Not counting the empty-netter, the Capitals have outscored the Hurricanes only by a narrow 6 to 5 margin in six regulation periods of hockey. With a 0-2 deficit in the only thing that matters, the deficit might feel bigger, but in reality the Hurricanes are a couple big plays or lucky bounces away from being home at 1-1 or even possibly 2-0.
But part of the game of long seven-game series is the chess match of making adjustments to eliminate weaknesses or gain advantages. After two games and with the transition to home ice, today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a look at some things that Brind’Amour is likely considering heading into game 3 at PNC Arena on Monday night.
Xs and Os for defending in transition
One of the most glaring problems that the Hurricanes had intermittently in both games but especially game 2 was the Hurricanes inability to sort things out in the instances when the Capitals beat the first level of the forecheck and gained the ability to attack with speed. Rather than attacking by pushing the puck down the middle and distributing to the sides, the Capitals have regularly pushed the puck deep on the sides with a sizable gap between the other first forward in. The result is that the Hurricanes defensemen are pushed wide in picking up their assignments off the rush and that the middle lane is often open. In any case where a Hurricanes forward is a step slow or lacking even a small amount of diligence in terms of position, the Capitals are having players slashing into that lane often with a path to the net. No doubt, the team will spend some time with video hoping to do a better job of defending off the rush. Part of it is a higher level of diligence by the forwards coming back. Another part is the defensemen doing a better job of taking away passing lanes to the middle, possibly given up more odd angle shots. Regardless of tactics, the Hurricanes need to be better at defending in transition, so that will definitely gain some of Brind’Amour’s attention between games.
==> Watch for the Hurricanes forwards coming back in transition to make more of a concerted effort to take away passing lanes and the middle of the ice.
The defense pairings
Home ice changes things a bit with Brind’Amour having greater ability to dictate match ups with the last change on face-offs. It will be interesting to see if/how Brind’Amour adjusts based on that and what he has seen through two games. He seems to lack trust for Haydn Fleury who logged only 4:22 of ice time in game 2. And the Faulk/Pesce pairing that Brind’Amour was using as his top pairing has struggled at times and has featured heavily in the struggles defending the rush. If Calvin de Haan who has been skating returns, Brind’Amour could have more options, but after a 15-day layoff de Haan would still be a bit of a wild card.
The question is whether Brind’Amour feels good enough about what he has with the ability to pick match ups or if thinks changes are needed. On the one hand, one could argue not to panic and overreact after a couple ‘meh’ not horrible road games against a great team. On the other hand, the Hurricanes desperately need to win game 3 to play their way up into the series. Personally, I like the idea of reuniting Slavin and Pesce, but that is problematic on a couple fronts. First, if de Haan does not return, that leaves Brind’Amour with three right shots and Fleury to choose from to build a second pairing which seems like a no-go.
Best bet is that Brind’Amour will ride what was mostly working down the stretch, ask the group to step up and be a bit better and maybe most significantly make sure the forwards do a better job of playing passing lanes and taking away paths to the net in transition.
==> I really do not think there is much that Brind’Amour can do here other than challenge guys and pick match ups based on what is working best. As much as I would like to see Slavin/Pesce, I do not think it works right now.
The forward lines
Sebastian Aho did pick up a goal on Saturday, but through two games one of the headlines is the Capitals’ top players outproducing the Hurricanes top players by a huge margin. Through two games Backstrom, Ovechkin and Wilson have combined for 10 scoring points. Aho, Williams and Niederreiter have but two points. The best in terms of production so far have been Andrei Svechnikov and Lucas Wallmark.
Is there something that Brind’Amour can do to spark his top line?
Is there something that Brind’Amour can do to leverage what is working with Svechnikov and Wallmark?
Can a change in combinations work better for game 3?
Interestingly, the Hurricanes have scored five goals in two games, so it is not like the offense has been completely missing. But it still feels like this group has a higher gear.
With Wallmark and Svechnikov being the closest the team has to hot hands right now, I might consider adding more offense on their wing possibly moving Teravainen across or otherwise playing Ferland there.
In terms of trying to get the top line going, I think it all runs through Aho. Niederreiter is not so much a creator but rather a good complementary finisher and Williams I think also just benefits from having chances in the offensive zone. The potential of again reuniting Aho and Teravainen is always there but simpler might just be the fact that the team is waiting for Aho to find a higher gear again.
==> During the regular season, Brind’Amour leaned really strongly toward patience with line combinations, but with the season very likely riding on game 3, I think he makes a move or two to try to spark the forward lines.
Despite allowing four goals including the overtime game-winner, Petr Mrazek was more positive than negative in Saturday’s loss. He was phenomenal in the second half of regulation making some 10-bell saves to keep the Hurricanes in the game. There is no reason to change goalies based on Mrazek’s play. But during the regular season, the team won with a rotation that used both goalies, so reverting to that rotation would seem at least possible after consecutive losses.
==> For the playoffs, I think the preference would be to ride one goalie. Add that to the fact that Mrazek seems to be trending up, and I do not expect to see a change in net. If the Hurricanes lose game 3, I actually do think Brind’Amour will give McElhinney a shot.
Netting it out
Other than the early deficits and intermittent struggles defending against the rush, the Hurricanes played the Capitals even or better in the first two games. As such, I do not see Brind’Amour making rash changes. The team should be better defending the rushes that often see the puck on the side and players slashing to the middle. And minor tinkering with the forward lines aiming to catch a spark or two might make sense. But I would not expect or advocate wholesale changes.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What, if any, moves/changes do you anticipate Brind’Amour making with the defense pairings and utilization of his defensemen?
2) What changes do you anticipate Brind’Amour making with the forward lines?
3) If you were in Brind’Amour’s shoes, what changes would you make?