The Carolina Hurricanes 2015-16 season has seen some tough nights, but the home loss to New Jersey on Thursday night easily ranks among the worst of the season. The 5-1 score was not good obviously but even more significantly the team just played horribly and seemed completely lacking for effort.
On Friday, the team skipped practice but still generated news when it recalled 3 rookies in Jaccob Slavin, Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe. If all 3 enter the lineup as expected, they will join Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin to make a roster of 25 percent rookies (5 out of 20).
With the veterans not winning games anyway, the transition to the future is happening quickly.
The future is now.
From the files of ‘no rest for the weary’ the Hurricanes and its embattled die-hard fan base catch no break from the schedule in playing the Atlantic-leading Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are a bit dinged up minus Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher, but the team still enters as the better team and expecting to win.
From a Hurricanes standpoint, here is what I will be watching:
1) Sign of a pulse and channeled frustration
Thursday was disappointing in terms of quality of play but more so because of the effort level. The team got snarly mostly AFTER the game was over with Brad Malone and Justin Faulk fighting and Eric Staal taking an aggressive but clean run at Eric Gelinas. Do the Hurricanes come out of the gate on fire? Or do they look like a meek bottom of the league team against 1 of the best?
2) Phil Di Giuseppe
Saturday’s game will see rookie regulars Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce on defense. It will also see the return of Brock McGinn at wing and Jaccob Slavin on defense who had NHL trials earlier this season. But Saturday night will be the NHL debut for Phil Di Giuseppe. In terms of skill set, Di Giuseppe has the potential to bring some offense, skill and playmaking to a lineup that desperately needs more scoring. We will not know for sure if he is in the lineup and where he slots, but with not much else working offensively, I would expect Di Giuseppe to get a decent chance and the ability to earn even more quickly with even a few glimmers of offense.
3) The lines and defense pairings with new puzzle pieces inserted
The volume of line combination changes has slowed of late, but with the reinsertion of Slavin and McGinn (if they play) and the addition of Di Giuseppe, things will obviously need to change. Best guess would be the usual on defense with Slavin taking Murphy’s slot next to Hanifin (=>Hainsey/Faulk, Liles/Pesce, Hanifin/Slavin), but Thursday’s game saw Hanifin take some shifts next to Faulk. At forward, it is not clear who comes out to make room for McGinn and Di Giuseppe and where they go.
If had 3 votes for lineup/lines, I would spend them on:
- Do NOT scratch Brad Malone. As a fourth-liner, he would be a likely choice, but after being the best player on the ice Thursday, scoring a goal, fighting and just generally looking like he really cared, it sends a HORRIBLE message to scratch him the next game.
- Give Di Giuseppe a real go. Maybe he starts in a limited role, but in the name of growing players and seeing who can do what, I would like to see him get some shifts with scoring-capable line mates.
- From the unlikely category, I still like the idea of a quick look at a Pesce/Faulk pairing. Yes, I get that both are right shots, but I think Pesce’s stay-home and predictable style could be a good fit for Faulk. Plus the Canes are on a path to having too many right side defenders, so even short trials to see who looks comfortable or not on the off side could be valuable.
4) A grabbing of the baton
The logical progression of these rebuilds is that young players get ice time and gradually take on a bigger role. At some point along the way, they assume leadership roles and begin to drive the team’s success. But truly great players often do not work to a schedule. They see opportunities and seize them without regard for schedules or even readiness. With veterans unable to build any semblance of winning hockey right now, the opportunity is there for the kids to rise up before their time, seize the wheel and start to drive the team.
It is not fair to ask players like Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin to start driving this team at this early juncture of their careers, but it is time.
The puck drops on another Hurricanes NHL debut at about 7:07pm at PNC Arena.