The Hurricanes preseason opener in Washington started sluggish and sloppy which was maybe to be expected. Much of the Washington Capitals fire power is still making their way back from the World Cup of Hockey and still out of the lineup. The Hurricanes also iced a team that only 7 players that I would call regular 2015-16 NHL level players.
Patrick Brown scored early. The Caps tied it late. And Justin Faulk beat the goalie clean on a blast late in overtime with the Canes on a 4-on-3 advantage. I know the games do not count, but it is hard not to like the fact that the Hurricanes are now on a 5-game winning streak counting the Traverse City tourney.
From my game preview, here are my comments on the 4 ‘what I’m watching’ points for the game:
1) Players trying to play their way into the NHL mix
Sergey Tolchinsky: He did not produce a ton of magic, but he did not look out of place playing with Jordan Staal and Joakim Nordstrom. He can play at NHL pace. He has above average NHL skill and offensive creativity both as a playmaker and shooter. And he also thinks the game at high speed. When the Hurricanes signed him (Edit thanks to Caniac97 for correcting me in comments) as an undrafted free agent, I liked him as a low risk/high reward pick up. He continues to progress. His path to make the 2016-17 opening night roster is challenging, but I think his chances of one day playing in the NHL is increasing not decreasing right now.
Julien Gauthier: His game continues to offer intermittent bits when he is noticeable followed by stretches where he is not. This is normal for offensively skilled players at his age of development. He also had 2 different shifts where he struggled to receive a puck and figure out how to get it out of the defensive zone. It is important to remember that this was his first taste of NHL action. This game is not an ultimatum on his career path or even how preseason ends up, but whatever odds I would have given him to make the team out of training camp (and especially past a 9-game trial) have decreased not increased in the past 2 days.
Patrick Brown: He had a step forward followed by a step backward. His nice finish from between the circles was obviously a positive, but later he picked up the kind of offensive zone obstruction penalty that makes coaches fume. He had not 1 but 2 other point blank chances for a second goal, but the Caps goalie made saves. Overall, I thought he looked decent but was not so much a stand out. But I think his case for making the roster or being a top call up is from being safe and sound in his style of play, and other than the penalty I think this held on Monday with some offense as a bonus.
Nicolas Roy: He was not bad, but I am not sure he made any kind of sizable statement that suggests he is part of the 2016-17 NHL equation. His hooking minor would tilt my assessment of his game from being simply “not enough to make a statement” to “slightly negative.” Like Gauthier, I would slightly, not dramatically, downgrade his NHL roster chances based on Sunday and Monday’s play.
Valentin Zykov: He was not tremendous, but I continue to like what I see from him. He seems to have a good feel for when to play safe and in straight lines and when to try to make something happen. That could fit well as a bottom half of the roster player who can chip in some scoring. The only negative on his outing was the obstruction penalty that he took late.
When I net it out, Tolchinsky continues to rise; Gauthier and Roy did not make a big statement in their first opportunity; Brown and Zykov played well enough to stay in the mix.
2) Complementing McClement
First, I thought that Bryan Bickell had a strong game individually. He put the pass in the wheel house on Brown’s goal, barely missed on a point blank chance and nearly caused a goal with great screen in the third period and was generally active in the offensive zone. From the standpoint of trying to construct a fourth line that is significantly better than 2015-16, I would rate the first effort as more negative than positive. The base requirement for the fourth line is to play reasonably safe hockey, stay out of trouble and get on and off the ice without incident. When Slavin pinched unsuccessfully, he, McClement and McClement ended up bunched up on the wall and Stalberg was slow to cover up, the result was a 3-on-1 rush the other way. That was the most egregious example, but there were a couple other times where the puck went the other way in a hurry. At the most basic level, I think McClement’s lack of ability to either keep the puck or play it to a line mate’s stick means they play a bunch of defense. When you couple that with lack of mobility in 2 of the 3 players, it is just always going to be dangerous.
It is obviously early in training camp, but if I was Bill Peters I would at least start exploring options that push McClement to #13. Especially if Bickell continues to play fairly well, I think this alternative beats trying to make the alternative work.
3) Jaccob Slavin/Justin Faulk
He did settle in over the course of the game, but I think Jaccob Slavin had made enough significant mistakes by the midway point of the game to call it a tough first game for him. His unsuccessful pinch that led to the 3-on-1 rush noted above was the biggest mistake, but he also had another where he stepped up at a bad time leading to a 2-on-1 the other and also had a soft backhand across on the power play that was intercepted. We are still almost 3 weeks and 6 tune up games away from the home opener, so things can obviously change, but in terms of rating this individual game for Jaccob Slavin it was not good. Hopefully his better play in the second half of the game is a sign that he was just quickly shaking off some rust on the way to regaining his solid play from the last third of the 2015-16 season. Faulk was not spectacular (until the end), but he was more steady and sound. He did have 1 bad turnover from behind his own net to right out in front of it, but otherwise played sound hockey. For a team that needs to score more this year, the early indication that his ability to blast power play goals would carry forward to 2016-17 is obviously a huge positive.
4) Early signs of 2015-16 carry over for Jordan Staal
I thought Jordan Staal looked as slow, sluggish and sloppy as the rest of the group early in the game which is not a good think considering the relatively high volume of AHL-level players in the game. But he looked better as the game wore on and in the second and third periods, he had a couple of the strong and fast carries through the neutral zone that were reminiscent of his solid run during the 2015-16 season. He also made a nice feed to Joakim Nordstrom in overtime that easily could have been the game-winner. I would have preferred that Staal dominate this level of competition from beginning to end in this game, but there was enough there to suggest that he is on the right path with time still on the schedule to be ready for opening night.
Other quick notes from Hurricanes 2-1 overtime win over the Capitals
Goaltending: What’s not to like about Eddie Lack’s perfect 2 periods? I would not call the volume or quality of the chances he faced overwhelming, but he saved what he had to and looked focused and sharp. That is all you can ask for. After playing under duress, getting touched for 2 goals and another that was waived off on Sunday, I thought Alex Nedeljkovic looked great. The Capitals pushed and challenged with quite a few good chances forcing Nedeljkovic to make a high number of tough saves in allowing only 1 goal in the third period and overtime in earning the win.
Roland McKeown: Best bet is that his NHL time is still out at least later into the 2016-17 season, but I like how he projects. He is very much of the Glen Wesley mode to take simple positive plays when given the opportunity and be positionally good with a good stick. He projects nicely as the safer half of a third pairing with a more freelancing partner with potential to be more.
Next up is another preseason game in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night likely with a completely different lineup.