It’s funny; preseason has always reminded me of the Royal Rumble in a way. The ice is a mix of jobbers and jabronis and some stars sprinkled in.
It’s fairly common for fans to say, “It’s preseason, it doesn’t mean anything,” when your team is losing these early games. This often helps put your mind at ease while you watch your team struggle.
This saying, however, might not apply to the Hurricanes (at least yet). Winning back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning to kickoff the 2018 preseason was fairly impressive – taking into consideration not only the scores (4-1 and 6-1), but that Tampa had a relatively strong roster (by preseason standards) in that first game.
Again, it’s early and there’s a varying degree of talent on the ice, but I have a couple high-level takeaways from these first two exhibition matches…
There’s a reason why the saying “speed kills” gets frequently tossed around in sports and Carolina demonstrated it’s meaning fairly well the past two nights. They were quick and seemed to swarm the puck – putting opponents on their heels. Speed (at any level) is so deadly. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to get to pucks or control play and good speed is the reason those things are often disrupted. There’s a serious jump in their step that is noticeably different from last season.
A product of the above-mentioned speed is the setup for goal-scoring opportunities. First, I was really impressed with Carolina getting pucks to the net at a high rate. It’s nice to see guys thinking shoot, instead of over-thinking and holding on to the puck too long or trying to make cute passes that don’t work. Secondly, the playmaking and setup ability has been on-point. When guys are crashing the net (like they’re doing) looking for second chance opportunities and redirects, good things will happen. There was a great setup last game where Williams rushed down the right wing and hit a streaking Kukkanen with a dynamite pass that Kukks redirected it. The whole play was one fluid motion and very pretty to watch.
There’s no doubt about it that the Canes bulked up their bluneline this past offseason. I’d put them as one of the more formidable defenses in the league. With their lack of scoring upfront last year, I think the idea coming out of Carolina’s front office was to get some pieces on that back end that can find the back of the net, too – as well to help with the questionable goalie situation. Hamilton and de Haan should help in the scoring department and TvR will continue to grow as a guy who can jump up in the play and sneak to the front of the net while opposing defenses are distracted with wingers in the corners – he started developing that knack in Chicago. It felt like the Defensemen were getting more involved these past two nights in general. There were a couple nice rushes that started from the Canes zone, but I also noticed a bit more trailing in for late passes, as well as strong passing/cycling and shooting from the points – see TvR’s one-timer rip in the first game. As important as that all is, it’s also important to get back and cover your zone. Holding a team to only two goals in two games is something to certainly continue to build off of and be excited about.
The Blue Paint:
I thought Mrazek looked stellar in his time between the pipes. There was a level of confidence to his game where he was coming out a lot to meet shooters; but I think the more important take away was his poise and angles—the ladder being a big part of a goalies success. Tampa didn’t have much to shoot at because Mrazek was taking away most of the net. He seems to be learning to become a more technical goalie, as opposed to one who relies more on athleticism. He never really got himself out of position or put himself in bad spots by overplaying shots. Crawford plays a similar game. It’s not as exciting, but if having to play a technically “boring” game means keeping the puck out of the net, then it’s all good.
Darling seemed a little shaky to me in his go-around. I know he got rattled last year and hopefully that doesn’t carry over. He’s always been the opposite of a technical goalie to me. He relies on his size, athleticism and combining the two to take away the bottom of the net. At times, he can be visibly emotional – for example, the slow rolling puck that almost snuck by him, you can see him shake his head as if he felt stupid or something. There were a couple opportunities where he sort of flails out of position, too. There seems to be a lack of confidence to his game that he will hopefully lock down. Emotion can be a powerful tool for a goalie, but you want to make sure you can utilize it in the right way. There needs to be balance. You never want it to dictate your game or become so visible that the opposing team can see you’re flustered and off your game, because then their mission will be to completely break your confidence and then you get yanked.
I think Joe –err—Brett Pesce said it best that the team is buying into Brind’Amour’s system. It’s only preseason, but this looks like a quick and exciting club already. Should be a fun challenge tonight against the defending Stanley Cup champions…