Comparing and contrasting the Hurricanes and Flames youth movements
Perhaps lost a little bit right now in the early season struggles is the fact that the Hurricanes lineup is increasingly being stocked with young and talented players. Not all of the young players and prospects in the Hurricanes system and lineup will ultimately work out, but Ron Francis’ steadfast approach of building from within continues to be promising for the long haul even if the volume of patience required to get there is challenging at times.
Thursday’s match up is an interesting one against another young team whose promising future is built on the back of young leaders. There both similarities and stark contrasts to how Calgary and Carolina are going about building back into the playoff mix.
* Both teams have added good young players through the draft. Calgary has Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau leading a powerful young offense.
* Both teams have also capitalized on other teams’ situations to add good but young talent via trade. The Hurricanes most recent example is Teuvo Teravainen. Calgary’s comparable was when they pried Dougie Hamilton out of Boston.
* A striking difference was logged this summer when the Hurricanes shied away from a fairly expensive trade and free agent market at the goalie position instead opting to stand pat at the position bringing back Cam Ward and keeping Eddie Lack. Calgary, on the other hand, added not 1 but 2 veteran netminders in an attempt to shore up the position. First, the Flames traded for Brian Elliott. Then the team made what I consider to be a heady move adding Chad Johnson who was an unheralded and cheap ($1.7 million for 1 year) free agent option despite the fact that he was coming off a strong 2015-16 stepping in for Robin Lehner when he was injured in Buffalo.
* Calgary’s youth features more higher-end, NHL-ready forwards whereas the Hurricanes youth leans toward the blue line.
Hurricanes trying to get on the board in 2016-17
Comparison and history lesson aside, the here and now finds the Hurricanes win-less with a 0-1-2 mark stepping into the fourth game of the 2016-17 NHL season. Three games is still early, but with the memory of a disastrous October/November 2015 aborting the 2015-16 season before it even really started, urgency is growing for the Canes to sort things out and find a win.
A win pushes the Hurricanes to a respectable .500 mark through 4 road games. A loss sees the team probably push to 3 points out of a playoff spot already and looking to game 5 to find their first W.
In addition to the results, the Canes first 3 games have been characterized by early turmoil and adversity. The team blew not 1 but 2 3-goal leads to open the season collecting only a consolation point despite easily playing well enough to win for most of the 2 hockey games. The third game was the reverse. The Hurricanes dug a hole with a 3-goal deficit and then stormed back with an impressive third period only to fall short and lose 3-2. Amidst the results is a team that is scoring but really only because of a single line with a little help from the power play. Also hiding beneath the surface is an incredibly high volume of bad mistakes at inopportune times and goaltending that just has not been good enough.
Interesting to watch will be how Coach Bill Peters balances patience with urgency. The early 2015-16 struggles saw Peters change the lines almost daily trying to coax wins and improved play out of the group. He ultimately found something that worked but not until early December when the hole was just too big.
‘What I’m watching’ versus Calgary Flames
Against that dramatic backdrop, here is what I will be watching against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.
1) Something to emerge at forward
One of the pleasant surprises early in the season has been the Hurricanes ability to score goals. The Hurricanes have 9 goals in 3 games, could easily have more and have been able to generate enough offense to win hockey games. A superficial look at the scoring totals and other statistics might suggest that the Hurricanes have figured it out in terms of forward lines. But the reality is that the Canes have 1 line that is simply lights out right now and some support from the power play – and about nothing else. Aside from Skinner, Rask and Stempniak and the power play, the Hurricanes have exactly 1 even strength goal (Staal) and an assist (Nordstrom) in total from the other 11 forwards who have seen action thus far over 3 games. Of greater concern is the fact that the Nordstrom/Staal/Nestrasil line has thus far been unable to carry its 2015-16 magic into 2016-17. Nestrasil was a healthy scratch on Tuesday, and Nordstrom might be on the way off that line.
Per comments yesterday on the radio, it sounds like Coach Bill Peters will be patient for now. In my ‘If I was Bill Peters…’ article this morning, I voted to make priority 1 building a second line around Jordan Staal and using whatever players necessary to do so.
It will be interesting to see if the morning skate or the game itself produces some line and/or position tinkering, but best guess prior to those clues is that Phil Di Giuseppe could again see time with Jordan Staal possibly with someone else stepping into Nordstrom’s slot.
For all of the skill on the line, the Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen line has been quiet at the near invisibility level. The trio has exactly 0 scoring points between them at even strength, and from watching the games it is much more a reflection of what they have produced for scoring chances than being snake bit or robbed by hot goalies.
At some point, the Hurricanes are going to need at least a second line to complement the red hot Skinner/Rask/Stempniak line.
After a reasonably strong preseason from both Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, the same shaky netminding that contributed to the October/November 2015 demise is rearing its ugly head again in 2016. In 2 starts Cam Ward has a horrible and a soft goal to his discredit to put his team in an early 1-0 hole in both of his starts, and though the sample size is small, his overall numbers and also visual evaluation both leave much to be desired. In his lone start, I thought Lack was the better of the 2. He played well, battled to get to overtime when the team in front of him fell apart in the third period and at least earned a point. I am torn on whether his battling effort and 4 goals against were a positive because the team in front of him was so bad or if the reference point for Canes goalie performances is just so low right now that 4 goals against can look good relative to the average.
Regardless, I do not think anyone is claiming the Hurricanes goaltending as a strength early in the season. Per the last part of my season preview, netminding MUST be at least average for this team to have a chance, and I do not think it has been overall through 3 games. Until we get a run of stable and solid in net, the Hurricanes goalie position is on permanent watch.
3) Heroes under adversity
Despite the fact that it is very early in the season, I think it is fair to say that the Hurricanes are facing their first bout with adversity. In these situations, there is a need for a player or a group of players to rise up and help push a team through it. In a new Canes world without Eric Staal wearing the ‘C’, who will rise to the occasion and lead the way when things get tough? Tonight would be a great time for the new leadership to show itself.
4) A cleaner game
With 3 consecutive losses and 2 bad collapses, I think one could make a strong case for many different things being the biggest problem, but definitely up for consideration is the volume and magnitude of bad mistakes that have resulted quickly and directly in a goal against. There are bad goals allowed by goalies, horrible turnovers leading directly to grade A scoring chances against and defensive zone coverage breakdowns. Collectively, I think the ‘big oopses’ as I termed them in my ha-ha fancy stats column a couple days back have been the team’s biggest Achilles’ heel. Take out even half of the horrible mistakes, and the Hurricanes could easily be 2-1 right now. People often consider this bad mistakes easy to clean up because players just know better. But they can actually be very challenging to clean up. Tactical changes like getting forwards to support the break out better/differently can be worked on in practice and solved via drilling home assignments. But “don’t make horribly stupid turnovers” is not so much a practice point or tactical change. If it was so easy just to make better decisions, teams would not ever have a problem with it.
Nonetheless, the Hurricanes desperately need to rid there game of the kind of plays that can make 5-10 minutes of really bad hockey trump 40-50 minutes of good hockey.
The last round of the current series of #CanesAfterDark starts at 9pm Eastern Time with John and Tripp on Fox Sports Carolinas.