By no means have the Hurricanes been horrible through five games. The two losses were in double overtime and though the Hurricanes have not really been able to pull away versus the Predators, they have had a chance to win every game. But at the same time, the current version of this team has been nowhere close to the peak version of the Hurricanes during the middle of the regular season. Give credit to Nashville and its coaching staff for making things for some tactics to make things difficult on the Hurricanes. The regular use of aerial passes quickly up and over the forecheck minimizes what the Hurricanes usually gain by aggressively forechecking and challenging every pass. And the Predators fairly conservative style in terms of structure offensively usually has two defensemen behind the play which has nearly eliminated the Hurricanes ability to attack in transition with numbers. Even with speed, it is very regularly 2v3 or or 3v3/3v4. But at the same time, except for game four which was plagued by costly errors, the Hurricanes have not been able to find extended stretches during which they significantly had the upper hand. Part of that is playoff hockey where the other team is good too. But part of that has been a decent number of Canes players being too quiet so far. True to his style, Brind’Amour has been incredibly patient with his combinations so far. Jordan Staal’s (Foegele and Fast) and Steven Lorentz’s (Martinook and McGinn) lines have been together for almost the entirety of the playoffs. Nino Niederreiter has played a few short stretches elsewhere including swapping with Andrei Svechnikov, and Brind’Amour did finally tinker a bit with the power play. But for the most part the lineup has stayed the same other than blue line maneuvering to thy to avoid unfavorable match ups.
With three wins in hand, there is a case to just keep riding the current roster, but my turn playing Rod Brind’Amour instead considers changes to try to find a bit more sparks and to leverage players who have it right now.
Surround Sebastian Aho with players who are going
On paper, the SAT line is arguably the best that the team can build, but in terms of here and now results that line has been ‘meh’ at best. Svechnikov started the series with a few regression type mistakes early on and really just has not found a higher gear yet. In Tuesday’s game, he seemed to be struggling even with puck skills that are usually a strength. But the broader issue with the SAT line. The trio right now just seems to happy to try the usually swirls, twirls and fancy passes. Against a Nashville defense that seems to always have two defensemen back and forward help on the way, that has mostly just converted 3-on-2 or 3-on-3 rushes into 3-on-4 or 3-on-5. Aho has been decent, and I think he could benefit from different help. I would consider elevating Brock McGinn and Martin Necas. McGinn has been consistent in terms of energy and his straight line up the ice and to the net style of play could push Aho to play a bit more in straight lines too. Necas and Aho were phenomenal together for a stretch during the regular season, and Necas should enter game six with a ton of confidence after his two-goal outbreak on Tuesday.
For the here and now, this builds a top line that has players who are playing well and also complement each other.
Capitalize on Jordan Staal’s high level of play right now
Jordan Staal leads the team in goals right now and has been at the top of his game. But he has only a lone assist, and his line mates Warren Foegele and Jesper Fast have only a single goal between them with that being the odd deflection off a defenseman’s skate by Foegele with about 30 seconds remaining in a 2-0 game. Staal is not so much a playmaker or puck distributor, but I still think the potential is there for players with finishing ability to benefit from what he is doing. Teuvo Teravainen fits nicely with Staal’s role that is heavy on defensive zone face-off assignments but also upgrades offense over Foegele or Fast. If Brind’Amour did go with a Teravainen/Staal combination, a shoot first wing could be a good complement, so maybe Niederreiter.
Try Andrei Svechnikov in the other offensive slot
Andrei Svechnikov is one the players with the greatest ability to boost the team’s ceiling if he can find a higher gear. With his game sputtering a bit, simplest is just to try something a bit different to see if he catches a spark. Slotting him next to Vincent Trocheck puts him on another line that has higher-end scoring potential. Who knows if it works, but perhaps a change of scenery helps get him going.
Netting it out
Going with Brind’Amour’s general approach to think more in pairs than full lines, my version sorts out like this:
Aho/Necas as a pair with McGinn as first try to complement them
Trocheck/Svechnikov as a pair with a forechecking depth forward (Foegele?) to complement them
Staal/Teravainen as a pair with Niederreiter hopefully as a beneficiary finisher
Lorentz/Martinook as a pair with Fast or possibly Geekie as a third
With the Hurricanes leading the series, one might ask why the need for a shake up. I think both for game six and also going forward that the Hurricanes need to find a higher gear. And as much as this lineup looks significantly different than what the team has iced in the playoff series, most of key combinations have seen significant run time in the regular season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With a 3-2 series lead and coming off a win, would you be inclined to stick with the same lineup for game six?
2) If not, which of my proposed combinations would you try if you were Rod Brind’Amour?
3) What other forward pairs or line combinations would you try?