With the roster trimmed to 29 players, less than a week until the season opener and more of an NHL lineup on the ice, the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena in Raleigh tonight.
The game still counts for nothing in the standings but does take on a bit more importance in two regards. First, we are very close to decision time for a number of roster battles, so today’s game is one of the last chances to stake a claim to an opening night roster spot for a number of players. (I wrote about the ongoing roster battles in this article right after Wednesday’s roster cuts.) Second, the time is now for the team to fine tune things a bit and get up regular season pace.
Those two themes feature heavily in what I am watching for tonight’s game.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Nashville Predators
1) Roster battles
At forward, my math has Julien Gauthier, Martin Necas, Clark Bishop, Brian Gibbons and Max McCormick battling for up to three roster spots (one for sure; two if Dzingel is not to be ready for opening night; three if team wants to carry 13). Interestingly, only Gauthier and Gibbons are in Friday’s lineup with a chance to make a statement.
On defense, my math has Haydn Fleury, Gustav Forsling and Roland McKeown battling for probably two roster spots to start the season (#7 slot and also to fill in for van Riemsdyk who figures to miss the opener still recovering from shoulder surgery). Chase Priskie is also still in training camp, but I believe that is just to give him some time with the coaching staff after missing most of training camp with an injury sustained right at the beginning. From this group, Fleury and Forsling are in the lineup on Friday.
In goal, I am on record as stating that goalie Anton Forsberg in only still at the NHL level either as an extra for the two games or possibly to try to time the waivers trip. I think Mrazek/Reimer is a foregone conclusion for opening night.
2) Fine tuning and getting up to speed
Special teams will be a focus of mine in these last two games that will see primarily NHL regulars and expected opening day special teams units. Slavin, Pesce and Edmundson who are all in the lineup figure to be three-fourths of the back end penalty killers. Whichever of Fleury or Forsling makes the lineup short-term is likely to be the fourth. The Canes have taken very few penalties except for the last game in Nashville, so maybe Brind’Amour will need to take a few too many men penalties to get the groups some work. The lineup also features a heavy helping of power play regulars, so that will be another watch point.
Joel Edmundson will make his Carolina Hurricanes debut, so Friday represents a chance to get a first firsthand impression of what he brings to the lineup.
The line combinations look a bit random to me given how close we are to opening night. If Michael Smith from the team’s website’s projected lines are take as in order, the lineup has Teravainen on Staal’s right side (with Niederreiter on the left). I am on record as preferring Teravainen on his natural left side to better protect the puck as a playmaker on Staal’s line. McGinn slots on Aho’s right side with Svechnikov on his natural left side. I do not get trying to move Svechnikov across. His bag of tricks is fully built upon his development as a right wing. The biggest loss in my opinion is his incredible ability to turn inward from his offside and make a variety of shooting angles that seem to perplex NHL goalies. I like the third line with Foegele and Gauthier flanking Haula though I question whether Foegele is really among the 12 best forwards right now. So I will be curious to see how this shaken up version of the forward lines looks on Friday.
The puck drops at 7:37pm at PNC Arena.