We aren’t going to talk about the last five games—period. They are over and the reset button has been hit. Hopefully, this is the attitude that we see coming from the Canes in the battle against the Flyers tonight. Canes and Coffee sent a tweet yesterday that perfectly summed-up the tone for the game tonight against the Flyers—It is a “Must-win.”
The Canes are currently seven points behind the Flyers who hold the final wildcard position. A win tonight puts the Canes within five points with two games in hand. The match-up obviously increases the significance of the points but the main reason is based on the schedule in February.
Looking at the schedule, from January 31st through February 23rd, the Canes will only play eight games (tonight included) in 24 days. This means that there are limited opportunities to climb the standings and the ability to determine the value of being a seller/trader is tough.
To put this in perspective, this is the least amount of games that any team plays that currently appears to be in the running for a playoff spot. In that same span, the Islanders and Maple Leafs both have 13, the Senators have 11, the Flyers and Lightning both have ten and the Panthers and Bruins both have nine. This puts the Canes at a much bigger disadvantage to determine their strategy for the trade deadline.
Looking at the match-up, the Canes should be relatively familiar with the Flyers—they have already seen them twice this season and lost both games. The Canes struggled with winning puck battles, special teams and the play in front of the net.
Tonight, the Canes will need to do much better to win the battles in front of the net. While most of the season has been spent discussing their need for offensive net front presence, tonight the key is winning in the defensive zone. The Flyers scored many goals from the point as a result of traffic, tips and deflections—this can’t be an issue tonight.
The Canes must find a way to block shots, lift sticks and shut down the point. In fact, five of the Flyers ten goals in the first two games came from the D—they also had five assists which were all “primary” assists. Looking at blocked shots, the Flyers won that statistic through two games 41 to 19—more proof that the Canes did a poor job preventing pucks from getting to the net.
Following the theme of “gritty” play, winning the puck battles is key. The Flyers won a lot of 50-50 pucks, as well as created good turnovers from as a result of winning puck battles. This created some opportunistic transition plays and resulted in some goals too. Overall, winning those battles and creating the turnovers allowed the Flyers to set the tone of the game. Controlling the pace of the game has been a strong area for much of the season for the Canes and it starts with winning the battles.
Finally, the special teams were central in helping push the Flyers to victory. The Canes have converted only one of seven chances and also allowed a GWG short-handed goal in the second game. The Flyers have been one of the few teams to be able to challenge the Canes PK and have converted two of seven chances. Thus, in the first two games the Flyers won the special teams war 3-1.
Looking at the special teams more, the Canes focused heavily on them in practice today. Furthermore, the PK unit had no stick-blades, furthering the point about needing to focus on physicality in front, positioning and “not losing bodies.” The point of an exercise like that is to get the PP moving the puck (gain some confidence too) and to have the PK focus on strong positioning—essentially, the PK goal is keeping the PP to the exterior, tying up bodies and allowing the goalie to handle the shot.
Let’s hope the Canes come out hungry tonight. These are games that teams who make the playoffs have to win—plain and simple. Puck drop is at 7:00 (EST) and is on FSCR and CSP. Go Canes!