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A quiet emphasis on winning?

A subtle but I think significant story about the Hurricanes game Friday against the Capitals occurred even before the game started when the lineup was posted. Normal timing would see this third game be the final for certain AHLers and prospects to make an impression before a big round of cuts to stock the Charlotte Checkers training camp that starts on Monday. With only eight assigned to the AHL on Friday, the team still has a large roster in tow, but the lineup on Friday was very, very close to what Canes fans will see on opening night. Other than #2 goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, there was not a single player in the lineup who is not at least competing for a spot in the opening day lineup.

At first glance, this could be brushed off as just being a couple days or a game early. One could also just chalk it up to Brind’Amour just wanting to get down to business sooner rather than later. But I actually think this is Brind’Amour sort of quietly playing to win. As I said on Twitter just before the game started:

Brind’Amour would never admit it. And certainly there are other factors at play too. But I strongly believe that as part of changing the team’s mentality and culture, he is taking this opportunity to drive a run of wins.

And win they did.

 

Brief recap

The Hurricanes came out fast and aggressive and completely dominated the first period. The Capitals first even strength shot (which was a goal) came 12:26 into the period. The story from the outset and pretty much throughout the first period was the forechecking, aggressive play and puck possession of the forward group. That single factor has been front and center during each and every strong stretch of Canes hockey this preseason. In allowing only a handful of shots in the first period, the oddity was that the Canes defense was really not asked to do that much, and even less was asked of Petr Mrazek. Important to note is that it is only preseason, but the recipe for success right now is twofold. First is an absolute monster in terms of forechecking and neutral zone tenacity. Second is power play scoring.

The first period saw the Hurricanes emerge with a 3-1 lead. Valentin Zykov scored on the power play from his cubicle at the top of the crease on a pretty play where Andrei Svechnikov fed him not just once but twice for point blank chances. Next Jaccob Slavin fired fortuitously fired a shot off of Jordan Staal’s leg and directly into the net. After a Niclas Backstrom snipe to make it 2-1, Warren Foegele and Jordan Martinook worked together to score shorthanded. Martinook first forced an errant pass. Foegele stepped into the passing lane to intercept. Then Foegele quickly fed Martinook who scored.

After a dominant first period by the Hurricanes, the second and third periods were a bit more standard preseason fare with ‘meh’ at best hockey by both teams and some sloppiness.

After a scoreless second period, the Hurricanes tacked on two more goals in the third period. Jaccob Slavin scored on the back door on the power play on a pretty, soft pass from Zykov who was again working out of cubicle just on top of the crease. Martin Necas then finished the scoring with an empty-netter.

 

Player notes

Valentin Zykov

He handled the puck 5 times from within 10 foot of the net. He had two chances and scored on the second early on the Svechnikov passes. He had two more as the game wore on. And he had the assist to Slavin. Parking in front and either receiving the puck or just generally creating chaos is a tremendous recipe for scoring. Sure enough it paid of to the tune of a goal and an assist.

 

Justin Faulk

I have been incredibly hard on Justin Faulk over much of the past two seasons which makes it important to be objective and give credit where it is due. I thought he played a strong game on Friday and also brought a strong physical element. He had at least three plays where he separated on rushing Caps from the puck at his defensive blue line, and he also had two plays where he uprooted Caps players and dumped them on their butts. His hit in front of the Canes bench was easily the check of the game. Interesting is to consider if it is possible that Faulk looks like a completely different player in 2018-19 playing with a stronger partner such that he has more help.

 

The rest of the defense

The blue line was not taxed much early, but even when pressured more as the game wore on the group in total looked solid. I am on record as liking Slavin/Pesce as a starting point, but the more I watch Slavin/Hamilton the more I consider otherwise. The two together offer a level of skating and agility that the team has maybe not had on a single pairing its history. Another significant note on this was Brett Pesce appearing in his first preseason action. He logged 17 minutes of ice time and did not look out of place which was a encouraging. Finally, Haydn Fleury also had a solid night. Thus far, the blue line looks to be the strength that it was projected to be on paper once assembled during the offseason.

 

Andrei Svechnikov

Svechnikov has occasional issues with puck management that he will need to clean up over time, but the one thing that jumps out to me about his game is how comfortable he looks. His comfort in traffic and under NHL pressure and pace is night and day different than the 18-year old version of Elias Lindholm who often looked overwhelmed and just trying to sort things out fast enough. Also, as compared to my expectations before seeing much of him, the one thing that stands out as different than expected is how good of a passer he is. He found Zykov twice on the power play and had another nice pass to a defenseman coming up behind the play.

 

Finding the way at center

If I had to find a low light, it would be the center position. Sebastian Aho had a second straight ‘meh’ game. After looking reasonably comfortable playing center late in the 2017-18 season, he does not look comfortable doing so right now. He seems to want to carry the puck to the side when the middle of the ice is ‘trafficky’. The result too often is that he is pulling up on the side just inside the blue line. That works okay as a wing with a center filling the middle lane, but as a center if he is crossing the wing to do so, it usually means entering two wide, giving up speed and being too easy to bottle up at the blue line. Martin Necas is also still very much finding his way. He has his moments with the puck on his stick but has not yet been converting it to a bunch of scoring chances for his line mates. Further, as I have touched on a few times, his play as the second or especially third forward in a forechecking situation is still a work in progress.

 

Jordan Martinook

Recently, I have generally bypassed Martinook for younger players with more offensive upside. On Friday, Martinook had a solid game across the board and in the process made a good claim for ice time. In addition, he scored a shorthanded goal to show that he could bring offense to boot. When one works through the list of 5-6 players battling for the last couple roster spots, each and everyone one of them is playing well and making a case.

 

The power play

Hard to say if it if personnel, system, sub-NHL penalty killers or what, but the team’s power play has been lights out so far. The power play was two for five with a bunch of good chances.

 

Warren Foegele

I will finish with a Twitter ode to Warren Foegele that should pretty well capture another strong night that I think almost assures that he sticks for the season opener.

Along the way Foegele also picked an assist on Martinook’s shorthanded goal and Necas’ empty-netter.

 

Up next for the Hurricanes is a few days of practice before preseason game #4 in Nashville on Tuesday.

 

Go Canes!

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