Despite the current winning run, timing was probably perfect for an extra day off for the Hurricanes. The burst of three physical games with two (even if short) travel days surely has the team a bit gassed. And though the results were favorable in all three contests, I think it showed a bit in both Islanders games during which the Hurricanes were not at their best in either game despite collecting wins. A reasonable return home touching ground in Raleigh a little bit after 9pm, a day off on Monday and practice only on Tuesday will hopefully recharge the group for the next big push.
With the venue changing to PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers some musings on the series and its path forward from here.
The Hurricanes injury woes
No doubt, the Hurricanes would be better off with everyone healthy, but at least so far, I think the Hurricanes are okay in terms of building a lineup despite the rash of injuries. McElhinney is a bit of a wild card after a long layoff, but it should not be forgotten that McElhinney was very much an equal part of a successful tandem when the Hurricanes rose up. At forward, the Hurricanes could use a reinforcement or two and just might get them. Even just getting one of Svechnikov or Martinook back on Wednesday would replace Maenalanen. The lineup is maybe a bit light on scoring, but the power of the forecheck on home ice could well make that irrelevant and the fourth line of players from Charlotte has at a minimum proven to be capable defensively. I do think the team will miss Trevor van Riemsdyk more than some might realize. He is not flashy but has just been so steady during the playoffs. I also worry that Fleury’s propensity to get rid of the puck could be problematic against a strong forechecking team in that safe chips to center ice often just mean another rounding defending.
Adjusting the blue line utilization
Losing Trevor van Riemsdyk could well make the recent Brind’Amour tinkering on the back end more permanent. Minus van Riemsdyk who is a right shot and assuming Fleury who is a left shot as a replacement unbalances the blue line. The easy fix is to keep Brett Pesce on his natural right side and also keep him with Jaccob Slavin. That would also suggest reuniting Calvin de Haan and Justin Faulk who played most of the first half of the season together. Based on recent play, I think those four have been the best defensively, so it makes sense to pair them up and use them accordingly on home ice. Keeping Hamilton in the third pairing is not a bad thing either. In a series where offense is at a premium, being able to opportunistically use Hamilton in offensive situations on home ice has the potential to net a goal or two which would be significant. That also keeps Fleury’s minutes controlled and managed.
Sebastian Aho’s utilization
It is no secret that Aho’s offensive production in the playoffs has been modest. His 46-point pace through nine playoff games is well below his regular season scoring pace. Speculation continues to run rampant about a possible injury. Awhile back he banged knees with another Canes player, but his slowdown actually started before that. What jumped out to me was Aho’s sudden decrease trying to attack from the blue line in with speed. He started reverting to his rookie year tendencies of pulling up inside the blue line to assess and distribute the puck from there. More recently he has been taking fewer face-offs which could suggest a wrist or other arm injury. We will not know at least until the season is over if Aho is in fact ailing, but one thing that stands out to me is his amount of ice time. If he is ailing a bit or maybe just hit a wall physically, less ice time could potentially give him a physical boost. Staal is playing some of his best hockey of the year. Wallmark continues to be steady. And McKegg and the fourth line are not scoring a ton but have held their own defensively. I wonder about the potential return for decreasing Aho’s minutes modestly to see if him being fresher might help him find the higher gear that has been missing.
Seeking a higher gear
What jumps to me more than anything from the Hurricanes winning twice in New York is the fact that the Hurricanes were not at their best in either game and still managed to win games that were also played to the Islanders liking in grinding, low-scoring affairs. I still think the Hurricanes will need to find a higher gear to win the series, but now they only need to do it twice in five tries. If the Hurricanes come out content with what they accomplished in New York, Wednesday has the potential to be the second real (other was game 5 in Washington) letdown of playoffs. But if instead an extra day off and the energy of the home crowd looks like game 3 or 4 against Washington, then I think the Hurricanes have the potential to just overwhelm the Islanders. That path is obviously the one to a short series which could do wonders for recuperating physically for what lies ahead.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How would you set up and utilize the blue line in the absence of Trevor van Riemsdyk? Would you consider giving a Jake Bean a trial under the pressure of the playoffs?
2) Do you think it is possible that Sebastian Aho could benefit from slightly less ice time, and/or would you consider giving that a try?
3) After two wins but really ‘meh’ play in games 1 and 2, what do you expect for game 3 in Raleigh?