The Daily Cup of Joe features a series of quick hitters.
Dodging a bullet
Ideally, the way a playoff chase works is that you just win consistently for a couple months, ride up the standings and decrease the amount of stretch day by day. The normal reality is significantly different. There are inevitably ups and downs even for the teams that eventually land on the good side of the cut line. Last week scheduled out to be a tough one for the Canes with three match ups against teams in the upper echelon of the NHL, and the on-ice version lived up to those expectations. The Hurricanes 1-1-1 mark was more treading water than climbing, but I think that is more positive than negative given the competition and the hiccup on Friday.
Wishing ill upon the enemy
When I most recently handicapped the competition in the playoff chase, I hoped that the Blue Jackets would hit a rough patch and implode. Somewhat like the Canes, the Blue Jackets hung in by winning the second of two games against the Penguins to get a treading water-ish split. The schedule this week for the Blue Jackets offers another opportunity to fall down. Columbus has a back-to-back against the Islanders and Bruins starting Monday. Then they have a back-to-back against the Hurricanes and Bruins again starting on Friday. If the Hurricanes can do their part in a big four-point game on Friday, could the tough rest of the week sink the Blue Jackets? One can hope.
Watching for walls
Suddenly 68 games into the 2018-19 season and with the volume of games to pick up a bit starting on Friday, I will be watching to see how the team’s youth and other players look and whether any seem to be hitting a wall.
Andrei Svechnikov is in uncharted territory in his first NHL season. Encouraging is his level of engagement physically. Discouraging is how much he has faded offensively. He has only a single empty net goal in the past 13 games. Once Ferland returns, perhaps including Svechnikov in the healthy scratch rotation can keep him fresher and net more of his offensive upside.
I have been watching Justin Faulk of late. After having a much better season defensively overall, he has had a few more issues of late with a couple telegraphed passes that went the other direction, the turnover for the goal against in overtime and other plays where he has looked a half step slow. Brind’Amour has him near the top of the list for minutes in many games. Recently, I am wondering if his ice time should be going slightly in the other direction.
Micheal Ferland who is not on the road trip is dinged up and seemingly in a way where it has become a recurring issue.
In general, late March is a critical time for the coaching staff to watch players closely with an eye for who is fresh and rising and who might be fading a bit. Getting too regimented in terms of doling out minutes and assignments without consideration for near-term results can be a pitfall this time of year.
Room for a complementary defenseman in Jake Bean or Adam Fox
When looking at the prospect pool for the Hurricanes, two players who have risen as much as any this season are Jake Bean and Adam Fox. Bean has made a successful transition to professional hockey at the AHL level and is tracking toward the NHL. Harvard defenseman Adam Fox was highly touted when acquired in the summer trade with Calgary but has actually managed to boost his stock since then with a huge season scoring-wise. The Hurricanes are deep at the NHL level on the blue line, but interestingly the skill set that Bean or Fox might bring is exactly what one would want to add to the Canes blue line. The team’s power play has been up and down and ‘meh’ overall in 2018-19, and the defensemen playing on it have been pretty similar. Faulk theoretically has the big blast that a team wants on the power play, but his is not so much a quarterback type and even as a trigger man, his four goals and four assists are underwhelming. Jaccob Slavin has made strides in his first full season as a power play regular and he is serviceable in that role. But for everything Slavin does excel at, he is not a natural power play quarterback either. Dougie Hamilton arguably has the highest upside of the group both in terms of scoring and also playmaking from the point, but he has mostly been relegated to the second unit and has also been adequate but not significantly better thus far in 2018-19.
Long story short, the Hurricanes could benefit from having more of a power play quarterback defenseman in the mix on the power play. Though both have steps up to take to do it at the NHL level, both Bean and Fox have exactly that skill set at lower levels. Further, both project to be able to one day do the same at the NHL level. I said during preseason that I thought Bean could be a serviceable power play defensemen at the time even though other areas of his game needed work. The same is true of Fox. If the Hurricanes make room, one of Bean or Fox could fit nicely in a somewhat sheltered learning role initially playing lighter minutes on a third pairing with veteran defense partner but stepping directly into a key role on the power play.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are the chances that Columbus flames out with their tough schedule this week?
2) From your observations, have you noticed any Hurricanes players who seem to be sagging a bit physically heading into the last 14 games of the season?
3) What do you think of the prospects of Jake Bean or Adam Fox joining the NHL roster next season and immediately jumping into and making an impact in a power play quarterback type of role?