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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets

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The Canes finish their short opening homestand and begin the State Fair trip this week.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets

Tuesday, 7:00 pm at PNC Arena

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Chicago Blackhawks David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes will wrap up an abbreviated season-opening home stand with their first divisional matchup of the season, as they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. Last season, the Canes were able to hold serve at home against the division foe as they went 2-2 on the season against the Blue Jackets, with each victory coming at home.

While it remains to be seen if the Canes will elect to get each netminder into game action on the opening home stand by going with Cam Ward on Tuesday, the Blue Jackets will enter their third contest of the season having already featured each of their backstops in net. True to form, starter Sergei Bobrovsky posted a shutout on the season opener as he blanked the New York Islanders 5-0 on 29 shots. Expect to see Bobrovsky on Tuesday night.

Offensively, coming off a season in which they were 6th in the league in goals scored, the Blue Jackets feature a deep and potent attack. By exchanging Brandon Saad back to the Chicago Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin, the Blue Jackets were able to take advantage of Chicago’s salary cap situation (something Canes fans should be very familiar with) and exchange a solid 50 point scorer for a 70 point scorer in Panarin. He already leads Columbus in points in the early going, as he as notched three assists in the first three contests. Throw in the arrival of rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third overall selection in the 2016 draft, and the Blue Jackets have the makings of yet another formidable attack this season.

Defensively, the Blue Jackets appear to be built, yet again, in the mold of head coach John Tortorella and have a solid foundation for preventing goals. With Vezina finalist Bobrovsky in net, and a solid core of defensemen, led by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, Columbus should challenge for the fewest goals allowed again following up on their runner-up performance last season.

For the Canes, getting out on top early is paramount, as providing the Blue Jackets with an early lead lets them settle into the style of game their coach desires. Pushing the pace and making the game more about speed and skill are favorable for the Canes in this matchup.

What to Watch For

  • Expect to see Martin Necas potentially make his NHL debut on Tuesday. His improbable ascension during camp was one of the biggest stories for Carolina in the preseason.
  • Who is in net? Scott Darling’s Canes debut was a bit rocky, but he came up big when it mattered most. Will Bill Peters get Cam Ward into a game before the Canes go on their extended State Fair road trip?
  • What will the defensive pairings look like? Will Peters also attempted to split the Slavin-Pesce pair again?

Winnipeg Jets

Saturday, 7:00 pm at Bell MTS Place

NHL: Preseason-Winnipeg Jets at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets are off to a rocky 0-2-0 start this season, but the Canes still have the explosive and exciting Patrik Laine to contend with. Head coach Paul Maurice has yet to win a playoff game (one playoff appearance) in his three and a half seasons in Winnipeg, but he returns in hopes of ending that drought. While not off to a good start, the Jets can pin their troubles on simply terrible defense and goaltending in their first two contests. The Jets have given up 13 goals in the two games, and have lost by 5 goals and 3 goals in their respective losses.

The Jets acquired Steve Mason in free agency in hopes that the former Flyers starter would finally bring starting-caliber goalie play to the Manitoba prairies. So far, that hasn’t been the case. Some of that, of course, can be blamed on his defense which has continued its trend from last season (and really, any season in Thrashers/Jets memory) of allowing too many chances. Giving up 76 shots on goal in their first two games, the Jets are worse than their rate from last season of just over 31 shots per game allowed. To allow their incredible offensive firepower to shine through and actually win them games, the Jets must begin to curtail the offensive opportunities on the other end.

Speaking of that offensive firepower, Laine is surrounded by plenty of other high-end offensive players. Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele help Laine lead the way offensively, but Captain Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and even defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba provide dynamic offensive activity for the Jets.

As we mentioned previously with the Blue Jackets that the Canes may want to use their speed and skill to extend a more physical and bruising Columbus team, it may be imperative for the Canes to rely on their defensive chops against Winnipeg. While Carolina can certainly score and create offense against the porous Jets defense, not allowing the Jets talent to see lots of open ice will go a long way in giving the Canes the upper hand in Winnipeg. This is not to advocate suppressing offense simply to play a more defensive game, but rather meant to be a bit more conservative in terms of defensemen pinching in the offensive zone and in advancing the puck within the neutral zone.

Against a team like Winnipeg, which is prone to breakdowns in their own territory, getting pucks deep and not turning the puck over in the middle of the ice will go a long way in putting the Canes in place for a victory.

What to Watch For

  • The first road contest of the season provides the first opportunity for Justin Faulk to serve as the Hurricanes’ captain, as the Canes elected to go with the...interesting Co-Captains route for 2017-18.
  • Last season the Canes were able to push the pace and score in the season opener in Winnipeg, but ultimately defensive breakdowns in execution led to a 5-4 OT loss. Will it be another end-to-end battle?