The Carolina Hurricanes are pleased with the direction of their game over the last week, and Tuesday night’s tilt against one of the NHL’s hottest teams in the Colorado Avalanche could provide an appropriate measuring stick.
“We like where we’re at and where we can still get to,” said defenseman Justin Faulk, who will likely draw the task of shutting down Matt Duchene, the third-leading goal scorer in the NHL (11 goals). “There’s another level in our game we know we can get to, so we like the process we’ve been going through to get there.”
“We’ve built a lot on these last few games. We’ve done a lot of good things as a team with some really solid team play. I think we’re moving in the right direction,” forward Jordan Staal said. “We all know there’s still more to be done, and we’re excited that we have more.”
While the Hurricanes have won their last three home games against the Avalanche, dating back to 2009, Colorado is a perfect 6-0-0 on the road this season.
Consistency, it seems, has been the key for the Avs.
“I think it’s because of their mindset. They play a real high-pressure, come-at-you, in-your-face type of game,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “I don’t think they have any fear to play in any rink whether it’s at home or on the road. That’s their style, and that’s how they play. I don’t think they’re going to change no matter who their opponent is.”
The Canes have to counterbalance the Avs’ attack by staying disciplined in their system. Colorado is a perfect 12-0-0 when scoring first and 10-0-0 when leading after one period.
“We’ve got to be ready tonight, especially in the first period,” Muller said. “They come out quick. It’s going to be a fast game. We can’t make anything slow tonight.”
So, what kind of game should be expected?
“You’re going to have two aggressive teams tonight. We’re not going to sit back either. It should be a fast-paced, high-tempo game here tonight,” Muller said. “Both teams are saying, hey, we’re not going to change. I don’t think you can sit back with the type of style they play. We’re going to go after them, and they’re going to go after us. We just have to stay disciplined.”
Under the microscope tonight could be special teams play. The Canes are struggling on the man-advantage, having not potted a power play goal in three games and scoring at just a 6.3 percent clip over their last five games (1-for-16). The Avalanche, meanwhile, is a perfect 19-for-19 on the penalty kill on the road.
The Canes have shuffled around their two power play units, but ultimately it boils down to simplicity.
“I know we keep talking about it, but we just have to simplify it and shoot. The personnel is there, and we just have to get the guys in more of a shooting mentality,” Muller said. “We’ve just got to go at a higher tempo, simplify, shoot more and get more traffic in front.”
Justin Peters, who has stopped 77 of his last 80 shots faced (.963 save percentage), will get his eighth straight start in net. His first start this season came against the same Colorado team just over two weeks ago.
In a lineup note, defenseman Tim Gleason will not play tonight. Though he has practiced with the team since Sunday, Muller wants to put him through a few more full team skates before reinserting him in a game.
“We’re playing one of the quickest teams in the league right now, and it’s a tough one to get your feet wet and get back in it,” Muller said.
Pulling back the scope, this week as a whole is going to be a good litmus test for the Canes in seeing how their game stacks up to the best teams in the Western Conference. It starts tonight as they close out their two-game season series with Colorado.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for us to play our system, play it for 60 minutes and see where we are at the end of the night tonight,” Muller said.