Wednesday’s Daily Cup of Joe will be the catch up edition with a few random thoughts that have not made it into other posts yet at least not in detail.
The Jeff Skinner show
Thus far in the 2016-17 season, Jeff Skinner has been nothing short of spectacular. He has been the team’s best player and the leading driver of the team’s newfound scoring ability. Even minus the game that he lost due to injury, his 11 points in 9 games leads the team and makes for an incredible pace. But over the course of his scoring, I run I feel like the situation has transitioned a bit from being a line playing really well as a 3-man unit to Jeff Skinner just doing Jeff Skinner things by himself. To be clear, especially when Jeff Skinner is going well, there is absolutely nothing wrong with both creating and scoring his own scoring chances in bunches. That dynamic element of his game is what makes him capable of scoring at a high rate regardless of line mates. But I still think that the scoring ceiling for Jeff Skinner comes only when he is able to find chemistry with line mates and both allow them to make him better (ideally by getting him more scoring chances) and also make them better (by attracting so much attention that things open up for them).
With Skinner’s game rising and him playing so much with the puck on his stick, Lee Stempniak and the playmaking that he provided in preseason and the first few games of the regular season has quieted. He has not registered a scoring point in the past 4 games and has only a lone goal in the past 6 games. Victor Rask has continued to pick up points until finally going scoreless for the first time on Tuesday, so it is not like Skinner’s line mates are doing nothing.
I think for Hurricanes fans to witness the absolute ceiling of Jeff Skinner’s scoring potential, the season will require an interesting balance. There will need to be a mix of Jeff Skinner’s ‘whirling dervish’ scoring attack that can be a 1-man show and challenging to defend because of its unpredictability but also having the ability to benefit and create benefit with a line that is playing well together. Thus far, the mix has obviously worked with a rotation of sorts. The first few games leaned toward a line effort, and the last few games being more of the man on a mission type of effort by Skinner.
Sebastian Aho is now goal-less through 9 NHL games but has had an impact with 5 assists. I think it is fair to call the other two-thirds of this line the biggest disappointment scoring-wise thus far. When Aho, Lindholm and Teravainen were put together, almost everyone figured that there was more than enough skill there for the line to provide depth scoring. Thus far, it has not materialized. Teravainen has 2 goals with only 1 being at even strength, and Lindholm and Aho have both yet to score. The total is a single goal at even strength now 9 games into the season. That simply is not enough scoring for a third line on a good NHL team. Thus far, the goal scoring woes have mostly gone unnoticed because the Hurricanes are getting enough offense from the primary sources to cover the deficiency, but over the course of a long NHL season, more will eventually be needed.
I am not sure what to try as a catalyst for this line. Right now, with the Rask line scoring in bunches, I would not tinker with that until it cools down. For now, I think it is mostly a matter of hoping that patience eventually pays off.
As noted in the game recap/notes from Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Ottawa, I thought Murphy had the good version of a quiet first game. He was on the ice for Ottawa’s first goal which saw the Hurricanes running around in their own end, but Murphy was not a direct cause of the goal against. And for the night, he stayed out of trouble and got up to NHL speed pretty quickly. I am really curious to see this combination develop. The Hanifin/Murphy duo was not bad together early in the 2015-16 season, and Noah Hanifin has grown significantly as a player from those first few games making the big adjustment from NCAA hockey.
I think the key is for Hanifin and Murphy to play to their strength which is carrying the puck and attacking with speed. Especially against the garden variety bottom half of the roster match ups that they should see regularly as the third pairing, they should attack aggressively. The objective is to be a positive scoring-wise and to play as little defense as possible because of their ability to transport the puck to the offensive zone. I will be curious to watch v2.0 of Hanifin/Murphy over the next few games to see if they can find chemistry and take a significant step forward together from this time last season.