At a basic level, despite the fact that it was a bunch of 18-20-year olds, I thought the Red-White scrimmage was MUCH better for pace, intensity and even quality of play for some stretches. From the Hurricanes, the game was sluggish (for both teams) in the 1st period, just bad for the Canes in the 2nd and nothing special in the 3rd period either. But it is the 1st game of preseason, so some amount of shaking the rust off is needed, and it is no need for panic.
Notes by player/lines:
Eddie Lack. Easily the story of the game for the Canes was Eddie Lack. He was perfect in a pretty easy 1st period, but then really really good in the 2nd period when the team in front of him had all-period issues moving the puck from stick to stick up the ice and then defending in their own end.
Ryan Murphy. In terms of upgrading or downgrading players based on this 1 game (again, it is important to remember it is only 1 game), Ryan Murphy took the biggest step back. He was beaten to the net on a 2-on-2 for which Hanifin pushed the player with the puck to the outside. Murphy picked up a penalty on that play. He also had trouble leaving too much of a gap on a couple other rushes and will never be the best at winning puck battles behind his net. He did pick up on a 2nd assist on the consolation 3-on-3 goal to finish the night.
Haydn Fleury. Murphy’s struggles make Fleury’s night even more impressive. He continues to play simple and sound hockey. The path that he is on right now matches the very early trajectory of Faulk breaking in early. Faulk was far from flashy and did not generate a ton of offense. What he did do was consistently make good decisions and simple plays. And once he dug his heels in defensively, the offense eventually came. Here is hoping that Fleury follows the rest of Faulk’s progression. J
The other 3 young defenders. I would put the other 3 young defenders (Lowe, Biega, Pesce) somewhere in the middle. They were generally okay but also logged a few mistakes. Biega made some good plays and looked comfortable in general, but he was also the player who tried unsuccessfully to flip the puck past Ovechkin in the middle of the rink which resulted in a 1-on-none breakaway for the wrong guy. It is easy to see that Pesce’s style of play is pretty safe and buttoned down, and I continue to like his poise and patience with the puck, but he had a couple errors to. The biggest was when he got caught up a bit too much at the end of a shift and had a Caps forward blow down his side of the ice for an odd-man rush. When you consider that this was Pesce’s 1st game at this level, maybe you actually give him the slight edge figuring maybe he has more room to adjust quickly.
EStaal/JStaal/Versteeg. Eric Staal had 1 very good point blank chance and it was Staal to Versteeg on the 3-on-3 goal but for the most part the regular hockey for this line was ‘bleh.’ I think the biggest thing might simply have been hands and timing. That line actually had stretches of puck possession in the offensive zone but seemed to be just off on passes or having passes bang off sticks and trickle away. I would not abandon something based on 1 game this early in preseason, but any hope for instant and obvious magic was not realized.
Di Giuseppe/Ryan/Tolchinsky. That line showed its skill, and it did have a couple decent chances. For the 3rd time in 2 games counting the Red-White scrimmage yesterday, Ryan found himself all alone in front of the net with a grade A chance to score. When it happens once in awhile, maybe it is luck, but if it keeps happening often it sometimes means that the player has a nose for a net and the sneakiness to find his way there at the right times. Tolchinsky’s game in general was okay, not phenomenal, but the turnover for the immediate goal against was horrible and the kind you cannot afford to make at the NHL level. Spinning out toward the front of your own net is just a poor risk/reward decision that gets spotlighted when it does not work. Even if the puck does not trickle off his stick for a perfect assist for a charging Derek Roy, the best he gets if successful is a 15-feet of forward progress still 150-feet from being able to shoot. Very little is gained if it works. Very much can be lost if it does not.
Nestrasil/Nash/Malone. He was not lights out tonight, but I like Nestrasil’s game. He reminds of a Jiri Tlusty with a bit more size and bang. Neither of Malone or Nash stood out bad or good. Without seeing it in action, I continue to like the idea of trying Nash at right wing. He plays a simple straight line game and can skate which maybe fits well on a checking line that pushes pace and benefits that NHL version of the Canes blue line should be better able to play the puck forward on the rush this season.
Sandlak/Sutter/Boychuk. No one on this line stood out so much that their chances of winning a roster spot shot up significantly. Boychuk continues to do some of the stuff Peters preaches about right. He drew a penalty from 1 of at least 2 times he parked himself directly in front of the crease in offensive zone and was smart enough not to hack back when he got chopped at. So far he has not seized a path to a sure roster spot, but just maybe he is doing enough to hang around for a big game or 2 right at the time the last decisions are made.
All in all, I would categorize this as a sluggish preseason game but not of the disastrous variety. Lack’s game was all you could ask for and though the 2nd period was a struggle the defense really was not disastrous when you consider that the Canes skated only 1 sure NHL defenseman against most of a Caps team that is loaded offensively.
Next up is the Pens on Tuesday!