Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks’ Eye On The Enemy: Cardiac Cane (Carolina)

By George Clifford
Dec 23, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) stops a second period shot against Boston Bruins forward David Backes (42) at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 23, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) stops a second period shot against Boston Bruins forward David Backes (42) at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /
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Nov 10, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho (20) skates with the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at PNC Arena. The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho (20) skates with the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at PNC Arena. The Anaheim Ducks defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

Some questions with Cardiac Cane’s Matthew Barlowe

Which player has been most impressive so far and why?

MB: For me, the answer would have to be Brett Pesce. Pesce at best could be described as a solid second-pairing defenseman to enter the season.  But this season, Pesce has put up shot suppression numbers that are top-10 or top-20 in the league right now, and has improved his offensive game to boot.   

Rookie Sebastian Aho has looked great. Tell us something about him.

MB: Aho has great puck vision.  He can read the play like a 10-year veteran.  He hasn’t quite learned the limits of what he can pull off in the NHL, but with every game he gets better and better.  For a small guy, he has learned to position his body perfectly in order to win the physical battles along the boards and in the corners.  

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Which player has been the most disappointing and why?

MB: The biggest disappointment isn’t a major star on the team, but someone I thought would be a major role player this season: Andrej Nestrasil.  Nestrasil went from being a major contributor on one of the team’s best lines last season, to having a permanent seat in the press box.  In the few games he’s played, his underlying stats are pretty good, yet he can’t seem to crack the lineup.

It’s all the more curious when depth players like Joakim Nordstrom and Brock McGinn are still getting minutes.

Where is former Blackhawk Teuvo Teravainen being played in the lineup and how has he performed?

MB: He’s been great so far.  He’s shown his versatility playing center, wing and the point on the powerplay.  His scoring rates have increased both at 5-on-5 and in all situations. I’m not sure yet if he’ll develop into that first-line role, but he is a great supplemental talent that all great playoff teams need.

Most surprising performance so far?

MB: Cam Ward — a goalie that averaged a .906 save percentage over the last four years and seemed all but washed up.  His re-signing by general manager Ron Francis had many pundits theorizing that the Hurricanes were engaged in a “stealth tank,” given Ward’s past play.

To start the season he proved them all right, but from the start of November until today he has posted a .927 save percentage.  Whether he reverts to his normal form before the season is up remains to be seen, but for now he’s playing like a top-10 goalie — something that hasn’t been seen in Carolina since 2008.

Carolina was quiet in the 2016 summer free-agent market. What should Francis be looking to do for possible trades to help the Canes get over the hump?

MB: This is a tricky question.  The Canes, and Francis, have invested a lot into building the team from the draft.  I really don’t see them making any big trades that will have them give up those draft picks they’ve worked so hard to acquire.

Some fans want the team to trade a defenseman, notably Justin Faulk, for a top-line forward, but I don’t think that is the answer.  Even if the Canes find themselves in the playoffs, I don’t think we’ll see any big trades from Francis, and in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him flip people for draft picks at the deadline either way.

What are you looking for as keys to the game? Hurricanes will win if they …

MB: Put the Blackhawks on the penalty kill.  The Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the league 5-on-5, but put them a man down, they revert into one of the worst team and are 29th in the NHL with a 74.7 percent kill rate.

If the Canes can get the Blackhawks to take penalties and then convert on the ensuing power plays, I think the Hurricanes have a really good shot to win the game. Given the Hurricanes’ youth and speed, getting the Blackhawks to take penalties shouldn’t be that hard.

Many thanks to Cardiac Cane’s Matthew Barlowe for sharing his insights of the Carolina Hurricanes. We’ll keep it our little secret that the Blackhawks had successfully killed 19 of 21 penalties over the past 11 games heading into Thursday’s tilt against Nashville. Let’s hope the ‘Hawks can grab the win and two big points in 2016’s grand finale.

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