Tuesday featured a road match of a young Canes group that was light on pure NHL talent playing the core of a Stanley Cup contender. But proving that the game is won on the ice, the Hurricanes group, led by the forwards, pushed pace and played an aggressive, skating brand of hockey that tilted the ice into the Tampa Bay end and resulted in a 4-1 Hurricanes win.
If you missed it late last night, you can find my recap for that game HERE.
Preseason action continues tonight with a rematch in Raleigh. As one would expect, Wednesday will feature more of an NHL lineup for the Hurricanes and less of an NHL lineup for the Lightning.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Tampa Bay Lightning
1) Continuation of pace and pressure
For me, the story of the game Tuesday was the strong forward play that dictated play, tilted the ice into the offensive zone and minimized pressure on the defense and goalies to stop the Lightning scoring stars.
I closed with this for my game recap yesterday:
7) The burning question
The forward play was impressive. They generally played a simple and aggressive game pursuing the puck in all three zones. At least theoretically, the pace and aggressiveness (and hopefully the success in Tuesday’s game) could potentially be the first part of what we call “Brind’Amour hockey”. But to be honest, I think the Caniac Nation, myself included, is so desperate for signs of a positive trajectory that 60 minutes of hockey in game 1 of the preseason could be taken for more than it really is.
As I said on Twitter after the game, the forward group on Tuesday was largely comprised of young prospects eager to make an impression and a sprinkling of depth ‘energy’ type forwards including Brock McGinn, Jordan Martinook and Phil Di Giuseppe whose strength is playing this brand of hockey.
So the burning question is whether a lineup of players on Wednesday who mostly already has jobs and whose strength is more so skill can repeat Tuesday.
So with the Canes icing a lineup with more players who already have jobs and maybe lean more toward skill, can they match the aggressive, skating style of play from Tuesday? Or somewhat like the Lightning stars on Tuesday, do the Hurricanes regulars look only moderately interested in an early tune up game? Continuation would be a good early sign that the team’s mentality is changing rapidly.
2) The other Finns
Wednesday’s game at least as projected right now will feature Janne Kuokkanen on a line with Jordan Staal and Justin Williams. Obviously, Staal and Williams will be in the opening day lineup if healthy, so this represents a chance for Kuokkanen to show he meshes with Staal and to some degree Williams. I noted Kuokkanen as a player to watch earlier this week, and also had him as a player that I was higher on than the consensus a short while ago. In terms of skill set and style of play, Kuokkanen is a good fit for Staal’s line and its heavy defensive responsibilities. Kuokkanen is a heady player who rates high for read/react ability and decision-making. He could also be a plus for adding a bit more offensive ability and playmaking to a line that if constructed without Aho and Teravainen as I expect will need to find a way to score at a modest clip.
Saku Maenalanen is another player that I included in my six players to watch earlier this week. The Finnish free agent signee figures to be a bit more mature than some of the younger players. My thinking is that the team will have a slight preference to awarding forward slots to some of the young players with theoretically higher offensive ceilings, but Maenalanen could change that leaning in two ways. First, if Maenalanen looks capable of providing good depth scoring at the NHL level, he starts to look more like what the team wants for these depth slots. Second, if either the youth just do not look ready or Maenalanen looks significantly better in preseason, he quickly bridges whatever small gap there might be on the depth chart and is considered.
The lineup also features Warren Foegele who also figures to be a rookie in the mix for a roster spot come October.
3) A first look at the new blue line
The game also represents the first chance to look at the new blue line. All five (UPDATED: Pesce seems to be on the roster but not in the lineup.) of the defensemen likely in the mix for top 4 roles will be in the lineup, so the game offers a first chance for Brind’Amour to start to figure out where the chemistry lies/does not lie in trying to find two defense pairings that are 1+1=3. I will be watching closely to see who plays with whom as the game rolls on and how they look together.
The trudge through another long offseason is over! Tonight at 7pm, Hurricanes hockey returns to PNC Arena!