Five pressing questions for the Hurricanes.
1) What about the start?
The annual disruption of the N.C. State Fair, causing a lengthy road trip early in the season, can’t always be blamed for a disappointing start. The Canes were 4-3 in a seven-game trip in October last season, more than acceptable. But they lost the first three games of the season, two at home, and then went 2-4-3 after the seven-game road swing.
Center Jordan Staal says it’s a matter of preparing well in practice, then carrying it into the games and that will be needed with the first six games on the road. Goalie Cam Ward said the Canes can’t get too stressed over it, either.
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Said Ward: “We need to get off to a good start, and we’ve preached that in years past, that it’s something we need to improve upon, but you want to do that without putting too much pressure on yourself. Just go out there and play.”
2) Can the Canes score enough?
This would be a good year for Jeff Skinner to get 35 or more goals. Many believe he’s capable of it. Victor Rask had 21 last season and could add to it. Elias Lindholm can’t have another 11-goal season and the young D-men can, and need, to add more production.
The Canes, 14th in shots per game (29.9) but 27th in scoring last season (2.39 goals per game), are counting on forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho to add more skill and goals while improving the power play. Carolina was 24th at 16.8 percent on the power play and 24th in power-play opportunities last season.
3) What about overtime?
The Canes had 16 overtime losses, the most in the NHL, including a 2-5 record in shootouts. Again, more skill on the ice should translate into more scoring three-on-three. Canes coach Bill Peters at times last season had a forward and two defensemen go out in OT, but two forwards and a D-man likely is the best way to go, and Peters will have more options this season.
Jeff Skinner, tongue in cheek, said if the Canes had scored one more goal in regulation in those overtime games, there wouldn’t have been an overtime. Point taken. That’s another answer.
4) Will the goaltending hold up?
Canes general manager Ron Francis answered the most pressing offseason issue – what would he do about the goaltending – by re-signing Ward to a two-year, $6.6 million extension in June. The Canes liked the way Ward and Eddie Lack finished last season. But what about over 82 games?
Now 32, Ward has to stay healthy. Lack, 28, has to be more consistent. Collectively, their save percentage needs to be higher.
5) Sophomore slumps?
Defensemen Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce all went from college to the NHL last season as rookies and became lineup regulars, giving the Canes solid, reliable play on the back end. Veteran Ron Hainsey says the second year for defensemen in the league can be difficult. Teams know a player’s tendencies, weaknesses.
But Hainsey doesn’t expect the Canes’ threesome to take a step back. “Their intelligence was obviously their strong suits,” Hainsey said. “Everyone makes mistakes up here, but they learned really fast last year. They’re smart. They all skate. They take a hit to get it out fast.”