Coach Bill Peters is now 11 games into his second full season behind the bench for the Carolina Hurricanes. Even before he started, he spoke of effort and commitment things like ‘playing 60 minutes’, ‘starting on time’, ‘net front presence’, ‘scoring in dirty areas’, etc. But changing habits and mindsets can be a slow process.
I think one could make an argument that the Canes made some progress on these intangible type things, but it is really hard to measure/quantify and easy to get lost in the bigger picture when the team finishes 26th in the league and far out of playoff contention.
And trying to find/measure this same kind of stuff is just as tricky in the new season and arguably even subject to an ‘optimism bias’ at this early stage of the season and with the Canes winning 3 straight. But part of me thinks that just maybe this team is actually turning a corner in this regard.
A few things I see:
1) The volume of screened goals recently.
In the past 3 wins, the Canes have scored 3 goals that were pretty directly a result of a good screen and not the kind of screen where you stand to the side of the goalie and fish for a tip without really impeding his vision. Chris Terry was there for the Ron Hainsey goal in Detroit. On Friday against Colorado, Eric Staal screened on the Justin Faulk goal, and Riley Nash screened on the Jeff Skinner goal.
2) Jeff Skinner’s extended run of sounder defensive play.
Historically, I have not been slow to point it out when Jeff Skinner has a rough night defensively or decision making-wise. Unless I am forgetting something, I do not think I have called out a single such episode this season. This is not to say that he has been perfect. That is not a realistic goal for Skinner or for anyone else for that matter. But he has been consistently better and avoided the ‘big oopses’ that have plagued him in the past. And as significant as the results is the circumstances. Jeff Skinner is off to a fairly slow start scoring-wise. In years past, pressing offensively was almost an automatic trigger for gambling/cheating a bit in other aspects of the game seeking scoring. So the fact that Jeff Skinner has held steady in the rest of his game despite limited scoring is even more impressive and possibly a sign that his change is more permanent.
3) Eric Staal’s commitment to a power forward style of play.
Without any real stats for it, my eye test says that Eric Staal is spending more time near the crease on the power play and in general. My eye test also says that he is winning at about a 50 percent rate in terms of holding his screen instead of his natural habit of hopping out of the way to try for a shot tip. The fact that he has mostly preferred to bail on the screen throughout his career but is making progress in changing that is significant. It is not easy to change long-time habits. In my opinion, he also has just been playing a more physical game on a consistent basis. He is collecting more hits. He is going toe to toe on the boards instead of trying to win pucks with cute/skilled stick work. And I just think his ‘rugged power forward’ rating has to be double whatever it was last season at this early juncture of the 2015-16 season.
Would be curious to hear if others see these same signs of a higher commitment level and also any others or if people think I am just blinded by the optimism that comes with 3 consecutive wins.