Thus far, Rod Brind’Amour’s M.O. for line combinations, defense pairings and power play units has leaned strongly toward patience. He has ridden three forward lines almost 100 percent through all nine games. With minimal in-game adjustments here and there, the same is mostly true for the defense pairings. And though the power play was struggling, Brind’Amour also held steadfast to his original sets of five until Monday when he finally tinkered a bit. The sample size is tiny, but it is hard to argue with the two-goal outburst.
Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe considered five possible sources of upside for the Hurricanes. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe follows on the theme of seeking constant improvement and considers whether the success of Monday’s power play tinkering could encourage Brind’Amour to finally consider tinkering a bit with other parts of the lineup.
Despite Teuvo Teravainen being off to a bit of a slow start with only an empty-netter in the goal column, the Ferland/Aho/Teravainen line has produced more than its fair share of scoring and has established itself as a legitimate top scoring line in the early going. Scoring has slowed with no goals in the last four games, Foegele/Staal/Williams has also been generally solid. Finally, Martinook/Wallmark/Svechnikov has at least provided intermittent depth scoring.
On the blue line, my assessment is that the current configuration is working reasonably well especially in terms of providing balance. Justin Faulk looks better with Calvin de Haan. Brind’Amour has taken to using a Brett Pesce-led third (I guess) pairing for match ups he likes some nights. And Jaccob Slavin and Dougie Hamilton are just two very good hockey players. So at least at a basic level, I would not say that anything is broken on the blue line.
Room for improvement
But I do think there is some room for improvement. Nicolas Roy will be the third attempt to spark a fourth line that has languished offensively. He was off to a great start in Charlotte, so giving the hot hand a couple games to show something and earn more ice time makes sense. But if Roy is not the answer, any forward line tinkering could be focused here. In addition, with Teravainen not off to a great start and suddenly hesitant to shoot the puck, is it actually possible that Aho’s line could do even more with a third member who can finish better right now?
On defense, Slavin and Hamilton combined have been ‘meh’ so far. I think Slavin is off to a good start. I think Hamilton is off to a bit of a slow start. But most significantly, I just am not sure the too mesh well. The decent but not great level of play seems like 1+1=1.75 for two players whose skill set is as high as theirs.
After watching Aho and Teravainen in 2017-18, a short stretch of nine games is not going to convince me that they do not ultimately belong together. But with Teravainen sputtering a bit, I wonder if a short-term shake up could help Teravainen and possibly even get another scorer going. I would be curious to see Svechnikov get some shifts in Teravainen’s slot. With the way Aho is dishing the puck right now, there are scoring chances to be had on both sides of him. Micheal Ferland has capitalized to the tune of a team-leading six goals. Aho has a first assist on two of those goals and a second assist on three others. With Svechnikov acclimated a bit, a short audition in a slot that affords him more good scoring chances could be well-timed.
With any stint that separates Aho and Teravainen, I would keep a really close watch on Aho’s game. As I noted above, because of chemistry, I think the duo ultimately end up back together. If I saw any kind of dip in Aho’s play, that would be sooner rather than later.
The fourth line
Teravainen could just swap with Svechnikov and slot next to Wallmark. As long as he continues to get his regular helping of power play ice time, his minutes would not dip significantly. But what might be more interesting is to see if Teravainen can conjure some depth scoring out of the fourth line that has been mostly silent thus far.
For a completely rogue version of a temporary shake up, could Teravainen center that quiet line. The team has players with some scoring potential on the wings of that line. Brock McGinn scored 16 goals in 2017-18, and Valentin Zykov led the AHL in scoring before scoring a respectable three in ten games at the NHL level in 2017-18. I do not foresee Teravainen as a center long-term, but short term consider that the team is struggling to fill that fourth center slot right now. And just maybe a bit of a pep talk and a challenge in a different role are just what the doctor ordered to get Teravainen fully launched into the 2018-19 season.
If not Teravainen, I do not think Wallmark’s line has been so good that I would not consider swapping a player from the fourth to the third line to see if such a move could help broaden the depth scoring.
The blue line
The blue line is a tough one. As noted above, the group has been decent in general thus far. But I just cannot help wanting more from the team’s best players, especially Dougie Hamilton. Even if it is just in-game adjustments when looking for a spark, I would consider getting Hamilton some minutes with other partners. My thinking is that his game might pick up a bit if he gets into a situation where he gets to tote the puck a bit more. Joni Pitkanen’s game always seemed to be its best in games where he had the puck on his stick a bunch. It is mostly speculation, but I wonder if Hamilton’s total game sees a modest uptick in a slightly different situation.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With the team off to a 5-3-1 start and many things working well, do you consider it outlandish to do some minor lineup tinkering right now?
2) What are your thoughts on moving Teravainen to see if it sparks him and possibly whoever slides into his slot? With the line clicking, the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra that I usually live and die by could definitely apply. But on the other hand, maybe a short-term change of scenery sparks Teravainen.
3) If you were to tinker a bit, what changes would you consider?