After a busy stretch of hockey with the Carolina Hurricanes schedule featuring 5 games in the past 8 days, here are a few random catch up notes that have not made it into another article yet, at least in an in-depth way.
Justin Faulk’s Achilles’ heels in 2016-17
My assessment of Justin Faulk’s season thus far is that he started really slowly defensively, has generally looked better since returning from his couple-game layoff due to injury but regressed in the Canes 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. What jumps out at me in watching him when he is struggling is 2 things. First, he more than any other Hurricanes defenseman tends to be in front of the net when he should be but right now is just lacking the Glen Wesley-ish ability to figure out what to do, who to defend, etc. once there. If there was an unofficial statistic for number of times standing within 2 steps of the crease when an opponent scores, my memory has Justin Faulk running away with the team lead. When he is struggling, there also seems to be the common element of looking like he is a step too slow. The Nash breakaway goal is a great example. Trying to defend Rick Nash 1-on-1 is a challenging assignment, but Faulk started it in reasonably decent position only to really do very little to slow Nash or force him to do anything other than steaming toward the net in a straight line for a high speed scoring chance on Ward.
I think I actually did mention this previously, but he has been incredibly good since stepping into the lineup. The emergence of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce as the top defense pairing is the headline for the blue line, but the understated role of Matt Tennyson is a big one in a couple regards. The more obvious is that he has helped stabilize the third defense pairing and made the team better in the process. The less obvious effect is the better situation that he has helped create for Noah Hanifin. Prior to Tennyson’s recall and emergence, second-year professional Noah Hanifin had been dealing with the instability and uncertainty of a revolving door in the defense slot next to him. The stability could help Hanifin settle in and continue the development of his game.
The need for depth scoring on the road
As Jeff Skinner distances himself from whoever might be considered the second most dangerous Hurricanes’ player offensively, he will increasingly attract more attention (as if he is not already) from opposing coaches especially on the road where the opponent can dictate match ups. After a torrid start to the season, Skinner has only 2 goals and 1 assist in the past 7 road games. While it is important for Jeff Skinner to contribute offensively even against the other teams’ top defenders, road games also spotlight the need for other lines with easier match ups to help pick up the slack.
Is it Ron Francis’ time?
Within the next few days, I will probably take a more detailed run at this topic. As the season passes the quarter mark for the season with the Hurricanes within striking distance of a playoff slot but on the outside looking in, it will be interesting to see if this prods Ron Francis into action. His patience and stubbornness holding on to draft picks and futures clearly suggests that he will not go hog wild spending futures for band aids, but is it possible that he makes 1 deal to try to boost the Hurricanes 2016-17 prospects ideally in the form of an addition who can also be part of the longer-term picture?
When I consider where the Hurricanes are right now and how they got here, I think the team could benefit from adding 1 more scoring-capable forward ideally in the form of a power forward who could complement the Hurricanes skill players at the forward position.