Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Montreal Canadiens will wrap up a season-long seven game road trip in Raleigh tonight. After a 2-0 start to the trip, the Habs have dropped three of their past four, and will look to turn in a winning trip if they can find a way to take down the Canes.
The Canadiens have been hot offensively, scoring 15 goals in their past three contests, even with the extended absence of Jonathan Drouin lingering since mid-November. In Drouin’s absence, the Habs have received exceptional play from rookie Nick Suzuki, the brother of Canes prospect and a first-rounder last season, Ryan Suzuki. Nick may be a candidate for the Calder Trophy if he continues his solid play, and the Canes can only hope for more of the same from his brother in the future.
While the Canadiens are just over .500, their season has been a bit of a reversal from previous campaigns in that they have been led somewhat by their offense. Coming in 11th in scoring, but a very pedestrian 21st in defense, the pressure has seemingly flipped towards Carey Price not to carry the team, but to give their burgeoning offense a chance to win games. Price has posted a .901 save percentage and 3.03 goals against average in 32 starts. If the Habs are to make a push in the second half, they will need significant improvement from the heavily used Price, as well as their blueline, in order to compete.
Carolina will be looking to extend their home winning streak against the Canadiens to seven games with a win to close out the decade. If both sides play to their very recent form, expect plenty of offense and some fireworks to close out 2019.
Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
Less than a week after the Canes dispatched of the Washington Capitals 6-4 at PNC Arena, they will welcome the division-leading Caps back for the rematch. For a more in-depth look at the Caps, check out last week’s Behind Enemy Lines.
The Caps were hoping to get blueline help with the return of Christian Djoos on Saturday, but the young defenseman then left Saturday’s contest due to an upper body injury. They will have to look elsewhere for support in helping what has become a spotty blueline on what is an otherwise dominant squad. Expect the Caps to search for that help on the trade market in the coming weeks, as they await Djoos returning as well as the valuable Michal Kempny from what should be a short-term illness.
Once again, Alex Ovechkin proved deadly on the man advantage on Saturday, blasting a rocket past Petr Mrazek. The Canes will have to continue their own potent power play and limit the overall opportunities for Ovechkin and the Caps in order to complete the home sweep of the Caps.
Expect another high-energy and potentially chippy game with what has quickly become a fantastic divisional rivalry. Andrei Svechnikov has gotten under the skin of some Capitals, Warren Foegele continues to excel against the Caps while also becoming a bit of an irritant, and of course the Canes are always ruffled by Tom Wilson, who plays up-to and sometimes over the line in terms of his physical play. All in all, Friday should be another great battle for teams that may be destined to meet again in a heated playoff series at some time in the future.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Hurricanes will continue their homestand with a late afternoon affair with the Lightning on Sunday. After coming out of the gates very slowly, Tampa has picked up the pace of late. Winners of their past three, the Bolts have been saved somewhat by a mediocre performance overall from their Atlantic Division foes. Sitting currently at fourth in the Atlantic, they are only three points out of second place and a shot at home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Lightning will look to take advantage of their good fortune with better play from what is a pretty healthy roster.
The Bolts continue to be a top-end offensive team, but have not produced the eye-popping numbers of their incredible regular season from last year. Defensively they also rate well at 11th in the league, but those quality numbers did not translate into wins early in the campaign. Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos each still lead the way with over a point per game, and their roster is loaded with offensive depth throughout.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been decent in goal with a .908 save percentage in 27 games, and his work has only improved as of late, winning six of his last eight starts.
The biggest advantage for the Canes will be the travel and back-to-back circumstances for the Lightning. They will be arriving all the way from Ottawa after playing their on Saturday night. The Canes will look to take advantage of what should be fresher legs early to again jump on the Bolts, who they are 2-0 this season against. Expect another highly-skilled contest on Sunday as the Canes look to sweep the season series.