called up from the AHL.
Monday morning finds the Carolina Hurricanes treacherously in that gray area where Monday’s game is either absolutely critical or maybe does not matter at all. The Panthers, Devils and Blue Jackets all won over the weekend, so the Hurricanes wake up on Monday morning six points out of a playoff spot in the standings and the same six points back if you adjust for games played.
Needless to say any version of a late playoff push needs a long run of winning hockey at this point.
The opponent is a New York Rangers team that like the last opponent is very much looking toward 2018-19. After selling at the trade deadline, the Rangers added ammunition in the form of futures and has limped along at a 3-5-2 pace in their last 10 games (which interestingly matches the Hurricanes’ mark).
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the New York Rangers
1) The goaltending especially if Scott Darling plays
Thursday’s win was a mixed bag that finished strong and netted results. Darling was shaky in the first period allowing two bad goals that seemed to point toward another rought outing. But he played well with limited work, made a couple outstanding saves and picked up a win with two perfect periods of work. The game potentially represents a spark for a player looking to put together a run of strong play before the clock strikes midnight for the 2017-18 season. If Ward plays instead, the game seeks a rebound after a burst of four games in six nights seemed to lead to a decrease in his level of play. Regardless of who is in net, goaltending continues to be a watch point both looking at 2017-18 and maybe even more so looking forward to the offseason and the 2018-19 season.
2) Valentin Zykov
Updated Thursday: The Hurricanes game day coverage has Coach Bill Peters saying that he would be going with the same lineup that won on Thursday. It seems reasonable to think that Zykov will draw into the lineup for the second half of the back-to-back on Tuesday, but who knows for sure.
Canes Twitter which has been clamoring for a Valentin Zykov recall for some time now finally received one of its wishes. Zykov arrives just after becoming the first player in the AHL to reach 30 goals this season which is obviously impressive. His basic statistics are interesting. He is scoring on 29.8 percent of his shots in 2017-18. That number is unsustainable, but given his game that hangs around the crease and scores from in close, something significantly higher than an average is still reasonable. And on a team that is generally plus, his minus 15 (second only to Poturalski’s minus 21) stands out.
But AHL statistics good or bad will not be what decides the fate of Zykov’s NHL audition. He brings a meat and potatoes game that consistently goes to the front of the net, plays a heavy game and has decent finishing ability in close. His audition will be evaluated based on his ability to bring that much-needed offensive skill set to the Hurricanes and be defensively capable too. And his NHL audition will also be dependent on whether Peters actually gives him a chance.
My watch points go like this for Zykov:
1) Can he generate offense in the form of goals but equally important net front chaos that helps line mates even if he does not get on the score sheet. He needs to be part of advancing the puck like any other forward, but at the end of the day his strength is going to the net and finishing once the team gains the offensive zone with puck possession.
2) Can he match NHL pace in transition. Two years ago in training camp, my initial assessment of Zykov was that he had a broad enough skill set offensively to do what he does but also receive and move pucks in the offensive zone. I also thought he looked capable defending in the defensive zone. The challenge for him was playing between the two blue lines when the puck transitioned. Straight line speed and acceleration were not a strength. In watching him in preseason this past fall, I thought he looked a bit faster whether it was faster reaction time or actual improvement in speed and/or acceleration. That continues to be a watch point. In today’s NHL, it is hard to win/keep a roster spot as a skating liability with a specialist type skill set for offensive zone play and the power play.
3) Where does Peters slot him.
Fans can debate whether playoff hopes for the 2017-18 season should be abandoned or not, but for the team there is no such thing. They should be finding whatever the maximum version of desperate is right now in search of a big winning streak. On Monday, I will be watching for leadership both within the formal captains but also the team in total.
The puck drops at 7pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.