Carolina Hurricanes forward lines at practice today
Michael Smith from the Carolina Hurricanes reported lines from practice as follows:
First, it is important to note that with 3 off days, this might not so much be a change as an opportunity to tinker. The team has run the same lines long enough that they are not going to miss out on developing chemistry from being separated for a day or 2 in practice. We could very well see the regular lines on Saturday night with this just being an opportunity for Bill Peters to consider a few things for later.
Hurricanes forward situation
Disclaimer aside, the dirty little secret hiding behind the massive goal scoring from the Skinner/Rask/Stempniak line and the power play is that the Hurricanes really are not clicking in terms of depth scoring. I wrote about the depth scoring issues and line combinations past the big line a few days ago. So perhaps today’s practice line tinkering is good timing for another look at the Hurricanes current situation at forward.
Also noted in the post referenced above, Skinner is playing lights out right now. The line in total deserves some credit for that. But there has been an interesting transition. In the first 4-5 games, Lee Stempniak was playing the role of playmaker with the puck on his stick a bunch and creating scoring chances for the line. Somewhere along the way, Jeff Skinner found another gear and seemed to single-handedly begin to both create and finish most of the scoring the line. This is not at all a bad thing. Goals are goals, and he is scoring them in bunches.
But I think it raises 2 interesting questions:
1) Will Jeff Skinner be able to shift gears at the right times and meld his game with line mates? My opinion is that he is capable of 55-60 points on raw talent alone if he can find his usual sporadic bursts of scoring but that it will require chemistry with line mates such that he both receives and dishes out a good number of scoring plays that are line efforts. To be clear, I am not saying his 2016-17 season has not had any of that, but I think the most recent games are more the whirling dervish/individual effort version of Skinner.
2) If and as long as Jeff Skinner is going and capable of generating scoring for his line by himself could it be possible for Coach Bill Peters to have his cake (keep Skinner line clicking) and eat it too (use Lee Stempniak’s playmaking ability as a catalyst to get another line going).
That is what jumps out at me most when I look at the line juggling today. Lindholm has been anything but an offensive catalyst thus far in 2016-17, but just maybe Jeff Skinner does not need that right now. And maybe with so much attention focused on Skinner, Lindholm finds a lose puck and whacks it home or even picks up a couple random assists to get his 2016-17 offensively up and out of the starting gate.
Jordan Staal’s game has been building gradually. I think the single most important element of Jordan Staal’s game is his ability to carry the puck from behind the defensive blue line, through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone with possession. He single-handedly decreases the volume of the defense that must be played and increases the time in the offensive zone. But gone is the magic from last winter with Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom. As long as there is a need to tinker with the line anyway, why not see if you can add more scoring?
We saw very little of Stempniak with Staal in preseason, but at a conceptual level it could work. As noted above, Jordan Staal generally plays with the puck on his stick in terms of transitioning from 1 end of the ice to the other, but inside the offensive zone, he is a player who can play with or without the puck. And playmaking is not his forte, so just maybe Stempniak can help convert the offensive zone time that Staal creates into more goals. It is worth a try.
The Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen line that showed some sparks in preseason has been mostly invisible at 5-on-5 in the regular season. My visual assessment is that the trio of skilled forwards just do not engage the puck enough. The line’s skill is not activated until 1 of them has the puck on his stick and that just has not been happening frequently enough. And at a more simple level, it just was not working. A line that was built to score was doing almost none of that. There is no guarantee that it will work, but I like the idea of trying Teravainen at center, and I also like the idea of adding more of a power forward element to the line who might help cough up a few pucks at which point the skill gets activated (but not before).
I still would prefer to go a different direction with this line, but to be honest it has been okay and by no means the biggest of the Hurricanes problems. Bryan Bickell has not been lights out at even strength, but he has a power play goal and solid screens on 2 other power play goals to his credit. That is a nice contribution in a small but significant role. Viktor Stalberg has been flying the past couple games and has also scored. So if Peters wants to build a fourth line around Jay McClement with whatever is left after building the lines, it works.
But with Lindholm looking comfortable at the center position, playing okay defensively but doing virtually nothing in terms of offensive production, I am right where I was a few weeks back possibly in a late preseason post. Why not have Teravainen center the third line and Lindholm the fourth? With Lindholm not clicking with Aho and Teravainen but playing a pretty sound defensive game, I think the move has the potential to make the Hurricanes deeper scoring-wise. Even the sputtering version of Lindholm has more offensive upside than McClement. And the Hurricanes just might have enough options to stock a fourth line with players who might score some.
It will be interesting to see if these new lines hold at Friday’s practice and more significantly for the game on Saturday or if they are just the use of a learning opportunity with a rare 3 days off.
3 questions for the coffee shop
1) Would you even consider touching Skinner/Rask/Stempniak before the line or at least Jeff Skinner cools off?
2) Am I nuts to suggest that Elias Lindholm move to the C4 slot to take a shot at more depth and balance?
3) IF things get reshuffled a bit trying to find depth scoring, what would your 4 lines be?