After losing game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday, the question is whether the Hurricanes just need to stay the course and play a bit better or if there are potential improvements to be had from making adjustments.
Though I do think there is room for minor adjustments, I think the meter leans strongly toward just staying the course and playing a bit better on Sunday. As I said following the loss, I think the Hurricanes proved that (at least for stretches) they could do what they needed to do to win.
Stay the course
The forecheck and pressure from the second period
The majority of the second period was textbook Hurricanes forecheck, pressure and pace, and it yielded the desired results. The Hurricanes scored only once, but that included a few near misses and stout goaltending by Tuukka Rask. So IF the Hurricanes can keep the game to 5-on-5 play, I think they have the formula for what the good version of this series looks like.
The power play
The power play tally on the first attempt happened so quickly that one cannot really say that the power play looked good so much as it quickly made one great play. But that is enough. The power play looked good after that too despite not scoring again. If the power play is here to stay, that could be a nice boost for the remainder of the series.
The penalty kill
The penalty kill which started slow but was a strength by the end of the regular season continues to struggle in the post-season against top power play units. One thing that opponents are doing is spacing things wider than they might otherwise. The Capitals do this naturally with Ovechkin in his office, but the Islanders and Bruins are doing a bit of the same. Rather than getting overly focused on overloading a side, teams are maintaining good spacing between players. The result is that it neutralizes the Hurricanes quickness as much as possible. With larger gaps, the Hurricanes are less able to aggressively attack the puck which a strength of the Hurricanes penalty kill. Instead, the Hurricanes are a bit more forced to play a bit more passively with an emphasis on positioning and identifying and shutting down passing lanes. The result is a more passive penalty kill which does not play the the Hurricanes’ strengths. The question is what, if anything, the Hurricanes can do to adjust. Ideally, the team wants to hound the puck a bit more, but with good spacing the risk is that that becomes chasing the puck a step behind in a bad way. Regardless, the Hurricanes now have a bit of up to the minute video on the Bruins power play and need to make some adjustments.
Style of play to avoid unnecessary penalties
Even better than improving on the penalty kill would be to not have to kill penalties at all. Much is being made about the officiating in Thursday’s game. While I do agree that at least one call was very questionable and a couple others borderline, the Hurricanes still need to adjust for the situation. Attention to detail is critical. The Canes cannot afford to make borderline plays with ‘puck in the neighborhood’ plays that could be interference, rising hits that might catch a helmet or a head for a penalty, any extracurricular stuff and any use of the stick in battles for position. The goal is to reduce the volume of ‘might be/could be a penalty’ plays to an absolute minimum. The officials dialing up their game to playoff level could help too.
The blue line configuration
Somewhat similar to the Capitals series, the Bruins are steering their top line away from Jaccob Slavin. Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk saw the most of the Bergeron line match up. And as in the Washington series, they have struggled at times. Most of the Bruins damage on Thursday was on the power play, but Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak had a number of high-quality near misses which suggests that they could have done even more damage. With Boston dictating match ups on the road, and Brind’Amour not really trusting Haydn Fleury, the options are limited. At home, I expect we could see Slavin and Pesce reunited, but on the road the situation is challenging. Is there a scenario where Brind’Amour tries to more consistently support Pesce/Faulk by using them primarily as a set of five with a Jordan Staal-centered checking line? Could different defense pairings be more effective on the road? At a minimum, I think Brind’Amour and crew should consider different options heading into Sunday.
Netting it out
I think stay the course mostly wins out with one exception and another possible exception. The Hurricanes need to keep brainstorming for adjustments for the penalty kill. The blue line configuration is my other question mark right now. I question whether current tactics are optimal for the road.
What say you Canes fans?
1) From Thursday’s game what would you keep/carry over into Sunday’s game 2?
2) What, if any, changes to the lineup or tactics would you consider making?