Friday night in Raleigh featured a match up of 2 teams on the outside looking in on the playoff race and working hard to build toward the 2017-18 season.
On a tough day to be a Hurricanes fan with a mid-afternoon Twitter uproar over Coach Bill Peters’ comments on goalie Eddie Lack and a tough home loss, let me start with what for me are the 3 best stories going right now for the beleaguered Caniac Nation.
1-Noah Hanifin rising to the occasion given a bigger challenge after the Ron Hainsey trade
With an eye to improving for 2017-18, Noah Hanifin’s play now in 5 games since the Ron Hainsey trade has been incredibly encouraging. He had another strong outing on Friday playing a mostly clean game defensively and seemingly starting to build confidence that just might be starting to fuel the Joni Pitkanen element in his game that I so much believe is part of the ceiling version of his game.
2-Phil Di Giuseppe on the brink of putting all together
I have been beating this drum consistently since his recall. Still lacking is the ability to slow things down just a little bit once or twice per game to help him add a touch of goal scoring to what he is doing already. He has 4 assists in 7 games which is a decent total. But if he wants to be more than a checking line depth player, he needs to add a couple goals to that total. But the positive right now with Di Giuseppe is doing just about everything else right. He had 3 plays today where he controlled pucks behind the net and got it to the front of the net. He probably won 5-6 50/50 battles for pucks. He is starting to get on the same page as Jordan Staal in terms of trading the puck on the cycle. And despite not scoring yet, he is going to the front of the net and even getting scoring chances. Call me an unbridled optimist, but I really think that Di Giuseppe is on the brink of putting the pieces together and becoming a legitimate top 9 forward of the physical variety that the Hurricanes are light on.
3-Jaccob Slavin rapidly adding to the offensive part of his game
Jaccob Slavin had an incredibly solid game defensively which is not much of a surprise since he has been doing that pretty consistently throughout the season. When I watch him and try to think what he does better or differently than other defensemen who are not having as strong of seasons, I think it comes down to his combination of aggressiveness and quickness. In pretty much all situations, Slavin attacks the puck. And in cases where there is a short race to be won to get the puck, the combination of his quick first couple steps and long reach usually win it. But above and beyond the shutdown defensive capabilities that arrived first, Slavin is fairly rapidly adding to what he can do offensively. He has assists on good point shots in both of the past 2 games. From the point, he is learning how to use the same quickness combined with lateral mobility to create shooting lanes that allow him to get shots past the shin guards in front of him and to the net. He is also improving on his ability to slow things down with the puck on his stick in his own end when there is enough time to assess passing options past the short, safe one in front of him. The result has been a good pass here and there to hit a team mate beyond the first layer of defense where things quickly turn into rushes with speed and good scoring chances.
Recap of the Hurricanes 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes
The game in total featured a couple familiar themes and another loss that felt like it could have been different. The Hurricanes were faster and had the ice tilted early against a Coyotes team that played and traveled the night before. But a Lindholm look at an open net after a pretty pass from Sebastian Aho somehow rolled off his stick and around the net. Phil Di Giuseppe hit the post on a good scoring chance from in close. And a couple other high-quality scoring chances just did not find the net. Then in the span of a few minutes, the Hurricanes suddenly found themselves down 2-0. First, a relatively harmless 3-on-3 rush turned into a shot from right in front when Patrick Brown failed to sort things out correctly and went to a player that the defenseman was covering. Christian Dvorak made no mistake with a chance to finish, and the Coyotes were up 1-0. Then another Coyotes rush saw Aho as the high forward swipe for a puck and missing leaving Victor Rask chasing fast-skating defenseman Alex Goligoski up the ice. Rask never caught him and Goligoski finished from in close to make it 2-0 Arizona despite the fact that the Hurricanes had been the better team for up to that point. Just like in the past couple games, the Hurricanes did show character, stick to it and push back. Lee Stempniak scored when Jay McClement won a face-off and Jaccob Slavin got a shot through that Stempniak deftly tipped past Arizona goalie Louis Domingue. The scoring chance total of 6 to 3 in favor of the Hurricanes again left me scratching my head trying to figure out if the Hurricanes just needed a couple less of the costly break downs, a big save or 2 despite the tough situation for the Canes goalie or better ability to finish their chances — or maybe all 3.
The second period saw the Di Giuseppe/Staal/Teravainen line which wa dangerous all night finally get rewarded. Di Giuseppe made another small play keeping a puck in., and Teravainen made a nifty play to get the puck to the front of the net where Jordan Staal was waiting for an easy goal. From there, the Hurricanes had a decent number of chances to pull ahead. Ryan Murphy, who had a strong game offensively, got a couple shots through to the net and stepped into play offensively a couple times. Hanifin stepped into a soft spot behind a rush and drew a tripping penalty. But the second period that again mostly featured the Hurricanes getting the better of it, ended at 2-2.
But following the recent trend, the Hurricanes found a way to turn a decent game into a deficit and eventually a loss. Ryan Murphy retrieved a puck on the end wall and tried to get it to Klas Dahlbeck. Some combination of Murphy making a bad decision and Dahlbeck not doing much to get to and at least tie the puck up on the boards led quickly to a pass in front to Martinook who finished quickly to put the Coyotes up 3-2. Shane Doan would add an empty-netter to make the final 4-2 and push the Hurricane losing streak to 4 games (0-2-2).
‘What I’m watching’ follow up
If you missed the game preview and want to catch up on the 2017-18 looking watch points, you can find it HERE.
1) Noah Hanifin
As noted above, Hanifin had another strong game playing in the top 4 and continues to be 1 of the most positive trends right now. He played 20:15 which put him third only behind work horses Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk.
2) Continuation of strong compete level
As frustrating as things are right now with 4 more consecutive losses, one really cannot pin it on intensity or compete level.
3) Depth players making a statement
As noted above, I think Di Giuseppe continues to separate himself from the pack. He has matured nicely to be incredibly consistent in terms of playing physical hockey, competing for pucks whenever given the chance and skating hard both on the forecheck and backcheck.
Justin Faulk: He had a couple dicey moments defensively – one where Max Domi blew right around him to the outside, and another where he and Slavin got caught a bit deep but Slavin managed to get back to defend on Faulk’s side of the rink while Faulk caught up. But in a team high 27:23 of ice time, Faulk continued to trend in the right direction.
Ryan Murphy: Most people will remember only Murphy’s 1 costly turnover. And that is the curse of the position such that 1-2 bad plays can completely offset a number of solid shifts. Aside from the costly miscue, I thought Murphy played by far his best game offensively. He was more assertive with the puck on his stick and also joined the play nicely a couple times without it. He got a couple shots through to the net including 1 play where he put a nifty spin move on a forward coming out at him to make a path to the net. And he also barreled at the net with a head of steam which was encouraging even though he ultimately lost his edge and the puck without getting a shot. The positive is that Murphy is actually playing the kind of attacking offensive game that capitalizes on his natural skill set. The negative is that the mistakes are still there a bit too often.
Jeff Skinner: He had a fairly quiet game offensively and netted 2 penalties for his efforts on Friday night which was not a great return to action.
Cam Ward: I have not watched Peters’ post-game press conference as of writing this, but I will be curious to see if he had anything to say about the Hurricanes’ goaltending. The game actually felt a bit like Wednesday’s loss in that I would not directly fault Ward, as in a soft goal, for any of the 3 goals he allowed, but I just feel like better was possible with the higher volume and the higher quality chances at the other end of the rink.
Next up is a repeat of Carolina versus Arizona on Sunday night in Arizona.