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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Flyers, Canucks, and Avalanche

A crucial homestand continues for the Canes with three teams making their first visits to Raleigh this season.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Flyers

Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Philadelphia Flyers Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of two of the more disappointing performances of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes will host one of their closest rivals for a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference in the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. The first of four matchups between the two Metropolitan Division teams, these matchups will provide plenty of opportunity to set either team apart with the eight points up for grabs between the two.

While the last two games may be a serious disappointment for the Canes, the Flyers are also riding a bit of a skid currently as they are 0-3-1 in their past four games. With changes expected in the Canes lineup after Bill Peters’ postgame comments on Sunday, the in-game matchups are anybody’s guess. But the Flyers will come into Raleigh with plenty of firepower ready to get back in the win column themselves.

Even though the Flyers are middle of the pack in both goals for and against, the offensive talent is impressive, both up front on the forward lines as well as on the blue line. Jakub Voracek leads the Flyers with 60 points, which is shockingly powered by 50 assists and only 10 goals. It is not very often the top point scorer on a team is in a three-way tie for fifth for goals on a team. Reaping the benefits of the helpers from Voracek are captain Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, with Couturier having already blown away his career high in goals with 27 tallies to date. On the blue line, the offensive support provided by Shayne Gostisbehere has become expected in Philly, but 21-year-old Ivan Provorov has continued to push his offensive game upward as well with 25 points already.

In net, the Flyers are received decent performances from Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth. Elliott, on his third team in as many years, has been the starter and played to a respectable, yet unimpressive, .908 save percentage in 37 starts. Elliott is slated to return on Tuesday from a lower body injury that forced him to miss the two previous games, so expect him in the crease for the Flyers.

There are plenty of teams that the Hurricanes will be battling for the last few playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, but the Flyers are the opponent in front of them now. Getting their game together and putting out a solid performance on Tuesday is imperative as the Canes play out the final 29 games of the season.

What to Watch For

  • Bill Peters proclaimed that the lineup that was out there on Sunday could NOT be iced again on Tuesday. How many changes will occur?
  • The Flyers have proven to be potent on their power play, rating ninth in the NHL at just over 21%, however their penalty kill has lagged back at 29th in the league at just 74.2%. Staying out of the box and creating power play opportunities is an obvious key to any game, but could provide a significant advantage for the Canes in what should be a tight divisional battle.

Vancouver Canucks

Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks will head to Raleigh for their only visit of the season on the second contest of a back-to-back that begins in Tampa on Friday night. With multiple days off before beginning a home back-to-back against the Canucks and then the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, it is important that the Hurricanes take advantage of a weaker opponent, playing on the opposite coast, on a back-to-back.

In terms of talent on the ice, the biggest breakout of the season perhaps has occurred on the Canucks roster as Brock Boeser, fresh off his MVP performance at the All-Star game, has become the front-runner for the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s top rookie. Boeser, just 20 years old, has taken the reigns offensively from the Sedin twins, pacing the Canucks with 46 points including a team-leading 25 goals. With his combination of high-end speed and a deadly accurate shot, Boeser will certainly be a player to watch in the Western Conference moving forward.

Surrounding Boeser is an eclectic mix of veterans and other young talent. On the older end, Thomas Vanek (34), Henrik Sedin (37), Daniel Sedin (37), and Loui Eriksson (32) are asked to provide much of the offensive jolt outside of Boeser. Vanek has had somewhat of a solid renaissance, as he is second on the team with 37 points in 52 games, which will likely make him in demand as the trade deadline nears. On the younger end, perhaps the more heralded youngster entering the season was Bo Horvat. The 22-year-old center and noted Hurricanes killer has only provided 24 points, but is still viewed as a big piece for the Canucks rebuild going forward.

Jacob Markstrom has gotten the starting role in net for the first time in his career, and has not been able to set himself apart as the definitive starter for the future. His .907 save percentage and 2.76 GAA are likely leading the Canucks to entertain the idea of moving forward with him in net, but may not be married to the idea.

The bottom line for the Canes on Friday is that this is a game a playoff contender wins. Pretty, ugly, whatever. Two points are a necessity.

What to Watch For

  • Similar to the Flyers, the Canucks have provided a punch on the power play (eighth in the NHL), while struggling on the penalty kill (26th). Can the Canes win the special teams battle?
  • We all know the Canes are going to need to have Scott Darling contribute to hang around the playoff race. Will they entrust him with this game which should be a win?

Colorado Avalanche

Saturday, 8:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

After riding the wave of a 10-game winning streak, the Colorado Avalanche pushed themselves back into playoff contention, but have fallen off since that streak ended on January 23rd, having gone 1-3-1 since. Part of the struggle has derived from the untimely loss of the team’s leading scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, to an upper body injury that is due to keep him out at least another week. When is is a “good time” to lose your better than a point-per-game scorer though? Regardless, the high-powered Avalanche still bring offensive talent into their final matchup with the Hurricanes on the season.

While the Avs certainly will miss MacKinnon, they still have Gabriel Landeskog and the breakout performer for the Avs, Mikko Rantanen, who is just shy of a point per game with 50 points in 51 games. The balanced offensive attack in Colorado has been a bit of a surprise, but it has led them to within one point of a playoff spot in a competitive Western Conference and Central Division.

But perhaps the most outstanding improvement for the Avs has been with the addition of Jonathan Bernier and the return of Semyon Varlamov from injury. While splitting the goaltending duties, both players have remained sharp, combining for a .914 save percentage. Each player has posted an above .500 record, and played a very similar quality level of play night in, night out.

The unexpected contention from the Avs is also framed by one of the bigger decisions of the season, in which the Avs traded Matt Duchene in a three-way deal with the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators. The Avs picked up ammunition for future drafts and have managed to be competitive this season as a bonus. What is clear is that removing the Duchene situation from hanging over the head of the organization has freed the rest of the roster to move forward quicker than anyone could have expected. The 20-13-3 record post-trade serves as a reminder that a team believed to be an afterthought, following last season in which they put together one of the worst campaigns in NHL history, can become relevant in an instant in the modern NHL.

What to Watch For

  • The Avalanche continue to feel out how to move forward without MacKinnon. Without that force in the lineup, will they lineup in a more favorable way to have Bill Peters stick Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce on Rantanen and/or Landeskog?
  • An 8 p.m. start on Saturday, the latest of the season at home. Just an FYI. If you tune in at 7 p.m., who knows what you will be watching for, I’m not a mind reader.