For those looking for more Canes reading to fill time before the late 10pm start, check out today’s Sunday Canes Chronicle which features articles from other web sites on Jeff Skinner, continued positives on the Hurricanes youth movement and analysis of the season opener.
The Carolina Hurricanes enter their second game of the 2016-17 NHL season with a respectable 0-0-1 record. Winning is obviously better but collecting a point in the standings in a road game is rarely a bad thing. Unfortunately, the Canes overtime loss comes with adversity and a level of disappointment by virtue of blowing a 4-1 third period lead to limp into overtime and then lose.
But there were many positives in the game. I would not say that the penalty kill was dominant, but with a little help from the goal posts, the penalty kill did not allow a goal on nearly a full minutes with a 2-man disadvantage and generally had a strong night despite allowing 1 goal. Entering the season, one of the biggest question marks was the Hurricanes ability to score more goals. The team responded with 4 which is an encouraging sign. And the line of Skinner/Rask/Stempniak showed chemistry and looked very capable of being a top scoring line.
‘What I’m watching’
The combination of game 1 successes and struggles makes up much of ‘what I’m watching’ for game 2 in Vancouver on Sunday night:
1) Eddie Lack
People can break down the individual goals allowed by Cam Ward on Thursday. While it is true that the team fell apart in front of him and also some of the goals were not his fault, 5 goals on 26 shots just does not cut it at the NHL level especially when considering the overall volume and quality of chances that Ward faced.
Not surprisingly, Eddie Lack is expected to start on Sunday. Lack is arguably 1 of the team’s biggest wild cards from the returning players. He had a horrendous start in a Hurricanes uniform in 2015-16. He did eventually get his feet under him but never really found a rhythm and a long-term role as a starter. Part of the story behind the scenes was Lack trying to make adjustments to his style of play. As probably a below average skater for an NHL goalie and playing in a way that was new and uncomfortable to him, Lack looked like a fish out of water wandering around out of the crease. His game seemed to improve some when Lack seemed to revert back to his old style of play.
With a summer off to reset mentally and train and a fresh start, is it possible that Eddie Lack can be the 1A/1B goalie or even #1 goalie that Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis envisioned when he traded for Lack and then extended him for 2 years before he even stepped on the ice for the Hurricanes. Lack had a strong preseason. Tonight’s game represents the first look at the 2016-17 version of Eddie Lack.
2) Better attention to detail
After playing a solid hockey game for 2+ periods, the collapse in the third period was swift and massive. It started with a horrible Jeff Skinner turnover that saw him lay a soft and partially blind backhand across his own blue line while on the power play and right in the path of Blake Wheeler who accepted the gift and beat Cam Ward through the wickets to pull the Jets to within 4-2 and resuscitate a team that was dead prior to that play. The tying goal featured Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk generally in the right place but a step behind in terms of sorting things out such that a quick pass to the front of the net led to an uncontested tap in goal. Along the way, the Hurricanes looked disjointed down the stretch and spent much of the third period running around in their own end. The game ended when the Jets found themselves with a 2-on-1 when the puck transitioned in overtime. When Noah Hanifin failed to take away the passing lane, the Jets filled the open part of the net with a final goal to push to an improbable 5-4 win.
I think there are a couple significant things to note about the Hurricanes struggles in the third period. First is that I do not think it is accurate to chalk it up to the young roster. The vast majority of the biggest ‘oopses’ down the stretch featured veterans who should be the solid part of the roster. Second is that this trend is a carry over from preseason. The Hurricanes were outscored by a wide margin in a couple preseason collapses. Many write this off to it simply being preseason and also the fact that the third period saw a changeover to an AHL goalie in the third period. After Thursday’s loss, the situation is now something to watch more closely.
3) Continuation from Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask and Lee Stempniak
The Canes new first scoring line as I call it was absolutely phenomenal on Thursday before doing its fair share in the Hurricanes late collapse with horrible offensive zone turnovers by both Jeff Skinner and Lee Stempniak down the stretch. But at even strength the trio had a goal on a nice Stempniak feed to Skinner alone in front of the net, was a going concern shift in and shift out and easily could have had another goal or 2. Rask and Stempniak also chipped in goals on the power play. Aside from cleaning up the mistakes, Thursday was everything that could be hoped for and more in the first regular season game for this line.
4) Greater engagement from Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Teuvo Teravainen
Sebastian Aho showed flashes of his offensive smarts and creativity when able to slow things down a bit on the power play and Elias Lindholm had a reasonably sound even if not spectacular game. But in their first regular season game together, the new trio was incredibly quiet, mustered very little for scoring chances and at a more basic level was just too quiet. In some Twitter banter on Friday afternoon, I suggested that a different skill set that Phil Di Giuseppe might bring as an aggressive forechecker might be an interesting element to try on this line at some point. But that said, I think the short-term path is NOT to shake things up but rather to show patience. This line is young and very limited in terms of run time to build chemistry, so despite not being impressed with it in Thursday’s opener, I would give it more time.
5) Jakub Nakladal
Sunday will also see newcomer Jakub Nakladal join the team and hope right into the lineup likely to play next to Noah Hanifin on the third defense pairing. As a right shot, he seems more likely to fit next to Hanifin but a significant part of that is not just which way someone shoots but rather cohesion, chemistry and style of play. The first look at Hanifin/Nakladal is on the watch list for Sunday.
Get the coffee ready. The puck drops at 10pm Eastern Time on Fox Sports Network.