Winning is incredibly fun even if it is only for four games.
The massive scoring outbursts over the past two games has also been fun.
No doubt there are multiple other levels for passionate fans to consider and evaluate the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes so far and the team’s trajectory for the rest of the season.
But in digging in the details, it is important not to lose track of how good 3-0-1 is and how fun the start of the season has been thus far.
As I said on Twitter after the game, after nearly failing to score and trigger the Petey Pablo ‘Raise Up’ goal song in the home opener, fans have since had a deluge of opportunities to hear the new song. Thirteen goals for in two game is not something that one sees very often.
Pros and cons
Despite the winning result, the game was probably the Hurricanes worst. The team was slow out of the gate for the first time this season which is worth noting. The sloppiness in terms of coverage carried over from Sunday. And the game continued a downward trend in terms of overall quality of play despite the winning result.
But the positives are significant too. The team continues to play with a can do/find a way attitude. Whereas in 2017-18, the team seemed to crumble at the smallest amount of misfortune, the 2018-19 Hurricanes so far have been the opposite. They just keep attacking and have emerged from deficits in consecutive wins with wins. In addition, winning is becoming normal for this team. Granted six of the games were preseason affairs, but the Hurricanes have now obtained at least a point in all ten games under Rod Brind’Amour. In changing the attitude and culture, that is significant.
The game started fortuitously enough when Jordan Staal flipped a fade away wrist shot toward the net. Markstrom seemed to lose the puck in a Jordan Martinook screen, and quickly the Hurricanes were up 1-0. But despite the early tally, the Hurricanes were sluggish and were outplayed early. Vancouver struck next when Dougie Hamilton got caught up ice and a stretch sprung Sven Baertschi behind him to go in alone and score. But when Brett Pesce scored his first of the season through a Sebastian Aho screen, the Hurricanes were up 2-1. And then when Micheal Ferland did his best Erik Cole impression storming to the net and creating a cloud of dust, Aho scored to post the Hurricanes to a 3-1 lead. The second period saw the Hurricanes break down defensively against the rush while on the penalty kill and more haphazard play. But two goals against were countered by a Andrei Svechnikov goal, and the team escaped to the third period with a 3-2 lead. The third period finally found some semblance of solid play, and when Warren Foegele fired a slap shot by Markstrom, the Hurricanes had what they needed to claim a 5-3 win.
On another loose night, Jaccob Slavin stood out as steady and sound. He was my first star of the game. Brind’Amour leaned heavily on him to the tune of a team high 23:33 of ice time. He also collected two assists on the night. Would be curious to hear if others agree that he looks faster this year. He consistently found and drove skating lanes through the neutral zone on Tuesday such that he forced the defense to back up and recover which made for easy zone entries regularly with Slavin toting the puck.
Fleury stood out by not standing out. After being a healthy scratch for the first three games, Fleury stepped in and played a strong game and looked up to speed.
He was made not quite as good as his Canes debut on Friday and three goals against is not a pretty stat line, but in a messy game, I think he was decent. He had little chance on what got by him and was generally sound in front of a defense that was not. So while maybe not as impressive as Friday’s start, I would consider Tuesday’s win a positive.
The ability of Jordan Staal’s line to keep the puck in the offensive zone is off the charts good right now and something not seen on the Hurricanes maybe since Rod Brind’Amour himself centered a line with big, physical wings Bates Battaglia and Erik Cole back during the first rising of Hurricanes hockey during the 2001-02 season. Throw in two goals, and the night just gets better for what has been a dominant line.
He is not ready. There…I said it. First let me be clear that nothing has changed with Necas’ ceiling. He is still a 19-year old with incredible skating ability and good offensive skills and still projects to be a top 6 scoring forward. But I increasingly believe that his development is better served by some time in the AHL. Two opposite things jump out at me. First, like many 19-year olds, he is just incredibly raw in terms of his play without the puck. He lost his man twice for goals against against the Rangers on Sunday, and just generally seems to lack the attention to detail needed at the NHL level. Maybe more significantly, he is not thriving even intermittently on offense right now. I think the version of Necas that does well offensively but is still learning defensively could be suited to develop at the NHL level. But even offensively, the game in terms of decision-making looks too fast for him right now. He had at least five or six times on Tuesday when he gave up the puck at random because he suddenly ran out of time and space.
I think Necas’ situation is one that the team needs to monitor closely. I think taking a player who is supposed to reach the caliber to drive wins and putting him in a situation where he needs to play up just to be serviceable or average is dangerous. I think too many years playing over his head significantly stunted Elias Lindholm’s development and put him in a situation where just becoming capable was a sizable accomplishment for him. I want players like Necas aiming way higher than that, and as such I think they benefit from playing at a level where they can be a difference-maker.
Lucas Wallmark’s line
Even though Aho’s line had a bigger night on the score sheet, I thought Wallmark’s line actually made a really strong case for being the Hurricanes second best line. Wallmark had an especially strong game just doing little things like taking away angles in the neutral zone and reading and reacting behind forechecking by Svechnikov and Martinook.
Penalty kill issues off the rush
The biggest single issue contributing to goals against on Tuesday was the team’s horrid defense of the rush when on the penalty kill. The Hurricanes gave up the first goal when Pesce leaned too far to the outside. When the Canucks player turned and beat Pesce to the middle, it was basically a 2-on-1 with speed and very quickly a goal against. The second power play goal by the Canucks was similar that the Canes gave up the blue line with speed and then failed to sort things out as the Canucks zipped the puck around and eventually scored. This one definitely falls under the category of game film work, as the team tries to keep its aggressive up ice shorthanded forecheck but also be able to better defend the defensive blue line.
I am burying this at the end, so just skip it altogether if you want to just enjoy two fun home wins. But I do not feel good about the team’s trajectory over the past two games. In each, the team has strayed significantly from sound defensive hockey. I get that playing an attacking style is part of Brind’Amour’s recipe, but winning regularly by outscoring a bunch of defensive break downs is simply not sustainable. In years past, these down trends seemed to almost always end with a massive thud. It will be interesting to see if Brind’Amour can help his team strike a balance before the loose play ends badly.
Next up is a three-day layoff before an abbreviated North Carolina State Fair road trip starts in Minnesota on Saturday.