Had you told me before the season started that the Hurricanes would score 7 goals in their first 2 games, I would have been thrilled. Had you told me that they would collect 2 points through those 2 games I would have been reasonably happy. Those accomplishments are still positives, but they are also overshadowed by the fact that the team blew 3-goal leads in both games and then lost in overtime. The feeling is more that of losing 2 points than winning 2 points.
For today’s daily post I detailed the breakdowns that led to 9 goals against in only 2 games despite controlling play for much of 4 periods of hockey.
On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes will make make their first appearance in the brand new Rogers Place and take on the Edmonton Oilers who are 2-1 so far this season. The game also represents the Hurricanes first against rising young star Connor McDavid after McDavid missed both meetings in 2015-16 due to injuries. And if previous games this season are any indication, Tuesday’s game could be a wild one. The Oilers have scored 14 goals in 3 games but also allowed 13. The Hurricanes have allowed 9 and scored 7 in 2 games. Simple math would suggest that this game is destined to be a 6-5 affair.
‘What I’m watching’
Aside from the possible fireworks of 2 young teams who seem capable of scoring but not necessarily stopping the opponent from scoring, here is what I will be watching for Tuesday night’s game in Edmonton:
1) Performance under pressure/what they do with a lead
Some discussions are chalking up the Canes’ struggles to youth. Per my post this morning, I do not see that as being the case. The vast majority of the ‘oopses’ as I called them were from veteran players. Discussion of the Canes’ breakdowns also seem to be just the team taking its foot off the pedal once it builds a lead. While there might be an element of that, I think a key component is that the Hurricanes have been unable to match intensity and respond to desperation level pressure. Once an opponent pins its ears back, takes some additional risks and gets more players deeper on the forecheck to try to jump passing lanes, the Hurricanes have been unable to handle it. With 2 games of video showing the Canes being eaten alive, I think it is just a matter of time until opponents try to exploit the current weakness and attack aggressively right out of the gate.
On Tuesday night, I will be watching closely to see how much the Oilers dial up the pressure at the start of the game and how well the Hurricanes respond. And if the Hurricanes again build a lead, it will only make me more anxious to see what the team does with it.
The top pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk has been right at the center of the 2 collapses. Justin Faulk in particular has played a measurable part in many of the miscues that opened the door for seemingly defeated opponents. In part 2 of my season preview, I said that a “sound and stable core” was imperative for the key veteran parts of the roster to be sound at least defensively and to provide something for Coach Bill Peters to lean on while the rest of the lineup took shape. Thus far, the top defense pairing of Slavin and Faulk has made some plays but has also looked disjointed at times both in terms of coverage in its own end and also in terms of moving the puck out of the defensive zone when pressured.
They need to be better defensively and soon are therefore a key item to watch on Tuesday and going forward.
3) The reinforcements
Michael Smith who is the Hurricanes web producer who is traveling with the team noted on Twitter today that Tuesday’s lineup would likely feature a 2016-17 debut for Phil Di Giuseppe and also Hurricanes debuts for Jakub Nakladal and Martin Frk. I would expect Nakladal to step into Dahlbeck’s spot on the third defense pairing, but it is less clearly who Di Giuseppe and Frk will replace and what other line shuffling will result because of it.
Usually when a team is struggling, the hope is that new players can provide a spark. For the Hurricanes, I am not sure it is so much that they need a spark as they need help solidifying things. I am on record as liking the power forward element that Di Giuseppe can bring to the lineup as a player with more of a power forward style of play but still with the skill that made him a second round draft pick. I am less familiar with newcomer Martin Frk, but the report on him is that he has an NHL shot and finishing ability.
More scoring is always appreciated, but even better would be if some of the new players somehow provided the glue needed to help stabilize things and help the team hold it together when pressured.
I would be shocked if Peters does anything with the Skinner/Rask/Stempniak line that has found instant chemistry and been firing on all cylinders offensively, but Jordan Staal’s second line could definitely be in the cross hairs. Both Nordstrom and Nestrasil have been lackluster through 2 games with Nordstrom especially collecting too many small mistakes, lost battles, penalties and other negatives. My early impression of the Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen line at even strength is that this line could also use a different element that perhaps Di Giuseppe could bring as a physical forechecker and someone to drive the net, push back defenders, make space behind him and also create chaos around the crease. It will be interesting to see what Peters does and definitely one of the things to watch on Tuesday night.
4) Who and what in net
I was hard on Cam Ward after the Canes loss in the opener and actually liked Lack’s play in the second game despite him giving up 4 goals and losing in overtime just like Ward. For me, there were a few differences. First, Cam Ward let in 1 absolutely horrible goal. I think Lack would also like back the first goal that he allowed, but it was not in the same category of bad as Ward having a puck shot off him and in from behind the end line. Lack also faced more shots, and in my opinion a higher volume of quality chances both early in the game when he held the Canes at 0-0 despite a slow start and then again in the third period when they were under siege. But opinions on the first 2 outings aside, the level of play from whoever mans the net for the Hurricanes will continue to be a watch point until there is some indication that at least 1 of the goalies can get his feet under him and avoid the slow start in net that was a big factor in the Hurricanes slow start last season.
The puck drop is another late 9pm Eastern Time start on Fox Sports with John and Tripp and another #CanesAfterDark event on Twitter.