Tuesday night against the Avalanche
The Hurricanes lost to Colorado by a 3-1 margin on Tuesday night. Maybe it should be expected with 1 team completely out of the playoff chase and the other pretty close, but I thought the game completely lacked intensity. It had the feel of an intrasquad scrimmage in September with a reasonable compete level but nothing for physical play.
The hits were 13-5 in favor of the Avalanche.
That’s right. The Hurricanes were credited with 5 hits in 60 minutes of hockey.
The need for physical play inside (not outside) the whistles
I am not going to go down the road of ranting and raving about old school hockey, the need for an enforcer or other relics of hockey from years past. But there is still a significant element of physicality inside of the whistles that makes some teams tougher to play against. You can bet that teams are more wary crossing through the neutral zone to receive a pass against certain teams than others. And knowing you are going to get hit whenever possible does cause players to look over their shoulders when retrieving pucks on the boards and often to unload the puck faster.
I would not say that the Hurricanes are soft in terms of willingness to take hits. But I would say that they are generally easier to play against than whoever they are lining up against in terms of finishing hits and creating some wariness for opponents traversing the neutral zone.
The Carolina Hurricanes roster and its impact
A big part of it is the current roster. Gone is Viktor Stalberg who was arguably the team’s most physical forward as measured by finished checks per minute of ice time. Stalberg had the mobility to get to checks (an important part of it), the size to make it count and maybe most significantly the willingness/consistency to finish checks. With 2.1 hits per game, Stalberg is second on the Hurricanes to only to Phil Di Giuseppe who averages 2.3 hits per game. Both Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn who also finishes checks when he can were out of the lineup on Tuesday night.
And when you parse through the Canes lineup in general, it just seems light on players who create some hesitance for opponents.
The Hurricanes defensemen generally bring size to the equation, I am not sure any truly play a physical brand of hockey without the puck. I give the group in total credit for being willing to take hits and/or absorb contact to make plays, but I would not put any of the group in the category of player that especially smaller opposing forwards take note of before and during games. The young guns, Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin, are all average or better in terms of size but average only 0.6, 0.7 and 0.3 hits per game respectively. And try to picture any of the 3 really hammering someone cleanly in a recent game. For me it is hard. Justin Faulk rates out higher in terms of hits with 1.5 hits per game, but even with him I am torn on whether he has a completely higher gear of nasty and difficult to play against without playing dirty or chasing hits that take him out of position.
The story is similar at forward. The fourth line grades out okay. Nordstrom is not really a power forward in terms of size, but his game has a level of rugged above his weight class. And as noted above, Stalberg and Di Giuseppe top the list of Canes forwards for hits. But when you look at the Hurricanes top 9 forwards, for me it feels like there are just too many players who have the ‘not my job’ for banging bodies. Jordan Staal tops the top 9 with 1.8 hits per game, and Lee Stempniak is close with 1.4, but that it really it. Past that, there is Lindholm with 1. 2 hits per game but then also Aho, Ryan, Skinner, Rask and Teravainen who check in at 0.5 hits per game or less.
Again, the goal is not to go overboard and start chasing hits such that players end up out of position. But with games to build for 2017-18, I think it could be really interesting to see what happened if all 4 of the players wearing captain letters sat down and all agreed to dial up the physicality for a game. My hunch is that a couple things would happen. First, because it is not really the norm in my opinion, I think it would jump out to the entire bench and set a tone that would be followed throughout the roster. Second, I think it would boost the intensity level across other aspects of the game.
What say you Caniacs?
Do you think there is a higher gear for the team in terms of physical play? Or do you think that is just old school nonsense and not suited for the Hurricanes roster and style of play?
If you do think that there is a higher gear to be had and a benefit to be gained from being more physical, do you think it is a matter of importing a couple more of the right kind of players, or is it a matter of leadership setting a tone and driving it through the ranks?