If it is announced this afternoon that Brett Pesce will be making his NHL debut, this entire post will be edited to simply “BRETT PESCE!”, so read the other details while you can. 🙂
On Wednesday in Colorado, the Carolina Hurricanes started the second leg of a 3-part, 7-game North Carolina State Fair road trip. The first leg last weekend finished up a respectable 1-1, and Wednesday’s win against the Avalanche started the 3-game West Coast swing favorably. But hidden behind the result that rewarded Canes fans for staying up late was much less than stellar hockey. The Canes struggled mightily to generate offense, again failed on the power play and spent the early part of the game taking and somehow surviving penalties. The strong play of Cam Ward was enough to get to overtime and a single great scoring play by Victor Rask was enough to gain a 1-0 win.
But other than Ward’s goaltending I am not sure there is much the team would carry forward trying to build a repeatable model for winning. It is against that backdrop that the Canes take to the ice with a dual goal of ‘just win again somehow, some way’ and ‘try to find a higher level of play to make it sustainable.’
Here is what I will be watching late Friday night when the Canes take to the ice in Los Angeles:
1) How Canes handle forecheck and neutral zone pressure.
There is plenty of tape out there that shows the Canes struggling to move the puck from their own end when you pressure the puck with 1 and have the other 4 push up a bit aggressively to clog the neutral zone and make first passes hard to find. The Kings are built for exactly for this kind of game and resemble Florida a bit in terms of having big bodies who skate well and can win board battles, forecheck, bang bodies and hem you in. I think the simplest adjustment that does not require revamping the entire system on the fly is to make sure the low forward (usually the center) focuses on becoming a short, quick passing outlet instead of fleeing the zone and forcing the defensemen to consider longer passes that just have not been connecting. In the spotlight if he is in the lineup is Michal Jordan who continues to struggle especially handling the puck playing on his off side on the second pairing.
2) Cam Ward.
I have not seen an official goalie announcement, but I would figure Ward pushes forward after his strong outing on Wednesday and that Lack possibly gets consideration for the normal backup start in the second half of a back-to-back on Saturday. Ward has been very good in 2 consecutive games which starts to sound like a groove, run or whatever you want to call it. The Canes could desperately use a hot goalie to help them collect points on the road while they try to get everything else firing on all cylinders. Here is hoping that Ward can extend his run of solid play.
3) Michal Jordan? or is it Brett Pesce?
Michal Jordan had a real rough outing on Wednesday despite the Canes win. Now 5 games into trying to fill Wisniewski’s skates on the second defense pairing next to John-Michael Liles, he just does not look like the answer. I said during Wednesday’s game that this could be the game that forces Ron Francis’ hand on that defense slot. The questions are many.
- Can Jordan settle down and stick in that role?
- Does it make sense to flip flop Jordan and Liles to see if Liles is okay on the off side and putting Jordan where he is comfortable makes a big difference?
- Or is Brett Pesce the answer? (If you somehow missed it, you can read my ‘try Brett Pesce’ enthusiasm HERE.)
Regardless, the second pair right now is not good enough, so something needs to give.
4) Some semblance of offense.
Wednesday was arguably a new low for an offense that had already been struggling (except versus Detroit for whatever reason). I have written a bunch about trying to build forward lines around a top priority of getting Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal going. The most recent edition is HERE.
Regardless of the how, the Canes desperately need to find some combination of cohesion and production on offense and the power play. Wednesday’s recipe of relying on the goalie to steal a game is great when it happens but not a path to consistent winning in the NHL.
The puck drops at about 10:30pm with John and Tripp. At least this (and the next) late night edition of Canes hockey is on the weekend.