Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
After grabbing five of a possible six points in their first three Metro Division clashes, the Carolina Hurricanes will venture into cross-conference play this week as they take on three Western foes, beginning with the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. The Canucks enter Tuesday’s tilt after splitting their first two contests, both against the Bill Peters-led Calgary Flames.
The Canucks enter the season in what appears to be another rebuilding season as they said goodbye to the Sedin twins after last season. While veterans like Loui Eriksson and Alex Edler are still around (as well as a bit of a head-scratching free agent signing of Jay Beagle), the core of the Canucks squad rests with the young talent of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Nikolay Goldobin. Second year head coach Travis Green hopes that the exit of the old guard in Vancouver will breed a faster, more athletic brand of hockey that will push the pace more than in season’s past.
Boeser, the runner-up for the Calder Trophy in 2017-18, is coming off of a wonderful 55 point campaign that saw him fall just short of the 30-goal mark with 29 tallies. After a blazing start a season ago, Boeser slowed after the new year, posting only eight of his goals after January 1. Horvat has continued to be a steady offensive force, notching 40-plus points in each of the last three seasons. While he has yet to make a leap into a more elite scoring threat, he certainly has settled into being a consistent contributor at the NHL level.
On defense, the Canucks do not present a specific pairing that would seem to be a shutdown group, and the offensive engagement is rather limited to Edler and, at times, Michael Del Zotto. After being 26th in goals against last season, the defense and Goalie Jacob Markstrom are well on their way to more of the same as they yielded nine goals in the two contests against the Flames.
What to Watch For
- Markstrom is likely to see the net again as the Canucks begin a Southeastern swing, but are not in Raleigh as part of a back-to-back.
- While the team speed for the Canucks is certainly improved, Carolina should have a distinct advantage in that area still. Regardless, stopping the Horvat-Boeser duo on the top line is the key to limiting the Canucks chances. Expect that Jaccob Slavin and new partner Dougie Hamilton will see a lot of that top line on Tuesday.
Saturday, 6:00 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center
Coming off of six consecutive seasons in which they reached the playoffs, the Minnesota Wild have begun the 2018-19 season in a bit of an offensive funk. With just one goal in each of their first two games, the Wild offense will be looking to get back on track in the second week of the season.
While the Wild returns basically the same roster as their 101-point team from a year ago, the sense of staleness regarding the Wild has permeated much of the hockey world has only grown. Former Hurricanes captain Eric Staal led the Wild with his highest point season since the 2010-11 season. While there was rumors of a possible offseason trade, the Wild will hope that his final season under contract will squeeze another highly productive year out of the veteran.
In net, Devan Dubnyk posted another solid season in 2017-18 with a .918 save percentage, making that three straight full seasons in St. Paul for him with a .918 save percentage or better, all seasons in which the Wild were no worse than 11th in goals against. Coach Bruce Boudreau will hope to move forward with his winning regular season formula and seek yet another opportunity to shake his playoff struggles.
On Saturday, the highly productive top line of Staal combined with Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund, which combined for 207 points in 2017-18, will be the key focus for Carolina if they are to continue to keep the Wild in their offensive funk. As is Boudreau’s custom, he has stacked his top lines with offense. If the Canes can play tight with that group as well as the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter trio, the advantage may swing to Carolina in the other potential matchups.
What to Watch For
- The Canes will be in the first of a road back-to-back, meaning Rod Brind’Amour will have a decision to make in net Saturday.
- Neither team has done much on the power play to date. Will Carolina get Dougie Hamilton more involved on that unit as the early portion of the season progresses? Hamilton scored six times on the man advantage a season ago in Calgary.
Sunday, 7:00 p.m. at Bell MTS Place
The high-octane Winnipeg Jets and their fans are poised for what they and many experts believe could be a special season in Manitoba, and we aren’t just talking about better wi-fi for visitors. After reaching the Western Conference Finals a season ago, the loss of Paul Stastny is the only notable change for a group that finished second in goal scoring and fifth in goals against. With young players like superstars Patrik Laine and captain Blake Wheeler either continuing to grow or still in the primes of their careers, the Jets would seem to be destined to have a serious say in who earns the right to play for the Cup out of the Western Conference.
While Laine certainly gets plenty of headlines for his brash, energetic style, Wheeler continues to be the true heart and soul of the Jets’ roster. Tallying a remarkable 91 points (including a ridiculous 68 assists), he continues to feed the Laine Goal-Scoring Machine at an incredible rate. Add in scoring depth that saw nine players achieve greater than 35 points a season ago, including blueliners Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, the Jets provide a dynamic, multi-faceted attack that can strike quick and strike often.
Connor Hellebuyck burst onto the scene as the clear-cut, full-time starter a season ago and took the Jets to the next level. Combined with his stabilizing performance and the maturation of key defensemen Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, the Jets vaulted from 27th in goals against to fifth. If that level of consistent goal prevention continues, paired with the dynamic offensive talent assembled, Canes fans will be looking at a bonafide Stanley Cup contender on Sunday evening.
If the Canes are to give themselves a chance to win in a hostile environment on the back end of a back-to-back, they will have to avoid giving the electric Jets power play opportunities and will have to not be content to simply defend against the dazzling attack in Winnipeg, but to press the action themselves. If the Canes prove equal to the task, expect a highly entertaining and fast contest on Sunday.
What to Watch For
- Laine is someone who is hard to take your eyes off of when he is on the ice. He always seems to be either speeding around with the puck or stealthily creeping into a dangerous area. Canes defenders best be aware of where he is at all times.
- As we see more on this road trip, seeing how the younger Canes reach in a charged atmosphere like what should be on display in Winnipeg will be fun. Keep an eye on Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele, and Martin Necas to see if they elevate their game with the intensity presented by a good opponent and a hostile crowd.