After a trio of injuries on Saturday and a wild trade deadline Monday, the Hurricanes will start the last quarter of the 2019-20 season with a lineup featuring five new players counting Ryan Dzingel coming back in from being a healthy scratch. That does not even count Sami Vatanen who was also acquired but is out injured.
If you were away from Canes hockey for the past couple days and missed the wild flurry of activity, you can find articles on the three players acquired via trade (Vincent Trocheck, Brady, Skjei and Sami Vatanen) HERE. And today’s Daily Cup of Joe offered watch points for both of the goalies (Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg) HERE. With 21 games to and the Hurricanes sitting right at the playoff cut line, the team’s ability to assimilate new personnel, find some rhythm and chart a positive course forward could determine the team’s playoff fate.
Obviously there is a ton to watch and consider on the Hurricanes side with new players, goalies, key players out of the lineup and all of the combinations that go with that. But the game is also an interesting measuring stick in terms of opponent. On the last road trip in Dallas, the Hurricanes were completely stymied by a stingy Dallas defense to the tune of a 4-1 loss that was at least as lopsided as the score indicated. The game represents a chance to see if the Hurricanes offense can push through against a strong defensive team and at the same time if the Canes can be tight enough defensively to hang with a team like this in a game that likely will not offer much margin for error.
My watch points follow.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Dallas Stars
1) The (new) goalie(s) Alex Nedeljkovic
Best bet is that Alex Nedeljkovic makes his 201-20 NHL debut. He has one and a half games to his credit as an NHLer, but has not seen NHL ice this season. He enters the game with momentum from playing well at the AHL level. This is his chance to stake a claim to an NHL role for 2020-21 if not sooner.
My more detailed watch points are in the article linked to above, but at a basic level, it is two things with Nedeljkovic.
1) Can he be quiet enough to be sound but with the right amount of aggressive and agile? He very much reminds me of Mrazek who is also a somewhat smaller goalie. The good version of Nedeljkovic reads plays well and knows when he can/cannot challenge shots and uses some athleticism to cover more net than his size. The bad version of Nedeljkovic is incredibly noisy in terms of movement which just leaves too many holes for NHL scorers to pick at.
2) Can he find the right balance between fired up and focused yet calm? The key to #1 at least in his first start or two could be finding enough calm to just do what he does well instead of trying to do too much.
Nedeljkovic has a tremendous pedigree that suggests he has what it takes to play at the NHL level. Now he gets a chance to claim that role.
2) Vincent Trochek and the third line
Vincent Trocheck in for Erik Haula makes for a new look on the third line. The third line of Necas/Haula/Dzingel was a positive early in the 2019-20 season, but recently Haula and Dzingel had been flailing a bit trying to find their game. Trocheck adds a hard-charging center who pushes pace, plays aggressively and maybe most importantly bring a playmaking element. When I look at scoring totals for the Hurricanes through 61 games, two players who jump ot as having more to give are Ryan Dzingel and Nino Niederreiter. Trocheck himself adds value, but I think the Holy Grail from his acquisition if if he can spark Niederreiter or Dzingel in addition to boosting Necas. In such a scenario, the Hurricanes get an offensive multiplier effect and become much stronger offensively. One game will not decide that completely obviously, but I will be watching to see if there are signs of a spark.
3) Brady Skjei
With Brett Pesce out of the lineup, Brady Skjei comes aboard and steps right into a key role for a team that is suddenly missing two of its three bona fide top 4 defenseman. I will be watching see who Skjei pairs with, what chemistry he seems to have and just in general if he can be a steadying presence on a blue line that is in the process of being rebuild.
4) The carryover
Saturday’s win was one for both the history books and the story books. Somewhat buried beneath the story book part was the incredible effort that the Canes put forward in the second half of the game. For a team that has in my opinion struggled to find the level of depth in terms of determination as the 2018-19 team did in the second half, could Saturday’ win be a stake in the sand and start of a path upward? Out of all of the things swirling around today, that might be the most significant thing to try to watch for.
5) The leaders
While much of the attention will be on the newcomers, the engine that drives the Canes train is still the top players who are the core of the team. The top line has been phenomenal of late. Jaccob Slavin seems destined to try to push up against 30 minutes of ice time in close games. And this is normally the time of year when Jordan Staal is strongest and at his best. In addition to watching the newcomers, now is the time for the team’s top players to lead the way which makes that an every game watch point this time of year.
6) DAVID AYRES!
As an added bonus, Canes goalie legend David Ayres will be in the house after a legendary performance on Saturday and two days of a barnstorming media tour.
One of my absolute favorite things out our Carolina Hurricanes community with the team leading the way is that each and every time we are given a chance to just have a ton of fun, we seize it every single time…Hockey stodginess be damned!
The puck drops at 7:07pm, but you want to be there a bit early just to make sure you do not miss any of the fun around David Ayres’ visit.