Thus far in the 2015-16 NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes have run very hot and cold. The team has played 2 very good games (despite winning only 1 of them) and has almost completely missed on the other 3. For my daily post today, I asked if effort was truly the sole cause or if there are some system issues at play too. You can read that HERE.
Despite the mixed quality of play, the results were acceptable for the start of the annual North Carolina State Fair road. 2 points in 2 games in a back-to-back against 2 playoff teams is fine. Next up is 3 games in 4 nights out west with the kickoff in Colorado tonight.
With the late start that assures I can watch the game live after all of the kid stuff dies down, I am going to do a do a trial run of a live game thread instead of the alternative of polluting Twitter with random in-game comments. If you are inclined to yammer or listen to yammering during Canes games, please stop by and participate.
Here is what I will be watching for tonight:
1) Ability to move the puck to and through the neutral zone.
Per the post referenced above, if the Canes are successful moving the puck through the middle of the ice, they are fine. When they cannot, we see the bad version of the Canes that plays too much in their own end and either loses puck battles or immediately gives the puck up even when they do win.
Colorado is another team with size that can skate and forecheck. With enough 2015-16 game tape out there, one can bet that the Avs will try to replicate the forechecking pressure that has thrown the Canes off kilter in other games. Can Peters and his team tweak the system just a little to make the first pass shorter/easier and get the team moving with some pace to back up the defenders in the neutral zone? Or do the Canes get hemmed in and repeatedly miss on longer passes that see them immediately playing defense again or just trying to get the puck out to change players.
2) Special teams.
The Hurricanes power play continues to struggle, and the team also gave up 2 power play goals to Washington in Saturday’s loss.
3) More participants offensively.
Just like in 2014-15, the Canes have assembled a small army of players who seem capable of much more scoring-wise. Jordan Staal and Andrej Nestrasil have yet to crack the score sheet at all in 5 games. Elias Lindholm, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Terry and Victor Rask have only 1 point apiece. Jeff Skinner actually rates middle of the pack on an underwhelming Canes offense, but his 2 points in 5 games is not enough either. You could actually make a case that the Canes offense thus far has been Justin Faulk plus 1 good game from 1 line (McGinn/EStaal/Versteeg) and nothing else. It is not too far from the truth.
4) Seeking a regular difference-maker in net.
As of yesterday, Coach Bill Peters had not yet named a starter. I said in my preseason write-ups that for the Canes to improve significantly for the 2015-16 season, better goaltending would need to be part of it. Cam Ward had a very good outing in a losing effort on Saturday, but of the 5 games so far that is the only goalie start that I would really want back. Whether it is Ward trying to build on Saturday, or Lack staking a claim to more ice time, it would be great to see the goaltending lead the way through the remainder of the road trip.
The puck drops a little bit after 10pm Eastern Time. Grab some coffee if you need it and spirits just in case you need it and settle in for a week of late night Canes hockey.