Monday, 7:00 p.m. at Capital One Arena
The Hurricanes begin a busy week with a final visit to D.C. to take on the Washington Capitals for the third time in less than three weeks. For more detail on the Capitals roster, take a look at the Behind Enemy Lines preview just a few weeks ago, as the Canes will look to win what is effectively the rubber match of the three closely group games in the season series.
Earlier this season, the Canes went into the nation’s capital and stunned the Caps with a 3-2 OT win, so they will also be looking to secure the season series against the Caps for the first time since 2013-14. The Caps continue to pace the Metropolitan Division despite a recent two game losing streak that included an uncharacteristic home shellacking from the New Jersey Devils.
The Canes and the Caps have put together a series of entertaining hockey games since their postseason scrap, and Monday should bring yet another. Petr Mrazek is likely to return to the net following his shutout of the Coyotes on Friday as the Canes look to keep the six period scoreless streak going.
In order to do so, they must keep the potent Caps power play off of the ice. The Canes yielded two man advantage tallies in each of the last two meetings, so eliminating those opportunities should go a long way towards slowing down the division leaders. Expect yet another high-energy struggle between what is quickly becoming one of the more entertaining rivalries in the Metro Division.
Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at Nationwide Arena
With points in 15 of their last 17 contests dating back to December 9th, the Jackets have vaulted themselves back into consideration in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Despite a serious lack of scoring punch (25th in the NHL in scoring), the Blue Jackets have been able to hang around in the standings with the sixth best defense in the league. John Tortorella’s defensive, shot-blocking style of play has received some buy-in from a team that is short on skill and dealing with significant injuries up and down the roster.
Cam Atkinson (upper body), Oliver Bjorkstrand (Ribs), Josh Anderson (upper body), and Brandon Dubinsky (wrist) are all currently out, and now with starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo dealing with a torn meniscus, the Blue Jackets are facing a critical number of losses as they try to keep up in one of the NHL’s most competitive divisions.
Columbus took it to the Canes twice back in October, as the Canes’ early struggles within the division first became apparent. In order for the Canes to secure themselves ahead of their division foes in the standings, they must improve their play in these “four point games” against the Metro. Thursday would appear to be an opportunity against a battered and bruised opponent. If the Canes can get on the board first, they will give themselves a much better chance against a team that thrives on getting ahead and then systematically shutting down their opponent with their defensive system.
Friday, 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena
The Anaheim Ducks come to Raleigh for their only visit this weekend in a bit of a tailspin. Losers of six of their last seven, the Ducks have fallen six games below NHL .500, and have sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Division. Friday night will be the second of a back-to-back that is smack-dab in the middle of a five-game road trip. Despite Friday also being the second of a back-to-back for the Canes, Friday should present a wonderful opportunity for Carolina to take care of business at home.
If the Blue Jackets are hungry for goal-scoring, the Ducks are practically starved. Ranked 30th in the league in goals, the Ducks have only three 10+ goal scorers playing with Jakob Silfverberg sidelined as of this past weekend with an upper body injury. With only 115 goals in 45 games, the Ducks struggles to score apply tremendous pressure to every other aspect of their game.
Special teams has been one of those areas that has seen that stress do damage. With the 29th-ranked power play in the league (14.8%) providing no help to the five-on-five offense, the penalty kill has only been marginally better. At 24th in the league on the penalty kill (77.8%), the Ducks own some of the more ominous signs that this season is far more likely to get worse than get better.
The brightest star of the Ducks roster, netminder John Gibson, has produced fairly pedestrian numbers for himself (.905 save percentage, 2.96 goals against), but has done so with an undermanned roster all around him. If he is in net on the second of a back to back, he can swing a hockey game with his play.
The Canes certainly must look to take advantage of such an opponent as the realities of the Eastern Conference race dictate that every point is crucial. With a focused and solid effort, the Canes should be able to take care of the visitors from the coast.
Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at PNC Arena
Once again a tough team to play against as has come to be expected under coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders have continued their work from last season as they have shut down their opponents on their way to a 27-12-4 record. Owners of the second best defense in the NHL, the Isles bring their tough-minded approach to PNC Arena for a late-afternoon matinee on Sunday. The Isles will be in the second game of a back-to-back, but that has not been an issue previously for this lunchpail unit as they are 4-1 in the second game of a back to back this season.
Following Monday’s tilt with the Caps, the theme of the week for the Canes is a series of teams that struggle scoring (the Isles are also 24th in the league in goals), but try to wear down opponents with a grinding defensive style. The Blue Jackets, Ducks and Isles have similar philosophies, but varying degrees of success.
Of the three, the Isles appear to be the team who has mastered this style of play. With Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss combining for a .921 save percentage, the Isles have not missed Vezina finalist Robin Lehner in net. Their defensive efforts have yielded the fifth-fewest shots against, and an array of blocked shots as a team.
While the first goal is always important, this week it is especially important for the Canes as the first tally will dictate so much of the style of play from the opponent. If Carolina can start fast each night, they can have a prosperous week. If they fall behind, each night will feel like they are climbing up a mountain full of obstacles, expending more and more energy just to attempt to create solid offensive chances.