Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
Fresh off of an overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in the NHL Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan, the Calgary Flames head to Raleigh to kick off a four-game Eastern Conference road trip. At press time there is no word on if the black cowboy hat will remain part of the attire for head coach Bill Peters moving forward, but regardless the Flames enter Tuesday having not been able to get on any sort of a roll as of yet this season. Sitting at 6-5-2, they have won two games in a row only once, while only losing back to back contests once as well.
Last season’s first place finish in the Western Conference ended in disappointment as the Colorado Avalanche dispatched the Flames in the first round. This season, the Flames return a largely familiar roster, with only the swapping of Alberta netminders and forwards - Mike Smith for Cam Talbot in net, who will backup David Rittich, and James Neal for Milan Lucic - as part of the minor shake up. Rittich has fared decently as the clear-cut number one goalie thus far in 10 starts. His .909 save percentage and goals against just under three (2.94) has largely given his dynamic offensive team a chance each night.
While Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are certainly dynamic players who bring loads of skill and speed to the forward units in Calgary, any contest between the Flames and Hurricanes at this point will involve comparisons of the major pieces in the trade from the 2018 offseason. Elias Lindholm has gotten off to another hot start in terms of goal-scoring, netting a team-leading seven so far in 13 games. Four of those have been of the power play variety, but he has only added two assists as of now. Noah Hanifin has continued his progression, especially offensively in becoming one of the exciting young talents in the league. Still just 23, he has developed more aggressiveness in terms of jumping into the offensive action, and has been able to using his tremendous skating ability to be a real threat on that end of the ice.
Of course, the Canes are pretty happy with Dougie Hamilton currently as well. But in order for the Canes to come away with the home victory against their former mates and bench boss, they will need to remain out of the penalty box. While Calgary has been fairly pedestrian on the man advantage, they have drawn the most power play opportunities in the league to date. Playing at even terms or better is a must for Carolina. If they do that, we should see a fast and exciting contest on Tuesday.
Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
After a 3-1 start to what was viewed as largely a rebuilding season in Detroit, the Red Wings have crashed back down into the cellar of the Atlantic Division by losing eight consecutive contests (0-7-1). The quick start was fueled by offensive production with each win featuring four goals or more, but in the eight losses since, the Wings have tallied more than two goals just once. Now the Wings must deal with a bit of the injury bug as Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser, and Luke Glendening all have missed time recently. DeKeyser and Glendening are expected to miss this week’s games as well.
The excitement for the Wings centers around a trio of young forwards. Anthony Mantha (25), Tyler Bertuzzi (24), and Dylan Larkin (23) are each off to solid starts. Mantha has a team-high seven goals in 12 games, while Bertuzzi is the leading assist man at seven. The group makes up the top line for the Red Wings, which is as dangerous of an up and coming line as their is. But the rest of the lineup has been relatively punchless. As the streak lingers, perhaps they will break up the top line in hopes of better distributing the offense. But regardless, if you can put the clamps on these three players, you go a long way towards victory against the Wings.
The Wings have turned to a veteran tandem in net thus far, as long-time Wing Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier have shared the duties. They have combined for just an .894 save percentage, and with a mediocre defensive core in front of them at best, the Wings are currently 29th in the league in defense having allowed 45 goals through 12 games.
Simply put, this is a game that the Hurricanes can and should win at home. With last change opportunities, the Wings top trio should be seeing a steady diet of Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton all night. If the Canes use their depth and don’t dig themselves a hole early, their talent and speed should carry the day in this first of a back-to-back.
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
Following an active offseason that saw the Devils win the NHL Draft Lottery and the accompanying victory in the Jack Hughes sweepstakes, as well as making a splash in the trade market by acquiring P.K. Subban, and the free agent signing of Wayne Simmonds, they were heralded by many as a potential playoff contender in the Metropolitan Division. It is still early, but the results thus far have been borderline disastrous. Sitting at 2-5-2, the Devils sport the lowest point total in the NHL to date.
While much of the excitement entering the year was built around Hughes and Subban, the other thing that most observers pointed to was the expected healthy return of Taylor Hall. Hall played just 33 games a season ago, following a Hart Trophy-winning season the year before as he helped guide the Devils to the postseason. Hall has returned this year healthy thus far, but he has struggled to find the back of the net. With only one goal on the year, Hall does still lead the team in points as his six assists lead the team.
That stat highlights what the main issue has been for the Devils: Scoring. New Jersey is currently dead last in the NHL with just 22 goals in nine games. No Devil has scored more than three goals, and they have already been shutout twice this season. Unless Hall, Hughes, and the other number one overall selection on the roster Nico Hischier begin to score some goals, the Devils could be fighting an uphill battle.
In goal, the Devils continue to wait on Cory Schneider to prove he is healthy and reliable once again. But at age 33, and with three full seasons of both unhealthy and unproductive play in his immediate past, it is tough to expect that the former All-Star will simply recapture his form overnight.
The Devils will have perhaps their most important decision to make with Hall, if they remain out of the playoff chase. Hall is an unrestricted free agent next summer, and he would fetch the largest haul for a rental player available on the market. They have worked to re-sign him, but if that cannot be accomplished during the year, will they let him go via trade? The clock is ticking for the Devils, and each passing day and game draws them closer to having to make a decision on their franchise player.