Many years ago, NHL teams had three lines of hockey players and a line of limited function penalty killers and goons. Those days are of course gone, and good teams stock all 12 forward slots with players capable of putting the puck in the net. But find true four line depth can be elusive. Injuries disrupt things. There is still sometimes a need to reserve a slot or two for penalty killers who might be lighter on offensive ability. And it just is not easy to get everything clicking at the same time.
Today’s Daily Cup Joe takes a look at the Hurricanes’ current efforts to build out a forward group that is four lines deep.
The constant evolution of the situation itself over the past few weeks has been fascinating. Very recently, the Hurricanes were very much a one line team with Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov on fire but nothing else really working. And in the middle of that the Hurricanes traded away two centers but received only one in return. So the team seemed to be desperately trying combinations seeking something that could work past the top line.
Fast forward only a week or so to today, and the situation is almost reversed. Despite Aho’s two goals that both came on special teams, the top line has been struggling a bit of late. But driven by an unlikely source in Morgan Geekie, the Hurricanes seem to be making great strides on the depth front.
Other than leading the Canes special teams outburst on Tuesday, Aho’s line has actually hit a short-term slump in terms of 5-on-5 play. The trio had a really tough night against Detroit’s top line and was also quiet against the Penguins on Sunday. But I would chalk the slowdown up to just being overdue. The line was red hot for an extending period of time and maybe just overdue for a short lull. The volume of offensive talent between Aho, Teravainen and Svechnikov is just too much to not produce offense if they do the work.
I feel like even two of these three is enough to be the foundation for a scoring line.
If Brind’Amour does tinker a bit as he did in the third period on Tuesday, could Teravainen be a good addition to the Staal/Williams combination? Staal’s line has been the team’s best in a few recent games. Staal seems to be finding a higher gear. Justin Williams is making home out of the ice at the top of the crease and scoring goals because of it. If Brind’Amour wants to go a bit more in the match up line direction at home, Teravainen would be a great fit defensively and also have the potential to add playmaking.
Jordan Staal is playing his best hockey of the season. Justin Williams is hitting stride after a slow start. And McGinn seems be a decent complementary player as an aggressive forechecker with decent ability to defend. Right now, Williams’ ability to score off of other players’ shots either via tips or rebound chances fits well with Staal who when playing well can drive play to the offensive zone and cycle the pucks on the walls. Commonly the outcome is a shot from the point. Every one of those right now seems to find Williams in front of the net trying to convert it to a goal.
The most surprising development in terms of offensive depth has been Morgan Geekie. He now has two goals and two assists in two game. But even that understates his offensive contribution as he has played a key role in two more goals as a screen/net front presence. Foegele and Geekie seemed to have decent chemistry on Tuesday but as much as anything this trio rates really high for just buzzing around the offensive zone and/or on the forecheck and creating a bit of chaos. That can be challenging to defend.
The continued success of this line could be critical to the Canes depth scoring. One could argue that this is the fourth line though they were utilized more like a third line for much of Tuesday’s game. I feel like if this line can produce even at a modest clip that it leaves enough scoring talent to build another scoring line and truly be four lines deep offensively.
Dzingel or Niederreiter/Trocheck/Necas
That leaves a bit of a line of misfit toys. Ryan Dzingel who is out short-term with injury has shown a good knack for intermittently generating offense with heady passing plays. But he is underperforming his recent history in terms of scoring goals. Nino Niederreiter is similarly a goal scorer who just had not found his higher gear yet this season. Trocheck has been doing other things and did chip in a huge overtime game-winner versus the Islanders, but in total he has yet to find his stride offensively. And finally, Martin Necas has provided decent depth scoring all season but of late has been in a bit of a slump. If at least for now one considers this to be the fourth line, that is a TON of offensive fire power. If Trocheck can get settled offensively and play the role of puck distributor, there is enough finishing talent to get much more than depth scoring from the wings.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Have or will the Hurricanes find the elusive forward dept scoring that is common on great hockey teams?
2) For the top two lines (Aho’s and Staal’s) would you continue to ride them as is? Or would you consider limited tinkering?
3) Who do you like with Vincent Trocheck to try to get a couple more scorers going?
It’s great to see Staal-Williams clicking and really pushing play on the ice. Last few games, Staal has looked more like last season Staal, who was a force down the stretch. Seems like he and Williams are feeding off each other’s play.
For whatever reason, I feel like Turbo has been suddenly a bit invisible and not his dominant self. His passing and decision making are typically near-perfect, but the last few games he’s just looked… off. Guessing there are lots of guys battling through injuries.
Nice to see contributions from Williams. He may not be much going up and down the ice, but he knows what to do once he gets there. The Geekie kid is solid. No, he isn’t the best skater, but he isn’t Zykov either. He gets it done below the dots in both zones.
Aho, Teravainen, and Svechnikov need to get it together. Offensive slumps happen, but when you let it creep into your defensive game that’s a problem. Aho and Svechnikov particularly seem to be cheating on their defensive assignments, getting on the wrong side of the puck, etc. Trying to create offense, but they end up creating it for the wrong team! Hopefully Aho getting some points last night will take some pressure off and he can play the way he should.
Interesting and timely article Matt. As a fan of the SAT line, it occurred to me last night that the problem with it may be a lack of an enforcer. Opponents are teeing up all three of them, but particularly Svech. Per Darth’s comment above, Turbo has been fighting something here for a couple weeks, he is obviously banged up too.
Love him or hate him, Tom Wilson has been essential for the success of Ovi and that top line.
It may be one of the reasons for pairing Eddy with Slavin, with the intention of putting that defensive pair with the SAT line.
Moving Nino up for an NAT line (a TAN line? lol) puts a little more grit on the line, which may be the point. I love that the guys are standing up for each other, but it has been “by committee”. Interestingly having all three lines “unprotected” isn’t a big deal for a game or two, but takes its toll over time.
Another impact to note is the “Ayres Effect”. Whenever a player gets their first NHL action, the other players rally around them to make it special for them. The greatest example in the history of the NHL was with David Ayres. Then we saw it with Geekie. Last year we saw it with Bishop and McKegg. The incoming players will never ever forget that first game, achieving a sort of hockey immortality for the old pros.
As an organization, the canes could do a better job of cycling up prospects from the farm. It is good for the prospects and an energy boost to the entire team.
Good comment on Tom Wilson. Wilson has toned down enough so he is not getting majors/suspended as much while still being physical.
Nino/Dzingle/Foegle need to up their physical play. They have enough talent but need that edge to really contribute like the Tom Wilson types of the league.
Hayden Fleury and especially Big Joel give the Canes 2 rugged D-men. So if you add toughness from at least 1 of Nino/Dzingle/Foegle then they Canes can compete with teams like Boston.
Keep in mind the Svetch is still a teen and will be able to take care of himself in the future like Ovi or Crosby do now. But like those players, you don’t want him fighting or whatever and losing time on ice.
Turbo was playing injured before the All-Star break and may still be fighting it. I expect we we will find out what it is at the end of the season.