The Carolina Hurricanes had a very good weekend playing and winning consecutive preseason neutral site games first against the Islanders and then against the Senators. Both games featured much better starts and effort throughout. Coach Bill Peters who was not happy with compete level in the first two preseason games and let the team know about it in a tough skate Wednesday should be in a better mood when the team practices this week.
In addition to winning, Peters and his coaching staff also made progress toward building some line and defense pairing combinations. And things might have actually become tougher in terms of figuring out remaining cuts which is exactly the problem you want to have as a coach at this stage of training camp.
In bullet points:
–Cam Ward rebounded and played better in a 2-1 win.
–A newly minted Hanifin/Murphy pairing was the story of the Saturday win in my opinion.
–Skinner/Nash/Versteeg seems to be a thing. Skinner had 2 goals (plus another in the 3-on-3 exhibition) on Saturday, and if my math is right Riley Nash and Kris Versteeg each picked up 2 assists.
–Brock McGinn tallied a goal while playing on a checking-oriented line centered by Jay McClement.
–Jaccob Slavin netted a game-winner and was the recipient of some praise from Coach Peters after Sunday’s win.
–Unless I missed something from Sunday, the team enters this week still healthy.
Short of getting greedy and asking for shutouts, 6-goal wins and absolutely everything to click, I am not sure Canes fans could really ask for more from this weekend.
So what is next?
Schedule-wise, the Canes get 2 days of practice before finally taking home ice for preseason games on Wednesday and Friday. The aggressive cuts on Friday give the coaching staff some ability to slow down that process a little bit if they need longer to make decisions, but I would still expect Peters’ focus to be on getting pretty close to a final roster and focusing on figuring out who plays with whom and fine-tuning some things. Best guess is that the roster will be reduced by at least a few players on Monday. Charlotte’s camp opens Tuesday which gives players somewhere to go with practice to be had.
If I had to guess, Monday will bring at least a few cuts:
–On defense: 5 1-way players (Faulk, Hainsey, Wisniewski, Liles, Jordan) stay, and I have to figure that Hanifin, Murphy and Slavin are also safe after strong games this weekend. The question is how many of the remaining 3 stay? From the radio broadcast Fleury seemed to struggle some on Saturday. I have absolutely no idea how the Carrick/Pesce pairing looked on Sunday. My wild guess is that we get 1-3 cuts in the order of Carrick then Fleury then Pesce depending on how many Peters keeps.
–In goal: It sounded like Drew MacIntyre played well in limited action on Saturday and picked up a win for his efforts. But unless an injury changes things, I do not think there is really a tryout for goalie, so it is simply a matter of how many goalies Peters prefers to have around for practices and also the 2 remaining preseason games.
–At forward: The Canes have 12 nearly sure thing forwards (EStaal, JStaal, Versteeg, Skinner, Nash, Gerbe, Nestrasil, Rask, Lindholm, McClement, Malone, Terry). Unless the team encounters an injury that leaves 7 players in a dog fight for a final roster spot. I group the players together in a couple overlapping groups. There is a raw skill/scoring group of Ryan, Di Giuseppe and Tolchinsky who played together on Sunday. They did not find the score sheet, so unless that is not fairly representative of the volume/quality of chances they created it is at least a slight negative. There is a size and banging group that includes Woods and Sutter. In some ways, McGinn could also fit this group. He does not bring the size but would bring a bit of banging and some sandpaper and bulldog to a lower line. Finally, there is Nordstrom who boosted his chances with a goal on Saturday. He could arguably be the safest default choice if Peters just wants safe and sound for a fourth line slot. He has a decent amount of NHL experience and plays a sound game in all 3 zones. My wild guess is that we see a decent amount of cuts here on Monday. I would expect at least 1, if not both of Woods and Sutter to head to Charlotte and I would also expect at least 1 if not 2 of the 3 skill/scorers to also head to Charlotte. Of the group, my wild guess is that McGinn by virtue of his unique gritty style and also his goal Sunday and Nordstrom by virtue of his high ranking for safe and serviceable are the 2 safest of the forward group.
Aside from cuts, what happens next?
In practice, Peters will continue to fine tune the system play and continue to work on special teams. The power play has been a relative low point thus far. He will also continue efforts to figure out lines and pairings for real games though this past weekend maybe have helped narrow that process significantly.
Jeff Skinner looks comfortable and is scoring. As a general rule for line building all season, if Jeff Skinner is looking more like a 40-goal scorer and less like the 18-goal scorer that he was in 2014-15, that line is fixed until Skinner slows down. So I will be shocked if Skinner/Nash/Versteeg is not a thing for some period of time now.
The defense might be lining up. With Hanifin/Murphy looking real good on Saturday, I would expect them to stay together possibly with a little bit of tinkering with a few other players. But if Peters likes that combination and the team stays healthy, the D could settle as Hainsey/Faulk, Liles/Wisniewski, Hanifin/Murphy with Jordan fighting to push into the top 6. The wildcard is of course that a couple other young players led by Jaccob Slavin are also challenging rather than waving the white flag.
Behind Skinner, the next priority is probably trying to find the chemistry and combination that pushes Eric Staal closer to 40 goals and farther from his modest 2014-15 output. EStaal/Rask/Lindholm is a possibility especially if Lindholm can take another step forward especially offensively and be the puck distributor for that line kind of like Versteeg looks to be for the Skinner line.
Finally, here is my watch list for Monday:
–Who, if anyone, gets cut obviously?
–Do any of the 7 forwards ‘currently below the cut line’ suddenly show up on a line with sure NHLers as part of Peters line tinkering coming out of the weekend?
–Does Derek Ryan suddenly shift to wing? I would rate him near the top of the forward group trying to win the last spot, but especially with Nash settling in at center next to Skinner, there is no slot open at center. So if he stays at center, to me it suggests that the coaching staff wants a longer look and is more developing him for injury depth later than really considering him for October 8 if the team is healthy.
–Do Hanifin/Murphy skate together again?
This week sets up to be a great week for Canes hockey with 2 home preseason games mixed with more clues and progress in the direction of building an opening night roster.