I should put forward the disclaimer that this is in addition to the usual training camp stuff including who will win the last few roster spots and what the opening night line combinations and defense pairings will be.
In addition to those, a couple small things that could fizzle into nothing or could turn out to be significant hopped on my radar over the weekend, one in each game.
Possible more aggressive shift to new age power play
Teams have been using a forward on the point of the power play for ages. And the idea of playing your best players for more power play time is also nothing new. But I think the combination of these 2 things combined with a bit of a structural wrinkle has the potential to fully catapult the Carolina Hurricanes power play into the new age of NHL power plays.
Traditional hockey has 2 players at the point and 3 forwards that work down low on the power play. Sure, defensemen step into holes and make cuts to the back door, but the base structure of this has historically been a 2-3 set up. The idea of having some flex and fluidity to the positioning is also something that is not new. But the power play structure that the Hurricanes are using right now with Justin Faulk on the ice is the next step into the new age. With Teravainen and Faulk sort of at defense positions and Aho, Staal and Lindholm at forward, the structure was more like an umbrella. On a face-off Teravainen started as the second defenseman/point man, but once the Hurricanes gained possession of the puck, it really was more like an umbrella. Faulk tended to set up right in the center of the ice which is obviously a good place for him to blast shots. And then 1 of Aho and Tervainen played a traditional half wall position depending on which side of the ice the puck was on. And the other sort of became the other point man. The result was a system that saw the point man fluid depending on where the puck was. This is a subtle but significant difference from the usual interchanges where different players might find themselves at the point because of a swap of positions. The system also had more of an umbrella effect at times where positionally it actually looked more like a 3-2 than the normal 2-3.
The other twist on Friday was the leave Faulk out to play with the second unit. For most power plays, he was changing after 1:30 or 1:40 to avoid being caught at the end of a long shift when the sides evened up. It makes sense. Faulk is arguably the team’s single best power play weapon. If he can be effective playing longer power play shifts, it increases the chances to score.
On Sunday night without Faulk’s deadly shot in the lineup, the power play looked more standard, so best guess is that this is something that this system is something being considered specifically for when Faulk is on the ice with the man advantage which per my second point could be quite often.
Possible exploration of different options for a fourth center
In my ‘If I was Bill Peters…’ post recently, I suggested at least exploring options to push Jay McClement to the #13 slot and building a fourth line around someone else. My reasoning is very simply that I question whether Jay McClement among the top 12 forwards that the Hurricanes can dress. I suggested the possibility of splitting Lindholm and Teravainen. In the comments to that post, there was some objection to possibly limiting 1 of those players’ ice time. I think that concern is valid, but I think with a better fourth line perhaps ice time could be more balanced. I also just hate the idea of not icing our 12 best forwards especially if it might yield a little bit more scoring from the fourth line.
So on Sunday night, Peters skated a line of Andrej Nestrasil, Joakim Nordstrom and Bryan Bickell. This was after Jordan Staal centered a line without Nordstrom or Nestrasil. I think it is important to note that there are numerous explanations for what is going on here, and the simplest might just be that Nestrasil/JStaal/Nordstrom had enough run time last season that they do not need to have a bunch of ice time together in preseason to be ready.
But with Nordstrom seeing time at center and away from Jordan Staal, is it possible that Bill Peters is actually exploring options to add a fourth center without splitting Lindholm and Teravainen? I will be watching line combinations for Nordstrom, Nestrasil and JStaal for the Tuesday and Wednesday games to see if they yield additional clues that suggest Hurricanes coach Bill Peters is in fact tinkering to see if he can find a way to build a stronger fourth line without thinning out the top 9.
If nothing else, these 2 situations make Tuesday and Wednesday’s games worth watching.