Continuing what is known locally as the “State Fair Road Trip,” the Hurricanes head to Long Island to face their new Metropolitan Division opponents, the New York Islanders, in what is turning out to be an unexpectedly balanced match.
The Islanders and Hurricanes currently have nearly even records at 3-2-2 and 3-2-3, respectively. The one point separating them in the standings comes from an overtime loss by Carolina. In the still log-jammed Eastern Conference, both teams sit poised to make a run at the top three before the Olympic Break. It would also end the bizarre standoff between the two teams in the divisional standings.
This game, however, will be a sort of “mirror match” for Carolina, as very little separates the two teams on stat sheets. John Tavares leads the Islanders in points with nine; Jeff Skinner leads Carolina with eight. Tavares also leads in goals with four; Eric Staal leads his squad with three. Islanders starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov has a slightly higher saves percentage over Cam Ward with .925 (Ward has a .914), however, the two are dead even in number of saves with 186.
It gets weirder.
Carolina’s Justin Faulk has struggled to find his groove as a leading defenseman on the team, and his stats have lagged while he has tried to find his place on the ice again. Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic has freakishly identical stats to Faulk, with a slight edge going to Faulk, who has two more assists than Hamonic and is skating at a +/-0 (Hamonic is minus-one). Both have yet to score a goal.
Those two points leaders, Tavares and Skinner? Both are on points streaks of six and four games respectively.
With both squads so evenly matched, the difference will come down to two things. First, momentum. Both teams have it, and need more of it. While the Hurricanes are coming in with their win, the Islanders just got done with a win over the Edmonton Oilers, after having dropped the previous three games. Does a big win make for over-confidence, or does it make them hungrier for more?
Secondly, the Hurricanes are slightly banged up at the moment, with back up goalie Anton Khudobin, defenseman Tim Gleason, and forward Elias Lindholm all off the ice with various injuries. The outlook for all three returning is good, however, that does not put them on the ice at the moment. New York, on the other hand, has an empty injured reserve. While the teams sit very evenly matched, the Hurricanes can ill-afford to lose any more players, with the meat of their road trip coming next week.
All signs point to Ward starting in net for the Hurricanes, yet the team’s insurance policy, Justin Peters, is not as dependable as Khudobin. A hot stick like Tavares could possibly chew Peters up like hamburger, should Ward falter for any reason.
If Carolina can make this game the start of a winning streak, the push going into the remaining two games on the trip would be immeasurable. With the sudden shuffle of the standings, the Hurricanes are in a more comfortable place, however, not by much. Taking on their statistical equals will be a fantastic indicator of the overall state of the team moving forward.