After a rough start to the 2015-16 season, Friday night’s win in Detroit offered just the ‘feel good’ that Canes fans needed. Brock McGinn playing in his first NHL game, scoring on his first shift and notching a goal and an assist while helping jump start the Canes top line has the potential to be 1 of those games we look back on many years from now. Eric Staal had a HUGE game. And the Canes generally took the lumber to a pretty good NHL team. What’s not to like?
The weekend-heavy NHL schedule sees the Canes right back on the ice Saturday night in Washington, D.C. Back-to-backs are always challenging, but with momentum gained on Friday this is a decent time to take one. The Capitals present a tough challenge as an expected playoff team, trendy Cup winner prediction and high-powered offense.
But at this time of year and after rebounding from an 0-3 start to earn a win, the key is to focus internally on playing the right way and finding a consistent formula for winning. And despite the win on Friday, I think that is still a work in process.
With that, here is my “what I’m watching” style preview for Saturday night:
1) Continuation for McGinn/EStaal/Versteeg.
This line was flat out phenomenal on Friday night. Most of the group was on the ice for 4 of the Canes 5 goals (all except the fourth line goal by Terry). In the long run, the team needs to get more things clicking, but there is nothing wrong with riding a red hot line to pick up a couple wins and get into the 2015-16.
2) More participants – the skaters.
While the Canes did get a solid effort and all-around play from pretty much the entire lineup on Friday, the surge by the first line was the only difference between winning and possibly having another game where the team deserved better but did not finish enough to get it. What happens Friday if Eric Staal’s line finishes with 2 goals (still a good game)?
I actually really like the Gerbe/JStaal/Nestrasil line for its potential to create offensive minus pure playmaking. With a limited amount of pure playmakers, this is key to balancing the offense. The formula I think is to be strong on the forecheck which makes them difficult to play against and can also generate some scoring chances. The other part is playing a puck possession/cycling game, getting the puck to the point and then crashing the net. They actually played a decent brand of this on Friday but did not scratch the score board.
Skinner/Rask/Lindholm had its moments, and Skinner did find the puck on his stick a couple times in scoring areas, so perhaps it is just a matter of getting Skinner on the board and going.
Regardless, Saturday I will be watching to see if the Canes can get a bit more going offensively.
3) More participants – in net.
Friday was actually a bit disappointing in net too. When Detroit pushed back with the Canes up 3-0, Ward did not have an answer. We can critique the defensive breakdowns that contributed to those goals. We can debate if/how much of a chance Ward had on a couple shots.
But playing goalie in the NHL is not just about making the easy saves. There are probably 150 goalies in the world who could do that. It is about rising a level above to make some great saves, especially timely ones. Watching Lundqvist/Price duke it out earlier this week in a phenomenal game painted a clear picture of what elite looks like. Sure they stopped the ones they should have, but through some combination of reading plays early, reflexes and sometimes outright magic, they seemed to stop everything else too. The Canes need Ward and/or Lack to “stop everything else too” sometimes to be successful.
Back to yesterday’s game, more so than Ward or even the Canes play, it might have been the horn at the end of the second period that saved the Canes who were struggling to hold on. With time to regroup and a fresh start in the third period, the Canes skaters dominated so much that Ward was really never called on to stand up. He saw only 1-2 shots in the first big chunk of the third period before the Canes extended the lead, and then they extended it again on the way to having him face only 4 shots in the third period. Would Ward have stepped up in the third period if asked? We will never know. But what we do know is that great goaltending will need to be an ingredient if the Canes are to win more regularly.
Word from Michael Smith with the team is that Ward will get the start tonight. Despite winning yesterday, he needs to be better especially at key times.
On the road with Washington dictating match ups, my hunch is that the Caps will look to get their fire power on the ice against this second pairing and away from Faulk as much as possible. This puts Liles/Jordan directly in the cross hairs of Alexander Ovechkin and some pretty good NHL fire power. The Canes second pairing will need to have a good game for the team to be successful.
The puck drops a little bit after 7pm on Fox Southeast again (same as yesterday), so check your listings if you do not have that already teed up from yesterday.