Here is a quick rundown of what I will be watching (errr…I guess listening) for in the Canes 3:30pm game against the Ottawa Senators.
1) Follow up from Skinner/Nash/Versteeg. Led by Jeff Skinner’s 2 goals (plus another in the exhibition 3-on-3 overtime) that line was easily the Canes best. I have officially entered the ‘beating a dead horse’ range with clamoring for Peters to find a playmaker to pair with Jeff Skinner (and Eric Staal too for that matter) to help get both players more good looks at the net. I continue to think that a significant part of each’s 2014-15 scoring woes was because they had to do too much themselves. So Versteeg conceptually fits the bill for a Skinner line, and if you are going to get the playmaking from wing (which is maybe only option because Canes really do not have playmaking centers except Ryan who is still trying to play his way into the lineup), I think a center who can skate and drive the middle lane might actually be perfect. If Nash gets himself up the ice on the front part of the play on the rush, he pushes the defenders back and leaves a ton of open ice behind him which is exactly what Skinner needs. From there it is just a matter of getting possession of the puck and Skinner working hard without the puck (which he did on Saturday).
=>But all of this excitement is generated from a single hockey game, and we know how that can be sometimes. It would be great to see this line follow up Saturday with a solid effort Sunday. They do not need to score 2-3 more goals, but signs of chemistry and a decent volume of shots/scoring chances would suggest that this line could be a go longer-term.
2) Try out day at forward. Today’s game sees an interesting line of the 3 purest skill players trying to play their way onto the roster in Phil Di Giuseppe/Derek Ryan/Sergey Tolchinsky. That could actually be a top scoring line and/or power play group in Charlotte, but right now these players are focused on doing enough not to go to Charlotte. I am on record as saying that I would like to see Ryan get some ice time with skill/scoring type NHLers. From today’s lineup some shift with Chris Terry might fit the bill. Brock McGinn also draws into the lineup next to checking line leader Jay McClement. I actually think that is a very good audition place for him. He would ideally want to play his way up into a higher role, but a smaller role where he can focus on getting his havoc-wreaking game dialed up to NHL speed might be a good entry point for him.
=> This set of 4 players combined with Brody Sutter, Brendan Woods and Joakim Nordstrom who played yesterday are the forwards in the cross hairs for the next cuts which could happen as early as Monday, so today is an important game for this group.
3) Try out day on defense. There is a pretty good debate to be had from yesterday’s game about whether the biggest story was Jeff Skinner’s goal scoring outburst of the play of the Noah Hanifin/Ryan Murphy pairing. I give the nod to the latter by a small margin simply because it was a bit more out of the blue. On the other hand, Haydn Fleury was victimized a couple times and seemed to play more in the category of a good young player still trying to play his way up to the NHL level. So going into today, I think that could put Hanifin and Murphy into the NHL group but very much in a pencil with eraser ready kind of way. Today Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Trevor Carrick get the chance to claim that that they too belong in the group to be considered for an NHL roster spot in October.
=>Do any of Slavin, Pesce or Carrick look NHL ready today? If not, now about midway through training camp, we might be seeing the beginning of the split for NHL and AHL on the blue line.
4) Ryan Murphy follow up. He had a real rough outing in his first preseason start, but he rebounded and erased that effort with his play alongside Noah Hanifin on Saturday. Very likely based on Peters’ recognition last year that Murphy was historically a slow starter, Murphy is the only defenseman who played Saturday and will also play today. It would be great to see him put up another solid effort and make his struggles in the first game look much more like early season rust and less like inconsistency early.
=>He does not need to be spectacular, just sound and solid, to further his claim for 1 of the open roster spots on the blue line.
5) Cam Ward rebound. He gave up a whopping 6 goals in 2 periods of work in his first start. Per Chuck Kaiton and Mike Maniscalco on the radio broadcast and post-game, there were probably 3 that he might want back to go with 3 due largely to a rough night for the team defense against the Pens elite forwards. Regardless of specifics, it was not a good outing.
=>There is still about 10 days and probably 1 more preseason start before the regular season arrives, but ideal would be for Ward to get on course today with a better outing.
We also get to see (hear) Gerbe/JStaal/Nestrasil play together in game action for the first time in training camp since being put together for Wednesday’s practice. To be honest, I do not like this line. If you asked me what each of the 3 players could bring to a line in terms of scoring, for all 3 I think I would say the ability to crash the net and score in close if given the chance. But I think the line lacks any playmaking or trigger men to actually get the puck to there. Maybe I am off base. Maybe they play a strong cycling game and the shots come from the defensemen on the point. That is the fun of line combinations this time of year. It is fun to try to guess what will/will not work, but thinks often turn out different from what one might expect.
Puck drops at 3:30pm ET, and unless I am missing something your live coverage option is Chuck Kaiton streaming on 99.9 FM.