After a brief 2-game stint at home following the long season-opening road trip, the Hurricanes are right back on the road for the next 2 games.
First up is a visit to Ottawa. If I could pick 1 team and 1 goalie not to face right now, it would be Ottawa and Craig Anderson. In his first start after revealing that his wife was battling cancer, Craig Anderson posted an emotional shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. The story brings back memories of Scott Walker’s somewhat similar emotional journey during the 2009 playoffs and his overtime game 7 game-winner against the Boston Bruins. Here is to wishing Craig Anderson, his wife and their family all of the best right now.
The Ottawa Senators are off to a strong 5-3 start led by Erik Karlsson with 8 points and Craig Anderson with a 5-0 record. But right now, the Hurricanes focus should be internal. The team is off to a strong start offensively but due to a combination of weak defensive play, ‘iffy’ goaltending and too many mistakes especially with a lead, the Hurricanes have largely failed to convert goal scoring into wins. The Hurricanes enter the game with a 2-4-2 record and will start Tuesday’s game in last place in the entire Eastern Conference.
‘What I’m watching’ for Hurricanes at Senators
With a day off on Monday, I have not seen a starting goalie named (someone holler if I missed it) yet for the Hurricanes for Tuesday. In this morning’s Daily Cup of Joe, I called for the team to give Michael Leighton a single ‘show me’ start but not until the weekend. Tuesday will be either Cam Ward or Eddie Lack, and to be honest I am indifferent to which of the 2 Bill Peters rolls the dice with. Regardless of who is in net, the ability of the Hurricanes to get solid netminding on a nightly basis will be a watch point until it is not.
2) Leaders out in front
When a team is fighting it a bit, it often takes a player or 2 to spark the team or single-handedly drag them forward until the broader group gets going. Jeff Skinner did that on Friday and almost by himself provided the offensive part of a 3-2 win. There have been signs that other players could also be ready to join the cause. I noted Justin Faulk and Cam Ward as also stellar in Friday’s win. Jordan Staal is maybe not up to peak level yet but is showing signs. I will be watching to see if Jeff Skinner can continue his scoring leadership and also to see if another leader or 2 rise up and help propel the team forward?
3) Attention to detail and fewer big miscues
In 6 out of their 8 games, the Hurricanes have played themselves into a position to a win a game if they could simply close out with a lead. The Hurricanes are only 2-2-2 in those games. A recurring theme in the Canes losses has been the Hurricanes mounting a lead and then gifting away a goal or 2 to pull a downtrodden opponent right back into the game. With better success converting leads into victories, the Hurricanes fortunes through 8 games could be significantly different.
4) 4 deep on D
Nevermind the fact that Coach Bill Peters has shortened the bench to 5 defensemen in the third period in consecutive games. Above that, the road makes it even more important for the team to get solid play from both top defense pairings since with the last change on home ice, the opponent can try to exploit a weak pairing. Slavin/Pesce have generally been sound defensively even if sometimes challenged in terms of moving the puck quickly out of their own end in a way that generates offensive zone possession and scoring chances. Hainsey/Faulk have generally struggled though Friday’s strong outing followed by Sunday’s mostly strong outing offer encouragement that maybe Justin Faulk is rounding into form. If he can solidify that second pairing, the team instantly becomes more stable defensively.
ADDITION AT ABOUT 3PM BASED ON LINEUP CHANGES
Michael Smith from the Hurricanes web site reported the lines from the morning skate as:
Skinner/Rask/Stempniak, Nestrasil/Staal/Nordstrom, Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen, Stalberg/McClement/Di Giuseppe
Hainsey/Faulk, Slavin/Pesce, Hanifin/Murphy
There are 2 fairly significant changes.
Ryan Murphy’s first game of 2016-17: First is that Ryan Murphy was activated today and will play his first game of the 2016-17 NHL season alongside Noah Hanifin on the third defense pairings. I am anxious to get on with Murphy’s 2016-17 season. I am warm (not hot) on Ryan Murphy’s potential to become a part of the Hurricanes future. I actually thought he made some progress defensively in 2015-16, but it was overshadowed by the trio of younger defensemen passing him on the depth chart. I also think his skill set fits well in the attacking system that Bill Peters wants to play and the new skating NHL. And I also think it is time to see another run of Ryan Murphy in the lineup to fairly quickly assess whether he is part of the future or otherwise consider trading him while he still has value. After about a 1 month layoff, it is important to have some patience with Murphy’s re-assimilation into NHL hockey and him getting up to NHL speed, but I will still be watching closely to see if he can be adequate defensively and leverage his strength which is getting the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone with pace and possession.
A return to preseason lines: The game also sees the 2015-16 line of Nestrasil/Staal/Nordstrom reunited which also reunites the preseason line of Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen. Thus far, the Hurricanes offense has been solid in terms of results but maybe unnoticeably light on depth. The Skinner/Rask/Stempniak line has been incredibly good and the power play has also contributed. The fact that those 2 things have offered enough has overshadowed the fact that the Hurricanes are really light on scoring depth at the forward position. Jordan Staal is off to a good scoring start with 3 even strength. Past that, there is a bunch of nothing for goal scoring. None of Elias Lindholm, Joakim Nordstrom, Andrej Nestrasil or Phil Di Giuseppe who have logged top 9 minutes have a single goal. Teuvo Teravainen has 1 at even strength and 1 on the power play as the lone top 9 scorer past the top 4. Ironically, the fourth line has actually contributed more with 2 goals for Viktor Stalberg and 1 for Bryan Bickell. So the question tonight is whether v2.0 of Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen can do more offensively 5-on-5 and also if v2.0 for 2016-17 of Nordstrom/Staal/Nestrasil can rekindle their 2015-16 magic.
The puck drops at 7:30pm on Fox Sports Carolinas with John, Tripp and Mike.