Finally, after a long summer and 4 consecutive preseason road games, Canes fans received taste of home hockey even if it was of the preseason variety. And after falling behind early, the Canes stormed back ultimately won in a shootout. I have a good friend who always said, “As long as we’re keeping score, we might as well win.” I agree completely. Even though it was preseason, the positive vibe was absolutely wonderful.
–Nathan Gerbe. He really should be required to play for a different team every year. The problem is that after seeing him pretty much 100% consistently bring high energy, pace and effort every single night, at some point even appreciative people take it for granted a bit. He did not get an assist on it, but his checking behind the net spit the puck out to a waiting Riley Nash between the circles for a goal. He finished from nearly the same place on a centering pass from Eric Staal with on a 5-on-3 and then won the game as the fourth shooter in the shootout. He was the first star in the arena, and you will get no arguments from me.
–Eric Staal. Centering a newly minted line with Kris Versteeg on his left and Elias Lindholm on his right, he had a very solid power center game that harkened back to some of this better scoring seasons. I counted 3 good puck wins and pass outs from near or behind the end line in the offensive zone. He dug it out and made a quick, clean pass to Versteeg on the eventual Lindholm goal. He also assisted on Gerbe’s goal and had a couple other good plays down low.
–Kris Versteeg. He could be the perfect example of not just adding good players at random but filling needs. I am on record (a broken one) as saying the Canes need more playmaking to boost the scoring. Versteeg has fit the bill so far in preseason.
–Brad Malone. He played a good game for his role and made a decent claim for his slot, be it #12 or #13. He was the player who went after Oshie after the hit on McClement in the corner before being wrestled away by someone else.
–Victor Rask. He is incredibly good without the puck. He quietly had 4-5 plays that did not look spectacular because was just in the right spot and aware of what was going on defending the front his own net when the young defensemen got caught wandering around a bit. He also is incredibly good at recognizing when defensemen are having trouble exiting their own zone and knows when to come back a bit farther to provide a safety valve pass. I think he is already an incredibly good checking line center who can score some just waiting for his game with the puck to catch up a little bit. At his young age and experience level, it is reasonable to think that it is coming just like Justin Faulk’s offensive outburst last season after maturing quickly on the defensive side of the puck first.
–Noah Hanifin. He is physically ready to play in the NHL. His skating and size are plenty good enough now. I am not a fan of forcing him up the depth chart too quickly, but I am starting to like the idea of starting him in a third pairing with Jordan or Murphy (or heck, maybe Pesce…see below) where his minutes can be controlled some in terms of volume and match ups. Then it is just a matter of letting him grow and moving up whenever it makes sense be it in 1 month or be it in the 2016-17 season.
As far as Wednesday night, his game was not as clean as Pesce’s, but it was good overall. He was mostly in the right place but let the Caps forward inside of him for a rebound bang in for the Caps third goal. But along the way he looked fairly comfortable playing on a first pairing against a good NHL offense. That, in itself, is pretty impressive for any young defenseman let alone an 18-year old.
–Jaccob Slavin. He had a rough night. It is important to note that this changes NOTHING with his potential or the training camp that he has had thus far. But he went through a pretty rough initiation on Wednesday night. Only 20 seconds into the game Alex Ovechkin gave him a lean/shoulder turn to the outside and then walked right through him to the inside for an uncontested goal on the rush from deep and between the circles. I could hear, “Welcome to the NHL kid” as I watched the replay. Slavin followed that up with another bad turnover inside his defensive zone a few minutes later, and by 9 minutes into the game he had played his way off of Justin Faulk’s top pairing to a lower slot. He had trouble all night against an aggressive forecheck that took away first pass options. But in the middle of the a rough night, he had a play where he found a bit of open ice and then beat a defenseman who stepped up at the blue line for a rush toward the net. This served as a good reminder of the skills he has demonstrated so far in training camp and his upside long-term.
When I think about his game other than the Ovechkin breakdown, I think a simple characterization of his play with the puck is this:
1) If he can get a bit of room to get started carrying the puck with some room to skate, he is comfortable and very good. He skates well north-south, but maybe more significantly, he is confident and comfortable turning at fairly sharp angles are fairly high speeds which gives him the ability to beat defenders who simply play angles.
2) But from a stop deep in his own end without room to get started skating or an easy first pass, he looked uncomfortable and struggled. Most of his defensive zone turnovers were from a fairly aggressive and deep forecheck that pressured before he got going and took away at least first if not also second passing options. In this scenario, Slavin struggled finding the balance of patience and crisp decision-making to get the puck off his stick safely.
–Brett Pesce. He was easily the story of the game for me. I said on Twitter that if the Canes had to play a regular season game tomorrow and James Wisniewski was still out injured, I would seriously consider just going with Liles/Pesce again. He just plays a simple and sound game. He moved the puck quickly and then did a real good job of figuring out and getting to where he needed to be to support the puck and take it back when needed. And whereas Slavin struggled a bit with the pace and the pressure tonight, Pesce continues to look poised even when plan A does not work out. Then as the game wore on he seemed to get more comfortable and start doing even more carrying the puck. At this point, I was about ready to be the first to order a #54 jersey from The Eyes (slight exaggeration :-)). In tracking pretty closely all game, I noted 1 bigger ‘oops’ when he got to a dump in first but under pressure tried to spin up the boards. When he got picked in the middle of turning, the puck was immediately centered to the front of the net for a good Caps scoring chance. I think Liles also deserves credit for Pesce’s strong performance. He was vocal all night and returned Pesce’s favor providing good passing lanes out of trouble. The duo had multiple times where they exchanged the puck 2 or more times patiently navigating the Capitals forecheck and neutral zone defense.
Whether he gets a shot to make the roster out of training camp might be more of a function of injuries and numbers as anything else, but at a minimum I think he bumped up the recall list from Charlotte tonight. Ryan Murphy should get a chance to try to match him on Friday.
–Justin Faulk. Better if he mostly keeps his gloves on, but in this new NHL that is mostly minus old school enforcers, he is a bad ass. Period. When he occasionally steps into a fight he does it with a purpose and a clear intent to win, not a cautious “trying to wrestle it to an end with a primary goal of not getting hit.” He also looked good at hockey which is significant because he has been slow out of the gate in 2 different seasons before getting his feet under him.
–Joakim Nordstrom. Does anyone else see him as Patrick Dwyer 2.0 but younger? He skates well. He is sound defensively. And he has that propensity to take the safe play chipping the puck deep and getting off the ice. Unless McGinn rises up, this could win him a fourth line slot.
–Chris Terry. He had 1 nice play in the offensive zone where his hit separated a Caps defender from the puck right onto Jeff Skinner’s stick for a scoring chance. Otherwise he was fairly quiet offensively. But I thought he was very good making small plays. He had at least 3 plays where he cleared a puck safely from his defensive zone versus turning it back over. He gets what he needs to do to stay out of trouble. I keep hoping that he can eventually layer some offensive upside on top of it.
–Riley Nash. He has had a good preseason especially offensively. He started fast in 2014-15 before an injury and a quieter end to the season. Just maybe he is naturally a fast starter and can come out of the gate fast again next week.
–Eddie Lack. He settled in okay after giving up a couple early. The first goal against featured Alexander Ovechkin in alone from between the circles which is just a tough assignment for a goalie, but the second goal just seemed to beat him far side from a fairly wide angle. I could not tell if he got screened or more likely just beaten by a pretty good spot. But he settled down and only allowed 3 goals including a wild 3-on-3 overtime before stopping 3 of 4 in overtime to earn a win.
YOU DECIDE on 2 quick post-game polls:
Who were the game's 3 stars (Canes only)?
- Nathan Gerbe (96%, 46 Votes)
- Eric Staal (33%, 16 Votes)
- Kris Versteeg (29%, 14 Votes)
- Justin Faulk (29%, 14 Votes)
- Eddie Lack (29%, 14 Votes)
- Brett Pesce (21%, 10 Votes)
- Riley Nash (19%, 9 Votes)
- Noah Hanifin (17%, 8 Votes)
- Jeff Skinner (8%, 4 Votes)
- Elias Lindholm (6%, 3 Votes)
- John-Michael Liles (4%, 2 Votes)
- Brad Malone (4%, 2 Votes)
- Victor Rask (2%, 1 Votes)
- Joakim Nordstrom (0%, 0 Votes)
- Jay McClement (0%, 0 Votes)
- Jordan Staal (0%, 0 Votes)
- Chris Terry (0%, 0 Votes)
- Michal Jordan (0%, 0 Votes)
- Jaccob Slavin (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 48
Which player fighting for a roster spot boosted his chances the most?
- Brett Pesce (61%, 31 Votes)
- Noah Hanifin (33%, 17 Votes)
- Joakim Nordstrom (6%, 3 Votes)
- Jaccob Slavin (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 51