With only the home opener sitting in front of a five-game North Carolina State Fair road trip, the Canes gave the home crowd a small taste of hockey goodness with a 4-1 win. The first period was a bit sloppy with some disjointed play trying to advance the puck and at least three icings, but the Hurricanes played better as the game wore on and eventually pulled away.
What follows are quick hitter impressions from the Canes first game of the 2022-23 NHL season.
Calvin de Haan / Jalen Chatfield
Calvin de Haan did pick up an interference penalty, but in general I liked the play of the third pairing. Both players lean toward staying out of trouble which is the goal first and foremost for the third pairing. Chatfield brings a bit of a physical edge, and when playing well, de Haan can bring the steadiness that a team wants from its bottom pairing. Both players also showed a propensity to chuck the puck toward then net whenever given a chance in the offensive zone. That duo is not going to score a ton, but that is the recipe for chipping in a few deflection, rebound or ‘goalie didn’t see it’ type goals. It will be interesting to see how the third pairing plays out. The advantage of slotting Dylan Coghlan into the bottom pair would be the potential to upgrade the second power play unit and shift a bit more of Jaccob Slavin’s ice time to even strength play where he is at his best.
Jordan Martinook / Derek Stepan/ Ondrej Kase
Whereas I like the bottom of the blue line, I am not a huge fan of the fourth forward line. Derek Stepan had a strong preseason and earned his spot if one considers preseason to be a true tryout. But with Jordan Staal’s line likely to be light offensively, I think the team is better-served at least trying to build a fourth line that can score at an above average rate. For this ‘higher ceiling’ target for the fourth line, I think Jack Drury brings more upside especially when the team has enough depth to put a wing or two on that line with some scoring potential. Preference for doing differently noted, this line played well on Wednesday and factored in on Necas’ goal during a partial line change.
With the Hurricanes’ traditionally dominant preseason, it was difficult to get any kind of read on Andersen’s readiness. In the Saturday matinee against Columbus, he allowed three goals on only six or seven shots. The goals were not so much a result of him being horrible. More so, a couple breakdowns and higher-end chances against beat him. And with no volume, you get a save percentage barely north of 50 percent. So heading into game one, if asked if Andersen was close enough to regular season form, I would have just shrugged and said, ‘who knows.’ I thought the first checkpoint in real action was positive for Andersen. He seemed to be tracking the puck really well in a game that offered more than its fair share of oddball chances from turnovers or weird caroms/deflections.
Andrei Svechnikov / Jesperi Kotkaniemi / Martin Necas
More than anything else at forward, the development and ultimate fate of this line could decide if the Hurricanes are at least temporarily stuck as a definite playoff team but maybe just not really in a top tier yet come playoff time or if they can take the next step. Svechnikov is a good NHL player with the potential to be a great one. Kotkaniemi and Necas both have the potential to at least be good but were far from it when it mattered most in the playoffs last spring. With Max Pacioretty hopefully waiting in the wings to be a late-season upgrade, the Canes desperately need at least one of Necas or Kotkaniemi to find a higher gear and also need Svechnikov to keep growing rather than plateauing. The trio showed spark and promise in the preseason, so Wednesday represented a first chance to show that they could carry it into the regular season. Brady Skjei’s goal in the second period came off a Necas’ pass with Kotkaniemi and Svechnikov providing traffic in front of the net. Then the Canes third goal came from Necas’ individual effort in front of the net that turned the puck over and then a nifty finish after the puck found him a few seconds later. Add in Svechnikov’s odd-angle shot through a Blue Jackets’ defenseman’s screen and the trio collected two goals and three assists for a productive first night that counts.
The opener was maybe a perfect synopsis of the push and pull between the potential upside and potential downside of Burns in the top 4. With the puck on his stick, he brings patience, creativity and the ability to make plays. His instincts stepping into plays in the offensive zone generate yet more offense. Offensively, he will replace what the Canes lost when they traded Tony DeAngelo. But the flipside of the coin is if whether he will prove to be sound enough defensively to log regular minutes in the top 4 playing against the other teams’ best forwards. Wednesday’s game hinted at that potential challenge. The first goal against was most directly a result of Jesper Fast accidentally deflecting a puck right to the middle of the ice from the side boards in the defensive zone. The unpredictable outcome found Slavin still behind the net from where he sent the puck up the boards and Burns maybe already transitioning to playing offense off the rush. He was a bit slow to adjust which left Patrik Laine with all day to dust the puck off and snipe a corner for a goal. Also in the second period, both Burns and Necas seemed to go fishing for the puck instead of defending through the body on Cole Sillinger off the rush on the power play. The result was a 1-on-2 suddenly turning into a breakaway from the blue line in. The result was a goal against that was fortunately waived off due to an offsides call on a coach’s challenge. Later in that same second period, Burns turned a puck over behind his own net and then had the puck go right through him to the front of the net. Fortunately, Andersen pounced on it to snuff out any danger. But for those who have questions about the viability of Burns in his top 4 role defensively, there were things to point to.
Next up is a return to San Jose for Brent Burns on Friday to kick off a five-game road trip.