Many moons ago before the 2015-16 season started, I wrote a post that suggested that the ability to build a legitimate top 3 line around Jordan Staal without using up any of the offensive fire power could be a key to making the Canes work. You can read the full version HERE. (The wings have changed but the situation is similar.) Put bluntly and in abbreviated form, the Canes are light on true top 9 forwards and need to add a couple by some combination of young players growing up quickly or lines finding chemistry that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The emergence of Phil DiGiuseppe and his role on Rask’s line with Skinner helps, but the emergence of the Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom line is what makes the math work at forward for the 2015-16 Hurricanes.
The line has found chemistry and been playing solid defensive hockey especially at home when matched up with the opposing teams’ best forwards. That leaves pairs of Kris Versteeg/Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner/Victor Rask to build a couple duos with the potential to generate more offense and also have a decent offensive third for each group. When you consider that Joakim Nordstrom was expendable by the Blackhawks despite his young age because he was probably slated to be an AHL/NHL depth player and that Andjrej Nestrasil was a waiver claim from Detroit last fall, that is pretty good work building what is the Canes second or third line right now from 1 foundational forward and 2 low-cost pick ups.
The challenge and the next step for this group is to find a way to score more on the road. At home, Bill Peters is having them log almost all of their minutes against the other team’s best line or 2 scoring-wise. In this shutdown role, a draw in which they do not score but do not give up much is a net win for the Hurricanes and puts the ball on the tee for the Canes other 2 lines to play against favorable match ups and drive the offense. But on the road, other teams will steer their scorers away from this group. Edmonton wanted to play checking line against checking line often playing Hendricks’ line against Jordan Staal’s. On these nights, ideally the team needs a bit more offense from Jordan Staal and company. On Monday night in Edmonton, the line was very good at getting pucks deep in the offensive zone and maintaining possession but just could not convert it into a goal. I think the formula is similar to what the group did Monday which is play in the offensive zone and get pucks to the net with traffic with the aim of an ‘any kind of goal’ counts night with a deflection, rebound or screened shot.
Regardless of if they score much or not, the ability of Bill Peters to build a solid line around Jordan Staal without spreading the purer offensive talent too thin is a positive. But with the Canes playing well, the greedy part of me wishes for just a little bit more.