Maybe too painfully appropriately, the short caption for my “What I’m watching” preview for the Canes opener on Thursday was “First read on readiness.” It was not good. The story and deciding factor of the game was the Canes inability to get out of the gate. It started with a Jordan Staal high sticking penalty 1 minute into the game. It was followed by Nathan Gerbe completely whiffing on a clearing attempt on a penalty kill, Ron Hainsey busting his stick trying to handle a puck and then a shot going off Hainsey and in to put the Canes down 1 real early. From there, Nashville sensed timid weakness and pushed even more aggressively. The end result was a rough first period that saw the Canes unable to win pucks and get them out of their own end for pretty much the entirety of the first period. When Nashville pushed forward with its forecheck, the Canes were unable to make adjustments or hit any kind of pass which resulted in a first period largely spent under duress, without the puck in the defensive zone. The Canes did rebound in the latter 2 periods and ultimately notched a goal, but the 2-0 first period deficit was too much.
That and the injury to James Wisniewski are the lead in to previewing Saturday’s game.
Here is “what I’m watching”:
1) “Start on time.” Detroit obviously watched tape of the Nashville loss. It was plainly obvious that the Canes were not ready to handle heavy pressure on the forecheck and proved unable to move the puck from stick to stick up the ice under duress. I will be absolutely stunned if Detroit does not dial up the forecheck intensity early to test the Canes ability to summon poise and move the puck. Detroit will try to repeat Thursday’s story. Can the Canes muster some combination of poise and system adjustments?
2) The new blue line. Only 1 game into the season, a Canes team light on NHL experience on the back end will need to reach deeper into the depth chart. With James Wisniewski out, it is expected that Michal Jordan will draw into the lineup. The Canes now have Ryan Murphy (90 NHL games), Michal Jordan (43 NHL games) and Noah Hanifin (1 NHL game) as half of the blue line. The kids will need to grow up real fast.
My biggest focus will be on Ryan Murphy. He had a real rough start on Thursday with a bad turnover for a breakaway against and a couple other smaller cough ups and lost puck battles when the team was struggling early. When the Canes got desperate, he did fire a bunch of rubber at the net but did not find a goal or an assist in the process.
3) Who steps up? We are only 1 game into the NHL season, so it is not time to completely panic. But after a rough 2014-15 season that was buried early by an 0-6-2 start, this is not the same as a team like the Blackhawks or Ducks losing a game or 2 early. The point at which the pressure mounts to get a first win starts fairly early for this team – as early as tonight. When that is the case, you look for team leaders to step up. Can Jeff Skinner find some of the magic that he had in preseason and get on the score sheet? Can Eric Staal put the team on his back? Can Justin Faulk at least make sure 1 set of D gets the puck up the ice to keep the ice from tilting so drastically early in the game? Is it Elias Lindholm’s time? Etc. Especially against a Detroit team that will bring so leaders/starts of its own, the Canes top players must rise up.
4) Who goes where? We saw another shuffling of the line combinations only 2 periods into the regular season. Last week, I wrote ad nauseum about the challenges of building lines from the Canes current forwards. Things look different for the start of Saturday’s game, but I am not sure it is worth getting too bogged down in who starts with whom because it is subject to change real quickly if it does not work.
I am actually away for the weekend (no scheduling of my own obviously). A placeholder will be posted for a game recap and anyone who wants to comment, but I will not watch/recap the game until sometime on Sunday.
Here is hoping that the home opener rewards Canes fans who had to wait through a long summer for more Canes hockey.