After a day to digest Tuesday’s 4-3 double overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, I come away with both positive and negatives heading into game two.
On the positive side, the Hurricanes did not play their best game and had to deal with some officiating adversity and yet were within an overtime bounce of stealing a win.
But on the negative side of the ledger, I really did not like how the match up played out or how my watch points for the series measured up in the first game.
At a very basic level, my darkest fear is that the Bruins are the worst possible match up for the Canes. This is not because they are a tremendous team, which they are, but rather because one of their greatest strengths is basically the kryptonite for the Canes greastest weapon — their forecheck. Even pretty good teams can struggle against the Canes forecheck if their back end is not skilled at moving the puck and/or if their forwards/system do not get how to support the puck coming out of the defensive zone. This is a strength for the Bruins. The team’s blue line is balanced and with decent or better ability to move the puck. Maybe more significantly, the Bruins as well as any team in the NHL have forwards and a system that know how to support the puck and not leave defensemen on an island. The result too often is that the Bruins can beat the first layer of the Canes forecheck often even before it is triggered. And if you can quickly beat the aggressive first two in, behind that is a 3-on-2 or 3-on-3 with plenty of room through the middle of the rink such that the Canes defensemen have to back up and defend skating backwards.
That theme featured prominently in my series preview and will continue to be a theme in my watch points. Ideal would be finding a higher gear or Bruins’ weakness. But after seeing this story repeat enough, I fear that the Canes will instead need to find a way to generate more offensive without the forecheck being the ignition. That is definitely possibly but not the formula that has been integral to the Canes success.
Another concern from Tuesday was the ‘best against best’. In that regard, the game was eerily similar to the four-game sweep last year. Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov were not particularly effective and did not play a big role generating offense. Meanwhile, Marchand/Bergeron/Pastrnak was the best line on the ice.
Another wild card is each team’s level of play. After sleepwalking through the round robin, the Bruins did seem to find a higher gear on Tuesday. On the other hand, the Hurricanes after generally playing well against the Rangers did not put forward a great effort on Tuesday. The game looked a bit like the exhibition game against the Capitals maybe because of the full week layoff. Is it possible that the Canes just need to get back into the swing of things? Is it possible that the Bruins are still destined to be inconsistent?
With a lot of different considerations coming out of game one, my watch points for game two follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Boston Bruins
1) The forecheck…or otherwise plan B for offense
As noted above, the Hurricanes forecheck was largely ineffective in Tuesday’s game. I would not call this surprising since the same has generally been true against the Bruins both in the 2019 playoffs and otherwise. Can the Hurricanes forecheck make adjustments? If not, are the Hurricanes capable of finding another source of offense? (On Tuesday they mostly were not with nine shots and minimal chances through two periods.)
2) Best against best
After outplaying Panarin, Zibanejad and the Rangers top players by a wide margin in a tremendous qualification round series, the Hurricanes top line fell flat on Tuesday. As noted above, the Bruins’ best were significantly better. Can the Canes young group find a higher gear against a defense that is pretty stingy?
3) Cleaning up the blue line
Per my notes from game one, the Hurricanes blue line was very much a mixed bag. I thought the bottom pairing of Haydn Fleury and Jake Gardiner was good (though Gardiner’s minutes were limited as the game wore on). But I thought Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei had sub-par games, and that featured fairly heavily in the result. The Canes could see Sami Vatanen return, but since he likely slots into the third pairing, that does not really address Tuesday’s problem. The Canes top 4 needs to be better.
4) More sources of offense
Yes, the Canes top line needs to be better. But the team also needs to find more offensive production. The fourth line has been reasonably successful offensively especially given their role, but now through four games, the team is still waiting for the middle of the forward group to produce. Both Staal’s and Trocheck’s lines have been light on scoring. Dougie Hamilton is another potentially positive wild card. I thought he was a good version of quiet in his first game after a long layoff, but he was not a factor offensively. One way or another, the Canes need to find more sources of offense.
I would expect Reimer to start this game not at all because of Mrazek’s play but because it makes sense given Brind’Amour’s approach so far. Reimer played incredibly well in his last start, and this game is the second half of a back-to-back. The book says to give Reimer his normal turn.
Couple questions for those who check in…
1) Do you think I am making too much of forecheck match up/Bruins kryptonite fear?
2) What 1-2 things do you think the Hurricanes need to do better to win game 2?