Suddenly 14 games into the 2016-17 NHL season, we have had a chance to see a run of Canes hockey that has seen both highs and lows. Nearing 20 percent of the way through the season, it is also an interesting time to read the tea leaves and try to figure out general direction of the team and ask key questions whose answers could decide the fate of the 2016-17 season.
Here are 3 burning questions:
1) Is Cam Ward finding the same rhythm he had last winter?
The goalie situation continues to be a hot topic of debate. Canes fans can (and continue to) debate whether re-signing Cam Ward this summer was the right move. There is also the ongoing exercise of ranking Ward relative to other NHL goalies. But last winter, from December through February, Ward was ‘good enough.’ The team won at a playoff berth-worthy pace for about 3 months. For the Canes to do well, it takes some combination of Ward reaching that level again and the team too. Overall, I do not think Ward has met his end of the bargain. Important to note however, is that the majority of the bad was right out of the gate. Starting with the win in the home opener, Ward’s play has trended upward. His record is 3-2-2, and he boasts a 2.27 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. Those are obviously great numbers.
Buried in a blog somewhere from the summer is a warning against picking to the right stretch of season and extrapolating “Cam Ward plays well if you look only at the stretches when he is playing well” data to believe that the season will be a good one. So that begs 2 related questions. First, did Cam Ward just get off to a slow start, and is he on his way to having at least a ‘good enough’ 2016-17 season? Or is he just in the midst of a short upswing that will inevitably be followed by the next down swing?
2) Does Aho/Staal/Teravainen have legs, or was their performance on Saturday just a 1-hit wonder?
The newly-minted line of Aho/Staal/Teravainen was lights out to the tune of 4 goals in Saturday’s drubbing of the Washington Capitals. For a team that has been sputtering a bit offensively of late and trying to build a keepable line combination past Skinner plus, the answer to this question is an important one? If Saturday’s debut was a sign of chemistry and cohesion that will last, it represents a huge step forward toward giving Coach Bill Peters a 1-2 punch and more sources of offense.
On Tuesday, watching how this trio looks in game 2 together will top my things to watch? Is Staal’s ability to win the puck and get it into the offensive zone all that skilled youngsters Aho and Teravainen needed to get going on a long-term basis? Or was Saturday just a 1-game burst?
3) Can Peters and Smith find combinations that work to solidify the back end defensively?
With a young leader in Justin Faulk, recent first round draft investments in Noah Hanifin and Haydn Fleury and a deep and rapidly progressing prospect pool, many believe that the blue line will become the Hurricanes greatest strength and lead the team’s return to the playoffs. But the dirty little secret thus far in 2016-17, is that on the whole the Hurricanes defense has not been very good, especially in the debacles in the first few games. Justin Faulk has contributed significantly offensively but has also been right in the middle of too many goals against. Ron Hainsey has similarly struggled at times with coverage and break downs. And the third pairing continues to be a work in process. Matt Tennyson’s recall and insertion into the lineup makes 4 players who have been part of the game of musical chairs trying to find something that works. Despite their young ages, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have been the most stable part of a defense that is still in a state of flux.
With the addition of Tennyson, Nakladal and Dahlbeck, there are seemingly enough potential options to solidify the bottom part of the defense, and the top part was expected to be a strength. Can this group find a higher gear and become a strength as the season progresses?
How do you think these situations develop as the season rolls forward?
What other questions do you have have about the current state of the Hurricanes?