On Sunday night in Minnesota, the Hurricanes tallied first on a power play goal by Bryan Bickell with assists to Derek Ryan and Jaccob Slavin. The Hurricanes held that lead for awhile and then held to 1-1 for even longer. But ultimately the Hurricanes were outplayed and outchanced, and the hockey gods eventually matched the score with quality play awarding the Minnesota Wild a couple third period goals and a 3-1 win. The Hurricanes mustered very little offense in the game. The Hurricanes were outshot 38-17, and I am not sure it was even that close in terms of high-quality scoring chances. But it is important to note that a significant part of the results in preseason is the level of lineup iced. While the Minnesota lineup was pretty heavy on NHL players including much of the top half of the team’s roster, the Hurricanes lineup was heavy on bottom half of the roster NHLers with a good mix of players like to start the 2016-17 in the NHL. Based on that, it is not a fair game to evaluate the Hurricanes scoring ability and/or ability to generate offense.
Evaluation of ‘what I’m watching’ points
In my game preview, I identified 3 ‘what I’m watching’ points for Sunday’s game.
1) AHL players trying to push up into NHL mix
I did not think that any of the AHL players made a statement that significantly boosted their chances of earning an NHL roster spot for opening night. Derek Ryan was on the score sheet for his part assisting on Bryan Bickell’s goal which was obviously a positive. And it was not so much that the players stood out negatively. Rather, they just did not do enough noteworthy to push up for more NHL consideration. Maybe most notable was how quiet Sergey Tolchinsky was. Again, he was not so much bad as not noticeably great.
2) Figuring out the fourth line
First, I though that the combination of Jay McClement and Viktor Stalberg had a solid night on the penalty kill. Most of the time when the Canes were hemmed in their own end on the penalty kill was when the second unit was on the ice. And Sunday’s game was a reverse of Friday’s which worked out nicely actually. Friday saw a lineup heavy on the Hurricanes offensive/skill players receive a high volume of power play chances. Sunday saw some of the Hurricanes key penalty killers in the lineup for a night when the team took a bunch of penalties.
I was not as impressed with McClement/Stalberg at even strength. McClement had a bad turnover in the neutral zone for a Suter breakaway chance, and in general the line had trouble keeping and advancing the puck. The result when a line cannot do that is that it must play a ton of defense in its own zone which in the long run ends badly.
An interesting side note was that Bryan Bickell continued what has been a strong preseason thus far especially on the score sheet where he now has a goal and an assist. I am not sure how the puzzle pieces fit together, but the potential of Bryan Bickell riding a change of scenery to regaining NHL form looks possible.
3) The blue line
I am not sure that a significant amount was figured out on the blue line. The defense was under siege most of the night in a game where the opponent dictated play and controlled possession, but the Canes defense could have been significantly better in terms of attention to detail. Ryan Murphy and Jaccob Slaving were both beaten (Murphy unable to take away passing lane and Slavin beaten to the net by Eric Staal) on a 2-on-2 rush versus Parise and Staal. One of the Wild goals came when Noah Hanifin made a soft, blind backhand from the end wall right onto a Wild stick for a quick shot and goal against. Hanifin’s propensity to spin and release backhand passes in his own end blindly before turning enough to visually check the passing lane mostly went away as the 2015-16 seaosn wore on, so it is worth watching to see if this was a one-off bad decision or a reversion to an old bad habit.
Other notes from Hurricanes loss
Michael Leighton: He had a couple ‘iffy’ plays on Friday in the Hurricanes 2-1 overtime loss but bounced back to have a pretty solid effort on Sunday giving up only 1 goal in almost 2 periods of work in a game where his team was getting the worse of it.
Alex Nedeljkovic: As is commonly the case with talented but young goals, Nedeljkovic offered some of each. He was very good through about half of the third period making some grade A saves and then all of a sudden was beaten twice on goals that looked ‘saveable’. First, he was beaten short side from an odd angle (possibly with a screen making it tougher) on the Hanifin turnover. Then Eric Staal squeaked a shot through him and into the net. Just like that, a good outing went to ‘meh’ in a hurry.
Depth scoring challenges: Again, it is significant that none of the players in the lineup would project to be in the Hurricanes top 7-8 scorers for the 2016-17 season, but I still think Sunday’s results do highlight the challenge that the Hurricanes roster has in terms of receiving enough depth scoring. It is hard to see a combination of McClement/Stalberg generating even average fourth-line scoring without some kind of spark plug on the other wing. And minus Jordan Staal, Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom did not look like they would be capable of generating much offense by themselves. Thus far, I would call Bryan Bickell a bright spot in terms of looking for some kind of score sheet contribution from the bottom 4-5 forwards.
Eric Staal: To give credit where it is due, Eric Staal won and earned the first star of the game. He and Zach Parise looked good together attacking off the rush and creating a number of good scoring chances including Staal’s goal. I wish Eric Staal all of the best, but I am happy that he landed in the Western Conference so that the separation process can proceed with more distance.
Next up is a back-to-back against the Buffalo Sabres with the Kraft Hockeyville game on Tuesday and then a follow up in Buffalo on Wednesday.