The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Opening the 2018-19 season, the Carolina Hurricanes put forth a dominant effort by every statistic imaginable except the only one that really matters in the end – goal scoring. Despite out-shooting the New York Islanders by a wide 46 to 20 margin and playing the vast majority of the game as the aggressor, it took a late goal with an extra attacker to get to overtime where the team would earn only one point in a 2-1 loss.
I am not sure one could really ask for much more from the Hurricanes other than burying more chances and winning.
The shot totals were 16-7, 15-7 and 15-4 in the three periods of regulation. The Hurricanes had a decent number of chances that could have found the net. And they also had about a half dozen point blank chances that missed gaping openings in the net.
In total, there were many more positives than negatives despite the losing outcome, and no doubt there are many things that the team can carry forward to game #2 in Columbus tomorrow night.
Player and other notes
Continuation of forward push
In my game preview the single biggest carry over that I hoped for from preseason was the tenacity and push from the forwards. The smothering aggressiveness of the forecheck and hounding of the puck in all three zones was the single biggest factor in the preseason success in my opinion. That positive very clearly carried forward to game #1 of the regular season which was a huge positive.
Save for the fact that he featured in the ‘if they could just finish’ theme, Jordan Staal had a phenomenal game. He scored the all-important goal late. He won 70 percent of his face-offs. He was in mid-season mode in terms of winning and advancing the puck. And he was regularly the best player on the ice during many shifts. He had help but led the way on a line for which the three forwards had a whopping 16 shots on goal. If Jordan Staal posts 81 more games like Thursday night, the team will be better for it. The only negative is that the fact that he just is not a top 6 type finisher reared its head again. He had the kind of game where other great players put up two goals and an assist and carry their teams to victory. He did have the crucial goal, but he also had a couple other grade A chances where he either missed the net or missed the opening right into the middle of the goalie.
In just under 12 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut, Svechnikov did not find the score sheet, but he came about as close as he could without doing so. early in the game, he wired a shot from the left face-off circle that beat goalie Thomas Greiss but glanced off the top of the cross bar. Then later in the game, he clanged the cross bar again on a sublte but nifty play where he crossed the offensive blue line with enough speed to back up the defenseman, then closed the gap as much as he could to use the defenseman for a screen and finally made a quick adjustment just before the shot to open a narrow shooting lane. The latter play was straight from the NHL sniper’s handbook. I would not say that Svechnikov looked phenomenal otherwise, but he was engaged and did not at all look overwhelmed. Couple that with early indications that his scoring ability will transfer well to the NHL, and I would call his debut successful despite not scoring.
I am torn on how to rate Mrazek’s Canes debut. By no means can one pin a loss on a goalie when he gives up one goal in regulation. And I fully admit that the recent extended run of goalie struggles has me putting goaltending under a microscope. But that said, Mrazek’s outing did not inspire confidence for me. He had two plays where started wandering here, there and everywhere. The first he somehow survived when the puck just did not find the empty net behind him. The second did find the net when he wandered out, lost his angle and then left a hole to shoot through for the Islanders first goal. Couple that with three shots that got through him but luckily did not find the net (two were scooped out of the crease by Canes skaters), and I did not come away feeling confident that he is the solution in net. It is important to acknowledge that the game was not horrible and that one game is obviously a tiny sample size, but in evaluating what I saw on Thursday, I rate it as ‘meh’ at best.
Necas mustered a few of the swoops with the puck on stick that give him the mobility to become a higher-end playmaker in the NHL, but otherwise his game did not stand. The biggest work item for him is his play in the neutral zone without the puck both offensively and defensively. At this early stage of development, he lacks an understanding for how to make safe passing lanes to help his defensemen advance the puck out of the defensive zone when under pressure. On defense, he similarly has work to do learning how to take away passing angles and north-south lanes when defending as the third forward.
I continue to like the rugged and physical element that has returned to Faulk’s game. Carrying over from the preseason, he continues to engage physically whenever he can which is a positive and a strength in his game. But along the way, too much of the sloppiness that plagued him the past couple years also reared its head. He had two potentially bad defensive zone turnovers toward the middle of the rink in the first period. He had a couple other coverage issues in his own end defending the puck. In total, Faulk probably had enough good plays for a good night, but as a defenseman level of play is more dictated by how many mistakes a player makes, and I think Faulk had issues in that regard.
He hopped into the top 6 on a line with maximum defensive responsibilities and looked capable. He had one really nice play where he won a race to a puck in the corner, accelerated right around an Islanders player and forged his way back to the front of the net with the puck. The headily shot low and created a high-quality rebound chance for Justin Williams. He also showed discipline a couple times in the neutral zone not using his stick or a free hand to try to engage a player who had the puck in a place where he could protect it. The result was a clean game in terms of penalties taken which was an encouraging sign. Again, given his style of play, one has to live with some amount of penalties, but hopefully Thursday is also a sign that he is beginning to learn when he has to ease up just a little to avoid taking too many obstruction penalties. Even with a solid effort the learning is still there. Foegele was the player who tried the old Jeff Skinner swipe and go at the offensive blue line without consideration for the situation. Had the pass connected and Foegele received it off the boards in stride, he might have been in alone or at least had a step on the defenseman. But he needed to be aware that the five players on the ice were all a the end of a long shift and needed to get off the ice. Had he waited for the puck, he would have given up any chance of a rush but in the process assured that he could get the puck deep for a line change. Instead, he swiped and missed like Skinner was prone to do, and the puck went the other way. The play ended with an exhausted Brett Pesce taking an obstruction penalty.
What continues to stand out about Hamilton is is comfort, calm and confidence with the puck on his stick and also the quick release and arrival of his shot. The more I watch him shoot the puck, the more his 17 goals from 2017-18 looks about right versus just being a weird shooting percentage anomaly. The downside to his game if there is one is his propensity to wander a bit. Jaccob Slavin a couple times had to quickly cover behind Hamilton who had wandered a bit and then was suddenly out of position when the puck transitioned. Hamilton was even in terms of offense on Thursday. On the negative side, he cheated up the ice just enough that when the puck was turned over, he could not recover on the first Islanders goal. But then he had the point shot that Staal tipped in to tie it.
Insight into Brind’Amour’s tactical strategies/approaches
At least to start the season, Brind’Amour chose to separate long-time partners Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. And Pesce started Thursday in what theoretically I would have considered the third defense pairing. But Brind’Amour actually used van Riemsdyk/Pesce as a shutdown type defense pairing that he regularly paired with Staal’s line especially for defensive zone draws. I actually think that Pesce is still missing a bit of the two-stride closing ability that is a strength of his game, but the duo was not touched up in their role on Thursday.
Another thing that stands out is that all six defensemen logged ice time on the penalty kill. If I get time tomorrow, I might see if I can ferret out if that was just Brind’Amour rolling defense pairings through penalty kill time or what was happening there. He also used a few extra forwards on penalty kill with Aho/Teravainen and also Wallmark seeing some penalty kill time.
Who else has comments/viewpoints on Thursday’s game that they they are willing to share?
Next up is a quick turnaround and game #2 in Columbus on Friday night.