After losing the first game of a playoff series, a typical article would be writing about what the losing team needed to do to rebound in the next game. While there is a little bit of that below, I do not think the answer boils down very quickly to three things. First is to mostly do the same. The Hurricanes generally played a solid game and were even with the Lightning. Second is to eliminate costly mistakes. In a tight game, one mistake was the difference at the end. Third is to catch a break or two. In a game like Sunday’s, a bounce here or there can be the difference.
With that taken care of pretty hastily, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers some random notes between games.
1) Morgan Geekie
I really like the idea of inserting him into the lineup in Cedric Paquette’s place. Geekie showed good ability to generate offense from behind the net in the latter half of the regular season. With Vasilevskiy seemingly dialed, trying to defend from behind to in front is a challenge for even the most dialed in goalie. Surrounded by Steven Lorentz and Jesper Fast, I would not be concerned about any downgrade defensively. With help on the wings, I do not see whatever small downgrade it might be being an issue, and possibly uncovering a source of offense would be huge.
2) Cat and mouse with Nedeljkovic’s puck-handling
I had good intentions of writing a full article about this, but ran out of time to write it. The short version is that this continues to fascinate me for whatever reason. When the Hurricanes are trying to use Nedeljkovic’s puck-handling to expedite heading up ice, they have sometimes had both defensemen pull up almost as high as the face-off dots on the far walls. Doing so gives Nedeljkovic outlets to points that can very quickly advance the puck into or through the neutral zone. But the risk is that putting defensemen on the walls means there is no one to help in the event of a turnover. That is essentially what happened on Granlund’s goal in game 6 of the Nashville series with Aho trying unsuccessfully to get back into the play. In game 1, Tampa Bay played similar to Florida in that they sent forecheckers aggressively to first and/or second outlets sometimes leaving Nedeljkovic unchallenged but without any safe destinations for the puck. And more generally, the Hurricanes were as conservative as I can remember in terms of how deep the defensemen came to receive the puck. For game 2, would Brind’Amour give Nedeljkovic a green light to play the puck up into the neutral zone? Or could a shorter pass to a foward in the middle of the defensive zone similarly get the Hurricanes quickly behind two forecheckers and headed north-south with speed? Will Tampa Bay mix things up a bit hoping to trigger a single error that leads direct to a goal? The game of chess in this regard should continue to be fun to watch.
3) Vincent Trocheck
I really liked his game on Sunday despite him not finding the score sheet. He played with an edge and a nose for the net. If I had to tag one player for being on the edge of a break out in this series based on the first game, he would be my choice.
4) Seeking ugly goals
The idea featured heavily in my series preview, and Sunday’s game made me feel even more certain in my assertion that the Hurricanes’ success could be dictated largely by their ability to get pucks and people to the front of the net at the same time. After looking reasonably human against the Panthers, Vasilevskiy looked to be fully dialed in or game 1 against the Hurricanes. Trying to play beat the goalie with a snipe from well out is unlikely to yield much. Sometimes I think doing this is oversimplified as the players just making an effort to go to the front of the net. But it is more complicated in reality. The starting point is getting clean control of the puck with some amount of time and space to move it. If it takes all three forwards working on the walls to win a puck, there is no one left to go to the front of the net. So getting clean possession is a critical starting point. The defensemen also play a role finding/making shooting lanes to get point shots to the top of the crease. Some combination of what all it takes to get the puck to the crease with traffic has the potential to be the Hurricanes top weapon in game 2.
What say you Canes fans?
1) After a day to digest the game 1 loss, what random thoughts do you have heading into game 2…or comments on mine?
2) Is anyone else nearly as intrigued by the maneuvering related to using Nedeljkovic’s puck-handling ability to advance the puck starting out from the net instead of behind the end line?