Anyone paying attention to Canes hockey in September knows that the preseason has gone very well thus far. The games do not count in the standings, but winning still always beats losing as long as you are going to keep score. More significantly, nothing will be validated until the real games start, but there are at least signs of hope that new head coach Rod Brind’Amour is making progress in effecting a change in culture and attitude.
With four games to audition players and get players up to game speed now in the rear view mirror, this weekend features two games that will focus on preparing for next Thursday’s season opener.
‘What I’m watching’ for today’s game is sort of a mini-set of what was included in today’s Daily Cup of Joe that built a work list for the remainder of the preseason.
‘What I’m watching’ for the Carolina Hurricanes versus the Washington Capitals
1) Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
After being reunited at practice this week, the duo should see their first game action of the preseason together tonight in Washington, D.C. Both players have started slow which is not a huge deal being only a couple exhibition games, but ideal would be to get both ignited heading into the regular season.
2) Who plays with whom
The most significant thing to come out of Friday’s game could be before the puck even drops. I would expect Brind’Amour to begin working toward his opening day lineup, so whereas it may not have mattered much 10 days ago, who plays with whom is more meaningful now. Subject to change repeatedly throughout a long NHL season, today’s line combinations and defense pairings are likely to be reasonably close to what we see on Thursday.
3) Slotting the kids
Following from #2, I am especially curious to see where Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark and Janne Kuokkanen land. The math says that they are one too many and that one could be returned to Charlotte to get the forward group down to 13, but I said about a week ago that the current trajectory could see the Hurricanes keep 14 forwards.
I actually think Wallmark’s line could be used more like a third line that Necas’ line early on. As such, I think Brind’Amour will flank him with as much scoring help as he can muster.
I am on record as saying that Kuokkanen’s head two-way play beyond his years is a good fit for Staal’s line. I will be curious to see if he slots there today as he did early in preseason.
The way Warren Foegele is playing right now, he fits anywhere. But Brind’Amour has some balancing to do with so many rookies. He has expressed a preference to split Necas and Svechnikov early on. Even though Foegele is a rookie, could he fit on a line with Necas? Could he receive an audition with Aho/Teravainen? I will be curious to see regardless.
4) Maintaining intensity
The hallmark of the Hurricanes preseason success has been an incredibly consistent, hard-charging style of play. The results are not critical, but I will be watching to see if the same near perfect consistency level for pace and effort can be maintained.
The puck drops at 7pm I believe with a streaming version of the Caps coverage to be available online.
Tough decisions indeed. Thankfully, the decisions are amongst multiple good choices instead of pick your poison. These tough decisions make me happy.
One system element that appears to be a big change is the position of the two defensive players in the offensive zone. With BP they were mostly pinned to the blue line, usually out near the boards. If they pinched it was along the boards. Note that the default position is the maximum distance that a player can be from the goal and still be on the o-zone. It is the lowest possible danger shooting position in the O-zone. And goodness I got tired of seeing shots from there, particularly with no traffic in front.
RBAs d-men seem to use the opponents high forward as their floating blue line. If the high forward collapses, the d-men float down to the top of the circles. Note that this is the closest a d-man can be to the goal and still be in a defensive position. The goalie has 1/2 as much time to react to a shot. With traffic in front, the top off the circle is a high danger shooting zone.
If I have read this system change correctly – a big “if” – I predict that our defenseman will double their scoring as a group.
We’ll give up a few more break always the other way, but the net benefit will be in the range of 5-1. (Note that we gave up plenty of breakaways with wild strategy).
That will be one of my watch points tonight.
“Old strategy” not “wild strategy”. I’m not good at walking 3 dogs and typing on my phone at the same time!
Great observation about the change in D positioning.
Tonight’s lineup (and RBA did say 4 or 5 players in the lineup have a lot riding on tonight)”
Surprising lineup tonight after some expected and surprising comments in CanesCast Episode 58. Expected: high praise for defensive talent and depth, for Foegele, Svechnikov and Necas, and a comment on the opening at center for Wallmark. Surprising: either Smith or Maniscalco (not sure which) said it looks as though Martinook will be the 4th line center for the season (not for this game) and one of them also said Nic Roy hasn’t scored but is still in the running for 4th line center.
This makes me wonder if one of the Mikes think RBA is considering moving Wallmark higher in the lineup, playing Martinook or Roy at 4th line center and moving Aho, Necas or both to the wing. Nothing Maniscalco and Smith said is going to affect roster decisions but they are close to the team.
It’s even more interesting now with McKegg in tonight’s lineup as 4th line center with two other guys who are likely headed for Charlotte tomorrow. Wallmark is on the 3rd line. Roy is not in the lineup.
RBA may be considering more options at center than we think and more options for Necas than most of us think. RBA singled out Necas in his pregame comment. Is it decision night for Aho and Necas at center or for Necas as a Cane or a Checker? Or are the high stakes tonight mostly over who stays in Raleigh and who goes to Charlotte among Menalaenen, Kuokkanen, Brown, Di Giuseppe, McKegg and Roy (even though Roy is not playing)?
I thought tonight’s lineup would have more NHLers and lines closer to what we’ll see opening night.
I’d rather see Necas put to the test with the strongest possible wings and wings well-suited to his speed and skills. It doesn’t look that way. Zykov is great around the net but isn’t fast. Di Giuseppe has good speed but is not a scoring threat. It looks to me as though RBA is asking Necas to carry a questionable line combination.
I looked for the Caps’ lines and didn’t find them.
There is another game, so it’s a process, and the MGMT TEAM could have other plans for the current players, or a trade in the works…?
My guess is that they are still interested in changing the center position situation. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking, eh?