The Carolina Hurricanes had two days to watch the rest of the league start their season. The Canes open up tonight at home against the New York Islanders, a team that is looking to take the next step to the top of the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders made news earlier in the week picking up defenseman Johnny Boychuk and will look to find chemistry against the Canes. The team from Raleigh have not received any love from season previews being projected at the bottom of the league. This home-and-home series against the Islanders will show if the Canes are ready to change the team model from last season. Here are three story-lines to look out for in the opening game and including predictions about the first game.
Cam Ward Gets The Nod
Thursday head coach Bill Peters announced that veteran goalie Cam Ward will get the start in front of the home crowd Friday night. The Canes got jumped in their last preseason game with Anton Khudobin in net, losing 5-2 to the Capitals. Now Ward will get the chance to prove himself early in the season, and add more fire to the goalie competition. Ward will step up in this game and show that he has some left in the tank. He has the praise, and confidence from the new head coach. With some of the team leaders out with injury it is a perfect time for Ward to show his leadership on the ice. Don’t expect any soft goals from him tonight.
How Will The Second Line Play Without Jordan Staal?
Nathan Gerbe, Victor Rask, and Elias Lindholm are the projected forwards on the second line for Friday nights game. Nathan Gerbe played well in the preseason and will bring some speed to the second line. The line of Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Lindholm played together well this preseason. Gerbe is not on the same skill level as Skinner, but he will bring some of the speed the line that Skinner brought. Earlier in the summer I wrote about how Lindholm would need to step up more into an offensive role for the Canes if they wanted to improve on last season. After his preseason showing, which included a hat trick, I think he is ready to step into that role. Tonight will end up being a statement game for him, if he can continue his goal scoring from preseason. Victor Rask has a lot to gain playing on the second line. He hasn’t had a lot of experience in the NHL, but this will be a big test to see if the young forward is ready to shine. He is good in the faceoff circle and it will be fun to watch if he can handle the responsibility against some of the Islanders top centers.
Where Will The Leadership Come From?
Narratives about Eric Staal stepping up was shoved down the throats of fans all off-season. So, I will not start with the now cliché “Eric Staal needs to step up and show leadership” post. With that said, the captain will shine tonight and show why he was one of the top centers in the league. Peters announced that they will be replacing Jordan Staal’s assistant captaincy with three players sharing the load until the center returns. Andrej Sekera will be wearing one of those “A”s permanently and will continue where he left off in his breakout offensive season last year. Ron Hainsey and Jay Harrison will also start the season with a letter on their sweaters. They will share the A for now, until Jordan Staal returns to lineup. Both players are veterans and will help with bear the load of leadership on the ice. Both players will have to show a lot of grit to start the season. Grit from the Canes veterans can spark the team to some early wins if all goes as planned.
The Hurricanes are underdogs this season. Stealing the first game from an John Tavares and his Islanders in front of the home crowd would be a great way to shut up the doubters to start the season. Winning the opening game doesn’t mean the Canes are going to become Cup front-runners, but it is a step in the right direction. Do the fans think the Canes have a chance in their home opener?
Philip is a Sports Journalist covering the Pittsburgh Penguins. Duquesne University Journalism Grad 2013.