After two home losses, the Hurricanes are in an early hole against a good hockey team. Calling game three in Tampa a must-win is not an overstatement. That puts Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour front and center in terms of trying to pull a lever or two to gain an edge and ride it to a victory.
In terms of personnel, with Vincent Trocheck likely out of the lineup, who draws into the lineup and how does Brind’Amour reconfigure the lines minus a top center?
More generally, what does he try to spark the offense?
After consecutive losses, might Brind’Amour go with Petr Mrazek just to try something different?
The biggest question?
I think the biggest question facing Rod Brind’Amour is whether he interprets the first two games as generally the right formula just minus the break or two needed to win? Or if he instead thinks that he needs to drive a change in the current style of play and trajectory to climb back in the series. The case for staying the course is a decent one. I think the Hurricanes played their best defensive game in the playoffs in game one giving up incredibly little to a good offensive team. Take away the soft goal given up by Alex Nedeljkovic in the third period and the game heads to overtime. Add in a weird deflection or other lucky goal for the Canes and the series is tied at one. Game two was not as clear cut. On the one hand, the Hurricanes dominated in terms of shots, time of possession and most other metrics. But at the same time, the team was sloppy defensively giving up intermittent odd man rushes between stretches of controlling play.
I land somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, I do think the Hurricanes played well enough to win in game one and that game two was an odd mixed bag that also could have yielded a win with a couple bounces. But then I also think that the Lightning have found a formula that favors them. Tampa Bay is playing a bit conservative in the same way that Nashville did consistently keeping two defensemen behind the puck such that any transition points and even most turnovers are immediately met with at least two back on defense. With Vasilevskiy on top of his game, Tampa Bay could have the advantage here. In the prior series, Florida was able to open things up a bit and posted some big goal totals when they did. The risk there is giving up as much or more than is created. But just maybe that game, if the Hurricanes could even create it, would favor the Hurricanes. Based on how Tampa Bay is defending, it is not as simple as skating faster or making some simple adjustment, but I think the Hurricanes could try to attack a bit more off the rush if their defensemen are a bit more aggressive joining the play from behind.
Even before Tuesday’s loss, I was in favor of inserting Morgan Geekie into the lineup for Cedric Paquette. Even goalies who are playing well tend to have trouble with two things. First is traffic and screens in front of the net that take away the goalie’s ability to track the puck. Second is bang-bang plays that get the puck from behind the net to the front of the net quickly for a shot. In fact, the Hurricanes lone goal on Tuesday came from exactly that type of play with Jordan Staal feeding Andrei Svechnikov in front. Morgan Geekie had a strong run of doing exactly this in the latter half of the regular season. Paired with a finishing forward or two and after a run of games out of the lineup which has historically sparked him, could Geekie be exactly the secret weapon that the Hurricanes need right now? Especially with Trocheck out and the offense sputtering, I would at least give him a chance in a favorable situation.
In net, I could go either way. No doubt the soft goal in game one was costly. And no doubt Vasilevskiy has been better. But the netminding deficit is largely overamplified by the team’s inability to score enough. Though he has been less than Vasilevskiy in the past two games, I do not see trying to win a goaltending duel against Vasilevskiy as a preferred path to victory. And though inserting Mrazek could shake things up in a good way, he is also a wild card as a goalie who has played exactly three hockey games in the last six weeks and did not look great in two out of three of them.
Line combinations also offer the potential for a boost. Is time to put Svechnikov back with Aho? Should Brind’Amour give Geekie a chance to be a spark by getting him some ice time with finishing wings? Could inserting Max McCormick and Geekie together find the same energy they had toward the end of the regular season?
My two cents
I do think the Hurricanes need to try to change the style of play a bit. The tamped down style so far has benefited Tampa Bay more. The challenge is how to accomplish that with Tampa Bay pretty consistently sitting two defensemen safely behind the play. I think activating the defensemen a bit more off the rush could help even if it comes with some risk.
I like the idea of getting Morgan Geekie some shifts with scoring wings.
And I am fine either way on the goalie position maybe just because I do not see the position as a primary problem thus far nor do I see it as the path to turning the series around.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Where do you land between thinking the Canes play was mostly fine in the first two games and just needs to add a break or two versus thinking Brind’Amour must do something to change the style of play for game three?
2) If you were in Brind’Amour’s shoes, what changes would you make tactically?
3) What changes would you make with the lineup?