With the late starts on the West Coast, I am not sure exactly how/when to post my Daily Cup of Joe that usually goes up at about midnight mostly for reading the next morning. At least for this first edition, I am writing something before the game and will post it at about the usual time and let people figure out if they want to read it between periods or tomorrow.
After watching 5 Canes games and then having a few days to mull over what we have seen, here are my 3 wishes for moving forward:
First wish – Give Eddie Lack a shot
I am on record as saying that for the Canes to significantly improve that goaltending would have to be a part of it. I wish Peters would (pretty quickly here) give Eddie Lack a chance to be that difference-maker. Am I certain that it will work? No. But for me it comes down to 2 things. First, Lack was able to take the reins in Vancouver and led the team to the playoffs only last spring. Second, Ward just has not been able to string together more than a couple great games to carry the team for a few years now. I would at least like to see Lack give it a try before we are building for next year.
Second wish – Green light Hanifin/Murphy to play with giddy-up and live with the results
Hanifin/Murphy have been guilty of their fair share or rookie mistakes but have also played decent hockey for stretches too. Both are still works in progress in terms of tightening up their games, but I also think part of the next step is to capitalize on their strengths as dynamic skating defensemen.
Ryan Murphy v1.0
The original version of Ryan Murphy was breathtaking to watch. The only thing he knew how to do with the puck on his stick was fly down the ice a bit out of control and often right past his forwards many times into the offensive zone wide of the circles for a bad angle shot or dump to a corner where no Canes forward could get to the puck (because he flew past them). As fun as this was, Murphy needed to learn how to use his speed to start breakouts, back up defenses, create passing lanes to forwards and then join the rush from behind without the puck.
Noah Hanifin v1.0
Hanifin is different in that he is only 5 games into his NHL career and is still very much calibrating his game to the NHL pace and pressure. But with the puck on his stick, he brings some of that same straight line speed that can be used to rush the puck up the ice in a hurry.
But when I watch the 2 play, especially together, I see them working hard to make safe and sound plays. Quite often the game finds the puck on 1 of their sticks in the defensive zone only to see them play laterally back and forth while they try to stay out of trouble and assess what the situation is in front of them in the neutral zone. This is not a horrible thing. The ability to sort out options and make good decisions with the puck in the defensive zone is a vital part of becoming a good NHL defenseman and key to tightening up the most important parts of their games.
But I also think there is something to be said for turning them loose a bit and encouraging them to start taking more openings to play north-south with a bit of urgency and aggressiveness. Sure there will be mistakes, but I think it could accomplish 3 things. First, as they start to do this more regularly, I think it will actually back up defenses a bit and make forecheckers more cautious for fear of being left in the dust on an end to end rush. Second, this is ultimately the style of play that will will make them great. Neither’s upside comes from morphing into a safe, sound and conservative stay-home defenseman. For both, upside comes from taking their natural ability to skate and carry the puck and figuring out how to mold it to the NHL game. Third, it just might create some offense off the rush which the Canes desperately lack.
So I wish that Bill Peters and Steve Smith will give these guys the green light to open things up a bit more and the encouragement to live with some of the mistakes that will come with it. In the long run, I think it is the only potential path to greatness for both players, so let’s get on with it accepting both good and bad.
Third wish – Give Brett Pesce a game to game look in the #4 D slot next to Liles
I wrote this up in some detail and belabored the point for a whole week when he was initially recalled from Charlotte, so I will skip doing it again. You can read my original post HERE.
In short, the Canes staff made a decision to let Noah Hanifin develop at the NHL level because they think he is ready. In closing out the preseason in a pretty solid game in the top 4 next to Liles against NHL level competition, I think Pesce also looked ready. Could more games prove otherwise? Sure. But I say give him a chance on a game by game basis. If at any point it does not work and/or it is detrimental to his long-term development, Francis can always adjust and send him back to Charlotte. I know it is a long shot, but my wild guess is that he is ready.
Alternate wish – Skinner/_____/Versteeg
Also from the category of beating a dead horse, I still vote for a Skinner/_____/Versteeg combination. In a couple games in preseason, Skinner notched 3 goals. He has only 1 since. And as luck (or maybe not) would have it, when the duo played a grand total of 2-3 shifts together against Detroit it resulted in a Versteeg goal on a pretty Skinner assist. I was up in arms in this post after they were separated in preseason, and I continue to be baffled that a team with a struggling offense found a combination that seemed to jump start a key scorer and then immediately went away from that combination, so far never to return.
Who else has Canes wishes? Use up to 3 or cheat and add a couple extras since a few from recent years have not been answered.