I had good intentions about writing a Daily Cup of Joe article focused on the recent Carolina Hurricanes ticket promotions and the quick chain of events leading to Tuesday’s effort to fill the lower bowl of PNC Arena. But after consecutive nights at PNC Arena (counting NC State versus UNC on Monday) and preview and recap articles both days, I am gassed and am going to hold off on stepping into the somewhat sensitive subject until tomorrow.
Instead, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick look at the Hurricanes lineup for Tuesday and more general comments on what Peters is up to right now.
Impact of the home-heavy schedule
Meaningful context for considering the lineup is the fact that the Hurricanes just started a stretch of 11 out of 12 games at home. Whereas the road forces a bias toward balancing a lineup to minimize weaknesses, home hockey offers a greater ability to devise purpose-built lines and mostly dictate favorable match ups and preferred utilization for them. In this regard, I think the greatest upshot is the potential to leave Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce together versus needing to separate them at times this season to more evenly balance the defense pairings. Somewhat similarly, I think this also makes it likely that Peters will play best on best most nights with the Aho/Staal combination (likely with Teravainen who found his way back there on Tuesday after Lindholm started in the right wing slot) matching up. In both of the two prior years, Peters has also shown a strong bias toward playing a group of five (Staal’s line plus Slavin/Pesce) in a ‘best available’, match up role at home, though thus far in 2017-18 Peters has been more inclined to mix and match defense pairs with Staal’s line. With the blue line more balanced right now, my hunch is that Peters will continue to mix and match which defense pairing sees ice time with Staal’s line.
Lee Stempniak as a complement for Jeff Skinner
Being honest, I viewed him simply as serviceable depth especially coming off a long-term injury. From what I have seen thus far, I think I underestimated his potential to boost the lineup. His four points in six games are a good start even not eye-popping offensive statistics, but more significantly, he is like a Justin Williams light. He is just a pretty good player who does a number of things at least reasonably well and maybe most significantly is just a pain to play against because of how he engages the puck, finds his way into puck battles and just generally competes. Jeff Skinner has not caught fire since Stempniak’s return, but I continue to feel like Skinner’s game has shown signs and just might be ready to bust out again. I thought Skinner/Ryan/Stempniak was the team’s best line on Tuesday despite not scoring, and Skinner has had a couple other games recently when he seemed like he was on the brink.
Elias Lindholm as a (temporary) fourth-liner
On Tuesday when Peters started mixing and matching a bit, Elias Lindholm found himself on the fourth line. Worth noting is that this happened not so much because Lindholm was horrible but rather because other combinations have been pretty good. When Peters returned to some recent successful twosomes in McGinn/Williams and Teravainen with Staal and Aho, the only real place left for Lindholm was the fourth line. That is a great sign when Lindholm who is clearly top 9-capable and is not playing poorly an get pushed to the bottom line.
Noah Hanifin/Trevor van Riemsdyk as a second pairing
I think this duo could be the key to the blue line. Trevor van Riemsdyk actually struggled for the first time all season coming out of the bye week, looking a step slow getting back up to NHL speed, but otherwise he has been a rock for the third pairing. As far as ceiling in a good game, I think Hanifin/van Riemsdyk rates higher than Fleury/Faulk, and Peters has picked his spots to use them accordingly on nights when they were clicking like Tuesday. The keys for this duo to be a solid second pairing especially when the team returns to the road are for van Riemsdyk to prove capable of a similar level of play against higher-end competition and for Hanifin to find a run of consistent hockey that is mostly free of the occasional train wreck days that still seem to pop into Hanifin’s game.
Sebastian Aho as a catalyst
On cue, Sebastian Aho scored a huge goal in his first game back after an injury layoff. No doubt, he needs to produce for the Hurricanes to muster enough offense to win consistently, but I think equally important is for Aho to play at the level above that and be a catalyst for his line mates. After tracking toward a better season in terms of offensive production, Staal is now on pace for only high 40s for points again and has only a single goal and two assists in the six games starting with the game in which Aho was injured. Teravainen is another player who could use a spark sometimes. He had two goals and an assist in the Montreal win before the break and added an assist on Tuesday, but prior to that he hit another slow stretch with an eight-game goal-less streak. It might be a lot to ask from a 20-year old, but the challenge for Aho is to not just score but also boost the production from his entire line like great players do.
Justin Williams and Brock McGinn as Batman and Robin
With all of players who lean raw skill on other lines, the McGinn/Rask/Williams is a bit of a hard hat and lunch pail line. McGinn bangs bodies. Williams is just difficult to play against in all three zones. And Rask is a sound two-way center who rarely makes defensive blunders that cost scoring chances. I especially like Williams and McGinn together. Both hound the puck like crazy which is a great recipe for generating scoring chances for a line that does not have a pure puck distributor for a center or a true playmaker.
What say you Caniacs?
1) What are your thoughts on the current line combinations and defense pairings?
2) Which pairs of two players are your favorite combinations right now?