In yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I offered five positives from the Canes first round win over the Boston Bruins. If you missed it, you can find that HERE.
And to be clear, the series was a net positive. ANY kind of series win is a positive with minimal bonus points for being impressive other than spending a bit less energy overcoming adversity and sometimes getting a couple extra days to rest, heal and be ready to go again.
That said, winning another three rounds will require the Hurricanes to find a higher gear just like it will for the other eight teams remaining in the 2022 NHL Playoffs.
In that vein, today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at areas of concern and possible improvement coming out of the first round series victory.
Areas for concern/improvement
(not in particular order)
1) Andrei Svechnikov
Though they could be considered more as a duo if Brind’Amour keeps them together to start the second round, I will include the Canes top regular season scorers, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, separately here.
Though each had some moments neither was overall good in the series.
On Svechnikov, he did not score a non empty-net point until game 6 (his first goal and first assist came on empty-netters when the first two games were already decided). He also logged a late power play goal in game 6 when the Canes were down four goals, and the game was already decided. That leaves him with a single goal in game 6 and no assists for scoring points in the series. There is a positive here though. Despite never getting going offensively, Svechnikov was engaged and physical throughout the series with the thunderous hit on Hampus Lindholm as the biggest moment. And also significantly, he played the series with a physical edge and a bit of a struggle offensively without falling into an old habit of taking bad penalties either out of frustration or trying to do too much. He took only two minor penalties that resulted in a power play against (plus one other that was offsetting) which is not bad for a power forward who is trying to dial it up physically. He looked a bit out of sorts in the front part of series whiffing on a some shots and losing his feet a few times, and for the Canes to make magic in the playoffs, he needs to do more offensively, but the silver lining through the first round is that Svechnikov showed a mature ability to keep pushing the basics when the offense was not going well, and the Canes survived.
2) Sebastian Aho
On Aho, he had more of an up and down series mostly dictated by the home/road match ups. He collected five scoring points (3 goals and 2 assists). That is not the point per game-ish or more that one would hope for, but more significantly, Aho’s line should be the Canes top scoring line. The Canes successfully walked a tight rope to victory being able to score enough only at home, but needing that level of perfection is a precarious path forward. Further, the Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals could see the Canes as the visiting team needing to win at least one game on the road. When Bergeron’s line exploded for 16 points in two games in games 3 and 4, Aho’s line had exactly 0. And Aho was on the ice for four of the five goals against (one being an empty-netter) in game 6. Not getting anything offensively on the road from Aho’s line has the potential to be a fatal flaw later in the playoffs. Also considering the positive for Aho, he was front and center with two goals in the Canes 5-2 win in game 2 and also had two assists in game 5, so it is not as if he did not have his moments. That said, he will need to be better for the Canes to make magic.
3) The fourth line
Before the playoffs started, I said that the Hurricanes would need to get scoring production from the wing from at least two of Seth Jarvis, Martin Necas, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and/or Max Domi playing wing in the top 6. Brind’Amour nailed it with who he chose to slot in the top 6. Playing on the first line, Seth Jarvis had a huge two-goal game 5 that kept the Canes trending toward a series win. Playing on the second line, Max Domi had a game for the ages with two pretty goals and a nifty assist to factor in all three Canes goals in the decisive game 7.
Brind’Amour’s slotting pushed Martin Necas and Jesperi Kotkaniemi down to the fourth line together. I actually liked Kotkaniemi’s game early in the series, but he seemed to find a cloak of invisibility offensively as the series wore on and finished without a single point despite logging 12 minutes of ice time per game. Martin Necas did collect three points, all assists, but was nowhere close to being a difference-maker either. The team is not looking for the fourth line to lead the team in scoring, but it needs something more than nothing offensively, especially since they were victimized defensively a couple times.
It will be interesting to see how patient Brind’Amour is. Martinook’s availability is unclear, but Stepan and Lorentz could be two-thirds of more of a grinding fourth line if Brind’Amour wants to change things up.
4) Special teams
After a sluggish ending to the regular season for the power play, the hope was that the extra energy of the playoffs would somehow shock the power play back to life. Though there were some ups to go with the downs, that generally was not the case. The Canes power play mostly struggled early in the series. Coupled with the lesson that even a good penalty kill is in a bad spot if you cannot stay out of the penalty box, the Canes first-round playoff fate was nearly decided negatively by special teams. The Rangers also have a great top power play unit, and the Lightning, Panthers or maybe Avalanche who could be down the road are maybe even more daunting. The Canes need to stay out of the penalty box and at the same time find a higher gear on the power play. In game 7, the Canes took only one penalty and killed it, and the power play was actually good despite not scoring (did clang one post), so hopefully that carries over into the second round.
5) Road hockey
To go deep in the playoffs, the Hurricanes will need to find a way to steal a win or two on the road if for no other reason that they are unlikely to have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. (Both Florida and Colorado would have home ice against the Canes.) More than anything else, winning on the road against good teams requires being solid and sound even if not spectacular throughout the lineup. If a team has an overly weak link, a good team will exploit it. That is mostly what happened in games 3 and 4. Game 6 turned on the non-call on the goalie interference that was the first domino in the Canes going from winning 2-1 to tied at 2-2 to having to kill off three minor penalties. If not for that sudden turn, game 6 was closer to being the kind of solid road game needed to have a chance to steal a win.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Of the potential areas for concern/improvement listed, which one(s) concern you the most heading into the second round?
2) Are there any other concerns you would add to my list for the first round?