Following same form as game 1, below are quick hitter type notes on the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.
At the team level
In total, the game was a modest step down from the season-opener. The Canes were not horrible, but I thought the Predators were the better team by a small margin. Combine that with an unsuccessful extended 5-on-3 power play early and a bad turnover that led directly to a goal against, one would figure this to be a close road loss. But the Hurricanes battled in a hard-fought game and Frederik Andersen was a difference-maker on a night when both goalies were good.
He was the story of the game on the Canes side. Whereas I rated him as ‘meh’ in the season-opener, he was very good on Saturday. A goal against in the final minute kept his stat line from being magnificent, but he was solid all night even acrobatic on a few occasions when needed. My early impression of Andersen especially as relates to transitioning from the prior goalies can be summarized in my tweet during the game:
After 3 years of Mrazek and then a year of Nedeljkovic who could be Mrazek X2 for movement/activity, watching Andersen almost looks like he isn't doing anything. Going to take a little while to adjust to difference style-wise. #LetsGoCanes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) October 17, 2021
The difference itself is not surprising. It exactly matches the book on Andersen, Mrazek and Nedeljkovic. But I actually am surprised at how striking and dramatic the difference is to watch even knowing it was coming.
If two games are an indication of what is to follow for the rest of the season, the addition of Derek Stepan could quietly prove to be sneaky good beyond realized. He is adds another heady penalty killer to the mix who has a ton of experience playing against elite power plays. Maybe most significantly, I think he solidifies a fourth line defensively. The Canes fourth line has at times been overmatched in games or for stretches in recent years. And early indications are that he could also boost fourth line scoring. His $1.35 million salary is maybe a modest premium for a fourth line slot, but the reasons it makes sense are front and center so far.
A work in progress with the forward combinations
In Thursday’s opener, the Canes had three lines clicking pretty well with only Aho’s top line not going. Saturday saw a bit more wheels spinning to the point where Brind’Amour shuffled the deck a bit in the third period looking for a spark. One of the challenges with Aho’s line has been Kotkaniemi’s sometimes impatience with the puck on his stick. On his first shift and then on another later two, he had three (mini) turnovers with the puck on his stick. None were the bad variety but rather were the variety that were safe plays to play the puck forward under a bit of pressure. But the result is still the same meaning defending instead of maintaining puck possession. Playing with Necas and Aho, ideal would be to have the other two playing more with the puck on there stick as soon into gaining possession as possible with Kotkaniemi in more of a receive and shoot role. Again, it is only two games, but he is off to a bit of a slow start. It will be interesting to see how Brind’Amour starts for forward lines on Monday.
Brady Skjei / Brett Pesce
Brett Pesce had a bad pinch that led to an odd many rush early, but in total had a stellar game making plays defensively and also making a few heady plays to advance the puck for scoring chances. Brady Skjei looked a bit more mobile like usual after being a bit slow to react and getting caught flat footed in the opener. He made a really good play on Svechnikov’s turnover even though it still led to a goal against. He recovered quickly and was able to get a quick stride and lean into Ryan Johansen. The result was quickly taking away any ability for Johansen to push back right or pull the puck to his forehand to shoot. For as many tougher saves as Andersen made, it was odd that he was beaten on a backhand where he really only had to take away angle and glove high,
Jesper Fast and Jordan Staal’s line
Fast is off to a hot start with two goals in two games. As a veteran, he seems unlikely to suddenly find a significantly higher gear scoring-wise for the entirety of the season, but it is great to see that line contributing offensively.
As a player who is still young and has buckled a bit when he hit slow stretches in the past, his quick start with three goals (including an empty-netter) in two games is meaningful. Svechnikov is at his best when he is just playing and not pressing. Especially after his costly turnover, it was great to see him capitalize on what I would call a medium grade scoring chance just flat beating the goalie.
Next up for the Hurricanes is a Thursday road tilt against off-season contract nemesis Montreal.