In the first home game of preseason, a Hurricanes lineup that was pretty heavy with NHL-level players looked to run the team’s winning streak to 3 games. The Canes started slow, sluggish and sloppy, but got better as the game wore on. Tampa Bay pulled out to a 1-0 lead on a Tyler Johnson goal after a defensive breakdown off the rush. The Hurricanes played gradually better as the game wore on and finally started clicking in a third period that saw the Hurricanes with 4 power play opportunities and more than half of their 27 shots on goal in regulation. Jeff Skinner finally put the Canes on the scoreboard with a power play goal off a rebound on a Victor Rask shot with a little more than 1 minute to play in regulation. The Hurricanes had the first really good chance in overtime but lost when that attempt failed and the puck went the other way. Ondrej Palat chased down a loose puck in the offensive zone and beat Michael Leighton with a backhand to send the Hurricanes to a 2-1 overtime loss.
‘What I’m watching’ recap
All 3 were on the ice for Skinner’s late power play goal. At even strength, the trio was not dominant, but it did muster some scoring chances. Thus far, early in Stempniak’s tenure as a Hurricane, he looks to be more of a playmaker in the current configuration. He assisted on Skinner’s goal on Tuesday and fed Victor Rask for a point blank chance tonight. I would rate early reviews of this line as modestly positive in terms of chemistry and creating offense which is encouraging.
2) Finding a partner for Brett Pesce
On Friday, Pesce spent the majority of his ice time with Haydn Fleury, so he did not get the run time that I was hoping for with Ron Hainsey. There are still 4 preseason games remaining, so there is still time, but after watching the team spin its wheels 2 months into the regular season last season with a constantly changing set of combinations, my preference would be to use preseason to at least have a quick look at new combinations in case they are needed later. Whereas I think Faulk and Hainsey have enough run time together that they should be plug and play/like riding a bike, Pesce has seen minimal ice time with Hainsey.
Friday featured the debut of rookie Hurricanes draftee Sebastian Aho and also former Blackhawk Teuvo Teravainen. Each’s night was filled with highs and lows. They did have some pretty passing sequences and some chances and near misses, but they also seemed to have a propensity to choose dangerous puck handling over simple passes to get out of the defensive zone. One such play saw Sebastian Aho hand a puck over to Lightning player who immediately had a point blank chance on net. Another play saw Teuvo Teravainen do the same for a slightly less dangerous chance. At a general level, there is some learning/teaching about bad places/situations in which to take high risks for very minimal potential reward (i.e. simply advancing to the neutral zone). When I net it out, Friday showed offensive upside but also the potential perils of the volume and severity of mistakes that a line of their collective age can make. In is post-game comments fill in head coach Rod Brind’Amour described Aho and Teravainen as “high risk, high reward” and also said “5-on-5 if there is nothing there, you need to just make a play.” That was a generous way of saying that the group was way too loose especially handling the puck in its own end and at transition areas.
Other notes and comments
Horrid first period
The first period started slow, sluggish and sloppy and then became worse from there. The genesis of the struggles was a complete inability to get the puck out of the defensive zone by moving it stick to stick or figuring something else out. Basically, Tampa Bay forechecked fairly aggressively with the aim of taking away the first/obvious pass. The Hurricanes blue line both young and old struggled in their ability to read the situation and identify better passing options than chucking the puck to a covered player or simply flipping it forward and turning it over. Carrick/Tennyson had the hardest time advancing the puck forward. I especially think Trevor Carrick is not quite there in terms of vision and the ability to make enough good first passes at the NHL level. Faulk and Pesce (separately, not playing together) had the most egregious errors defending the puck coming at them. Both had players walk right to the inside of them and to a direct path to the net off the rush. Faulk received help from a backchecker and a goalie to minimize the error. Pesce’s ‘oops’ saw Palat blow up the wing with a 2-on-1 and feed Tyler Johnson for the Lightning’s first goal. When I tally my notes from the first period, I count at least 5 ‘bad outs’ that saw the Canes turn the puck over trying to get out of their own end, 2 defensive breakdowns off the rush (noted above) and almost zero for cohesion making a successful first pass to get going north-south with speed.
The power play
The game worked out nicely for Rod Brind’Amour’s effort to ready the power play for the regular season. He had many of the likely power play regulars in the lineup and ample power play time to use them. The power play was sluggish like everything else early but really started to move the puck and create chances late. The first power play unit of Aho-JStaal-Lindholm with Teravainen-Faulk started to move the puck and generate chances as the game wore on. The slightly new wrinkle on the power play features the Hurricanes with a fluid 3-man umbrella up top with Faulk in the middle ready to shoot and Tervainen and Aho either playing the half wall (puck side) or point (off side) depending on where the puck is. Another wrinkle was to leave Justin Faulk out even after the first unit changed out such that he was playing 1:30-1:40 of the power play and swapping only at the tail end to avoid being caught tired when things returned to even strength. On the whole, I would not say that the power play was season-ready, but I think the volume of practice was well-timed with the lineup. I also think that it was trending in the right direction with the work.
He was not overly challenged in terms of quantity or quality, but he was up to the task allowing only 1 goal in 2 periods. So far so good in net during the preseason.
In the end, I do not think he can play fast enough for the 2016-17 NHL especially in Bill Peters’ system, but I think he quietly had a solid game on Friday. He separated a Lightning player from the puck behind the net leading shortly thereafter to a point blank chance for Lucas Wallmark. He also drew a penalty and had a knack for being around the puck. It is speculation especially given that I think his mobility is a no-go, but I think he played well enough to get past the big round of AHL cuts.
Netting it out
For me the biggest positives were:
1) Signs that Stempniak could help generate more scoring chances for Jeff Skinner who is the Hurricanes best finisher and Victor Rask who also has a decent shot in close.
2) The gradual improvement of the power play over the course of the game with some repetition.
The biggest negatives were:
1) The looseness of the Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen line. They very much looked like a talented bunch of skill players who did not yet grasp when and where to try to make plays and when to play simple and safe and live for the next battle. There is some tightening up for this group leading up to the regular season.
2) It was better as the game wore on, but the volume of defensive breakdowns in the first period was too high, and they were not just from the youth. Faulk and Pesce were the 2 biggest victims.
Next up is a Sunday night game in Minnesota.