Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at Nationwide Arena
Since last facing off with the Hurricanes less than three weeks ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets have ripped off six straight victories. They will look to extend that streak to seven on Monday night against the Montreal Canadiens before dealing with the Canes on the back end of their back-to-back. Tuesday’s meeting will be the third of the season between Carolina and Columbus, and by this point the style and stars for the Blue Jackets are certainly familiar to most all Canes fans.
Of particular note on the recent winning streak, Vezina-winning netminder Sergei Bobrovsky has been on an impressive run since falling to Carolina on November 10th. In starting all six games since that last defeat, he has gone 6-0 with a .966 save percentage and has not allowed more than two goals in any outing. He has also collected two shutouts in that stretch. While it is possible that Bobrovsky may not be between the pipes in the second game of the back-to-back, his tremendous run of play has certainly been a catalyst for a Columbus team that is clicking on all cylinders right now.
As has been mentioned previously in the scouting of the Blue Jackets, their balanced scoring attack makes them especially difficult to matchup against, as there is not a particular line you can look to shut down that provides the lions share of their offense. While Artemi Panarin does pace the Blue Jackets with a mere 15 points, the offense as a whole has not been behind the recent run in Columbus, as they have tallied only 15 goals total in the six games, including a five goal outburst against Ottawa on Friday.
With a familiar foe that is employing a familiar gameplan, the objectives are clear for the Hurricanes. Get out ahead early. Roll lines and attempt to play airtight defense yourself, because Columbus is built to take away time and space from shooters, so battling from behind is a fool’s errand. This is a difficult matchup for any team, but with Columbus playing the night before, and the possibility of anyone but Bobrovsky being in the net, perhaps the Canes will see opportunity await them on the road on Tuesday.
What to Watch For
- As mentioned previously: Who will be in the net for Columbus? If Joonas Korpisalo is given only his fifth opportunity to start this season, it could be an important factor in the game.
- Establishing the pace that Carolina wishes to play at will be important. While it is not always clear how the Canes want to play, against Columbus it is fairly simple, They must attempt to use their speed to create opportunity.
- Earlier this month, Cam Ward was incredible in stopping 25 of 26 shots in a 3-1 Canes win in Columbus. Will he get another shot at the Blue Jackets?
Friday, 7:00 p.m. at Madison Square Garden
Another familiar division foe for the Hurricanes, the New York Rangers enter this week on a four-game winning streak that included the 6-1 shellacking of the Hurricanes last Wednesday at PNC Arena. For the Canes, not much went right in that matchup, but the effort and energy at home certainly felt as though it was lacking. On a Friday night at “the world’s most famous arena,” you would certainly hope for a different energy level to be provided.
Without delving too deeply into a team that we discussed in just last week’s addition of Behind Enemy Lines, there certainly have been a few trends in the most recent four game streak for the Blue Shirts. With the schedule afforded them, the Rangers were able, and will continue to be able to employ Henrik Lundqvist in net exclusively as they continue to enjoy a stretch of 21 consecutive games that are not a part of a back-to-back situation. Since their October 14th tilt with the New Jersey Devils all the way until their December 8th game with the Washington Capitals, the Rangers will enjoy a near two-month stretch without back-to-back games. Must be nice, especially for a team with a more veteran netminder who happens to be backed up by noted substandard backstop Ondrej Pavelec. However, the Rangers have done their part in taking advantage of the scheduling quirk, as they have officially righted the ship following a shaky start with a 10-2-0 record in their last 12 games.
While the stars on the ice were many for the Rangers against the Canes in last week’s matchup, including two goal apiece from Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast, the steady scoresheet presence of Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad continue to set the pace for the Rangers offensively. As further contibutions come from the likes of Kreider, J.T. Miller and 22-year-old winger Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers have begun to show the scoring depth that was seen as a potential question mark prior to the season.
If the Rangers continue to trend upwards offensively, and continue to get the solid play they expect from King Henrik, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Metropolitan Division the entire season.
What to Watch For
- After getting embarrassed at home against the Rangers, I would expect to see the Canes come out with a bit of an attitude against at MSG. Expect to see some chippy play against the Metro rival this time around.
- Jesper Fast is not a particularly offensively active player, but his eight points in 13 career games against Carolina are good for the most against any opponent for the 25-year-old winger.
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
Another repeat opponent wraps up the week for the Hurricanes as the Florida Panthers make their second trip to Raleigh in less than a month on Saturday. While the first two opponents of the week are trending upward, the Panthers would best be described as in need of a jolt within the Atlantic Division, as they have managed only four wins over their last 13 games, while owning a 4-7-2 record over that stretch. While the Hurricanes will enter this home game on the back end of a back-to-back, the impact will be somewhat minimized by Florida entering with the same situation. In fact, a busy week for the Panthers sees them playing a total of five games in four different cities over the next eight days, including two back-to-back situations. If the Panthers are going to jump back into the Atlantic Division race, they will need to play their best hockey this week, otherwise they may become buried at the bottom of their division.
For the Panthers, the biggest bright spot in the first quarter of the season would be the young trio of forwards that have ascended to become the scoring leaders on the team. Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are all above 21 points on the season, and all below 25 years of age. This type of youth movement in terms of leadership was part of the plan when Florida did not return veteran Jaromir Jagr from a season ago. What was not a part of the plan was the lack of depth in scoring. While those two, along with returned Russian Evgeni Dadonov have been able to provide offense, there simply has not been enough of a threat from the rest of the lineup on a consistent basis. The likes of veteran Jamie McGinn, Colton Sceviour and captain Derek MacKenzie have provided next to nothing offensively, and the other youthful star-in-waiting for the Panthers, Nick Bjugstad has been stuck in the mud, accounting for only 10 points in 22 games.
While goaltending has been a bit of an issue beyond veteran starter Roberto Luongo, Luongo’s return to the net has allowed the Panthers to somewhat settle down the rampant goals against that plagued them in the early going. With such a busy week however, it is difficult to see Luongo playing more than three of the next five games in this crucial stretch for the Panthers. The Canes must come out and put pressure on the puck at all points of the 200 feet of ice available. Make the Panthers earn every inch, even though the Canes will also be on a back-to-back. The somewhat fresher legs, along with the home ice, should provide a substantial enough advantage to allow Carolina to take charge of the game. Will they be able to capitalize on that opportunity?
What to Watch For
- With last change, how will Bill Peters manipulate his defensive pairing ace-in-the-hole in Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce? Can he maximize their time on the top scoring groups for the Panthers? This could be a factor in how the game plays out.
- Back in early November, Carolina was able to grind out a win against Luongo and the Panthers 3-1 with sheer will and hard work in front of the net by the likes of Brock McGinn and a two-assist night by Roland McKeown. That type of hard-working, tough hockey is exactly what the doctor would diagnose for this game as well. Can the Canes deliver a dose of it again?