Friday night in Raleigh, the Carolina Hurricanes finished up their preseason schedule with a 3-1 win over the Washington Capitals. The game featured a healthy mix of sure NHLers working to round into form, young players trying to make a statement before final cuts and Coach Bill Peters doing some line tinkering.
Here are my notes from the game that largely line up with my ‘What I’m watching’ preview:
1) Players trying to make a statement
I think he had a positive game in terms of thinking the game at NHL speed and making a high number of good decisions especially offensively. He had a few pucks just miss him from between the circles and was active offensively. The negative to Kuokkanen’s game was that he seemed to have a tough time hands-wise handling (mostly receiving) the puck. A few of the near misses might have been from the passes being a bit off or in his skates, but he also had at least three instances where he just failed to receive/handle a puck on his stick. I will take being in the right place and processing the game at NHL speed over the physical part any day, so despite maybe what could have been a bigger night for Kuokkanen, I will call it half full.
He continues to look at least capable of playing at the NHL level. Noteworthy is that his best sequence in my opinion again happened with him playing in the role of playmaking forward. He had the puck in the neutral zone, quickly sorted things out and fed Brett Pesce joining the rush. He later received the puck in the offensive zone and had the puck on and off his stick in a hurry to almost find Jeff Skinner in front. Another arguably ‘best play of the night’ for Necas saw him steal a puck on the forecheck and again make a lickity-split pass to the front of the net that led to two quick scoring chances.
I continue to like Necas’ game in general, but I also see him as a player who is not a 50/50 call on wing versus center. To me, he just looks night and day better playing in the middle of the rink distributing the puck. That could come into play for the final roster if Peters/Francis agree because the center slot is full up already.
Vote for anchoring Necas into the center slot aside, he drew a penalty, had a steal and quick feed in front of the forecheck and the back and forth passing through the neutral zone to his credit – not a bad night’s work.
He had a noticeable night physically, finishing checks whenever given the chance. He was also the screen on Justin Faulk’s first period goal. One of his strengths is his every shift consistency in terms of intensity level and physical play. That said, he did also have two instances in which he overdid it trying to catch a piece of Caps player on the boards near the blue line and saw the puck get quickly behind him where the Caps had an advantage. All in all, McGinn had a strong night and reminded Bill Peters what he brings to the lineup on a consistent basis.
2) Scott Darling v2.0
Scott Darling wandered into another strange game that was challenging for building any kind of rhythm early. Darling faced and defended a couple grade A chances about six minutes into the game, but in general had very little to do in a first period that saw the Hurricanes dictate play and give up only four shots on net.
He saw only 19 shots on the night, but I still think the game was a positive building block for Darling. After mostly fighting off the puck in his first start on Monday, he seemed to track the puck better and do a significantly better job controlling or corralling rebounds.
3) The blue line
Too much should not be made of preseason hockey, but I really like where Noah Hanifin is right now. His gaps are better, and he is playing a more assertive and aggressive brand of hockey both with the puck on his stick and defending. Ironically, maybe most telling was Hanifin’s one sizable mistake on the night. He perilously tried backhanding a puck across the defensive zone from just inside the blue line and had it stolen. As is often the case with turnovers at the blue line, the rest of the team was not in position to defend at that transition point. Though he had to hop across to the other side of the ice, Hanifin made a quick decision to go to the puck and take away time and space. The aggressive play was in stark contrast to sometimes being a bit of a deer in the headlights under duress in the past. If given the option of taking one players’ preseason effort and just saying “give me 82 games of that,” I think it could be Hanifin with Teuvo Teravainen and Derek Ryan being the others I would consider.
I also think Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin look to be on track after decent but not great play earlier in preseason. Brett Pesce seemed to do absolutely everything with a purpose especially early in the game, and Jaccob Slavin just looks fast be it covering a short distance to win a loose puck or galloping up the ice.
Haydn Fleury had a few tough sequences including one when he whiffed on a puck in the neutral zone, then made an ill-advised backhand out of the corner that was stolen by the Caps and finished by turning the puck over again into the neutral zone. The positive on that tough sequence and in general for Fleury is that he seemed to maintain his composure and just keep playing.
An observation on Justin Faulk: He looks like a completely different player skating forward through the neutral zone versus skating backward in the defensive zone. Through the middle of the ice, he has a powerful and fast enough stride that tends to back up defenders and make even more room somewhat like Jordan Staal. At times, in the defensive zone he just looks slow to get going. The most notable example was the play where Caps forward Vrana blew right by him to the middle and drew a holding penalty on the way to the net.
4) Peters’ line tinkering
Justin Williams spent a good chunk of the third period playing with Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan completing his tour having played with all three of fairly consistent left wing/center combinations. I am torn on where he fits best, but what he brings that line is puck possession acumen in terms of keeping the puck in the offensive zone, winning it and supporting it when his line mates have it.
Who else spent their Friday night on Canes hockey despite the fact that it is preseason and is willing to share his/her viewpoint on the preseason finale?