The team that responds better from an extended layoff figures to have the upper hand when the Vegas Golden Knights and Carolina Hurricanes meet Friday night in Raleigh, N.C.
Both teams last played Jan. 21, so with their bye week and the NHL All-Star break bumping on the respective schedules, it has been a break for each side.
“The break is at a good time,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour told reporters this week. “We push really hard with this group. I demand a lot, I think.”
This game will end a tumultuous month for the Golden Knights. They’re 3-5-1 thus far in January, losing four in a row at one point.
Most notably, however, there was a coaching change with Peter DeBoer replacing Gerard Gallant on Jan. 15.
“We’re not where we want to be,” DeBoer said. “I think we have some work to do, and it’s going to be a sprint to the finish line. Come back ready to go to work, because this is going to be a dogfight right to the end.”
The Hurricanes have had incredible stability through the first 50 games. Carolina became the first team in NHL history to have 13 different skaters appear in each of their team’s first 50 games of a season.
Not among them is winger Justin Williams, who made his season debut Jan 19. Two days later, he notched two goals against Winnipeg, becoming the second-oldest player in the league this season (at age 38 and 109 days) to have a multi-goal game.
“It’s not really unexpected,” Brind’Amour said. “He knows how to play. I don’t care how old you are, if you know how to play. You know where to go.”
This is the fifth straight road game for the Golden Knights, who went 1-2-1 in games prior to the break and have three more on the road after Friday before returning home to face Carolina on Feb. 8.
Friday night will mark Carolina’s fourth game on a five-game homestand, having gone 2-0-1 in the first three.
“It’s going to be another push to the end,” Brind’Amour said of coming out of the break.
With 61 points, the Hurricanes have a seven-point improvement through 50 games from a year ago.
The Golden Knights are counting on a refreshed outlook.
“Hit the reboot button,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “The team has been through a lot. … We need to have our foot down on the gas as soon as we come out of the break. … I think we have it in the room right now. We have the guys. We have the goaltender. We have a good team. We don’t accept the way we’re playing. It has got to turn around.”
Each team had one player in the NHL All-Star event.
Vegas left winger Max Pacioretty scored a goal during the competition in St. Louis.
“Happy to have a good experience,” Pacioretty said.
Carolina had defenseman Jaccob Slavin in the All-Star event, replacing injured teammate Dougie Hamilton.
“He’s as good as any defenseman in the league in my opinion,” Brind’Amour said of Slavin. “Certainly as valuable as any defenseman.”
The Golden Knights added Steve Spott as an assistant coach during their layoff.
Williams played from 1998-2000 for the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers, who were coached at the time by DeBoer, with Spott as an assistant coach.
–Field Level Media