With 3 consecutive wins, the Carolina Hurricanes rollercoaster is definitely on an upswing right now which makes it fairly easy to compile a list of things to like.
1-Riley Nash. He has been very good since his return. He picked up a nifty goal in his return and had an assist on Skinner’s goal tonight before also setting the goalie screen that made it possible. But more significant than that, he is arguably the team’s best forward penalty killer right now and uses his skating well to be good in all 3 zones with and without the puck. I wrote a Riley Nash post early this week which you can find HERE.
2-Eric Staal. I continue to like his game despite the modest scoring totals. What stands out to me his his rugged style of play. I cannot recall him being as engaged physically in a true power forward sense for at least the past couple years.
3-Ryan Murphy. After what I termed a buttoned-down start, Murphy has started to open things up over the past 3-4 games. But it looks different than the v1.0 Murphy from 2 years back who only had a ‘go’ switch without enough ability to assess the situation. At least for the past few games, he seems to be much improved at picking his spots to run with the puck versus not having the opening he needs and making a safer play to live and fight and fight another shift later.
4-Cam Ward. I said before the season started that much-improved goaltending was an absolute must have if the Canes were to improve significantly upon their 2014-15 season. I suggested that Eddie Lack was more likely to provide this but thus far in 2015-16 I am happy to be wrong and to say that Ward has been the difference-maker that the team needs in net.
5-Screening the goalie. In the past 3 games, the Canes have 3 goals that were a direct result of taking away the goalie’s vision. Terry screened for Hainsey vs. Detroit; EStaal screened for Faulk vs. Colorado; Nash screened for Skinner vs. Colorado.
6-The future of the Canes blue line. I realize that this is not a unique thought and that I have said it multiple times in multiple ways, but I do not think it can be said enough. Hanifin is off to a good start, and equally importantly I continue to like what I hear from him in interviews. He continues to come across as coachable. Brett Pesce is at least 1 year ahead of any reasonable schedule for his progression to the NHL. I like Murphy’s play recently. I still like Jaccob Slavin and Trevor Carrick’s (who is tearing up the AHL scoring-wise) potential to be part of the mix fairly soon.
7-Coach Bill Peters ability to get Eddie Lack back on the horse. Cam Ward is the starter right now. In some ways that made it even more difficult to get Lack back into the mix and headed in a positive direction. Peters went unconventional playing Lack in the first half of a back-to-back, and it worked wonderfully.
8-The penalty kill. The strength from 2014-15 started slow but is starting to round into form. I think Riley Nash’s return is part of it, but I also think the group in general is just settling in and also getting back to playing aggressive for 200-feet just like last season.
9-John-Micheal Liles. If we had to give an award for the Hurricanes player whose level of play was most significantly better than what a superficial fan might think locally and also across the league, Liles could be the most underrated. He held together a second pairing with Michal Jordan when he was struggling, and now he is subtly doing an absolutely incredibly job mentoring and helping Brett Pesce. Pesce has been downright great on his own accord, but Liles’ role has also been significant. I will go into him in more detail this week too when I write up the defensemen.
10-Justin Faulk’s continued maturation and quick rebound on Saturday night. I wrote over the summer that the next step for him was to raise the floor of his playing level such that even on off nights, he was still ‘pretty good’ and such that he had fewer off games. Faulk hit his first significant speed bump in a rough outing against the Islanders on Thursday. Especially since it looked like he hit a wall physically, I was curious to see if he could rebound on Friday. He did with a huge goal and a quiet but efficient 23 minutes of ice time in the win.
What did I miss? Which do you like best?