Maybe sitting in the sun for eight hours prior to puck drop altered my perception, but from my view in 328 Row-D last night I saw a team very similar to the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes.

That was also the sentiment I heard all-around me throughout last night’s season opener against the New York Islanders. So it took a second viewing this morning to notice the differences in the clubs. Here are the differences I saw in Coach Rod Brind’Amour’s team versus his predecessor:

Skating in the neutral zone

Victor Rask’s struggles last season could be contributed to two things: injuries and the inability to skate in the neutral zone. He would’ve been on the score sheet last night.

I noted only two 5-on-5 occasions where forwards stood still at the offensive blue line while waiting for the puck carrier to enter the zone. You’d need a team of data-scientists to calculate the number last season.

Since the additional forwards were not flat-footed, not need two to three strides to get back up to speed, puck carriers faced more 1-on-1 situations. Last year the same player would face 1-on-2, 1-on-3 matchups after crossing the blue line.

This made getting to the net, getting into the low slot or high-danger areas easier. 

High-danger chances

Up to their usual tricks, the Canes turned in another strong CORSI performance last night.

The team didn’t game their numbers last season, but their totals were inflated with more long-distance and outside shots than in close. Last night it was the opposite with a high number of chances right in front of Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss.

Looking at a heat map of shot attempts confirmed my notion that this team was getting more second-chance opportunities in tight. Greiss was fantastic stopping 45-of-46 shots. He was robbed of any three starts nominations last night and would have been my first star of the game.

Mrazek gave the Canes a chance

At first glance a .900 save percentage may not sound that great. Or maybe it does if you’ve been around since 2011-12.

Petr Mrazek put in a great performance. There were only two moments I’d consider minus for the first-year Canes netminder.

#1: First Period Scramble that required a stick save outside of his crease and some blocked shots:

#2: The First goal of the game:

Both plays highlight the biggest deficiency in Mrazek’s game: his over-aggressive play. When he played in at base or conservative depth in his crease before needing lateral movements he was great.

When he had to make saves at an aggressive depth — above the crease — he was fine until he needed to move laterally.

On Valtteri Filppula’s goal, I would have liked to see Mrazek square himself to the puck when he moved before the shot. By using a lateral push with his left skate to come out above the crease, he would not have exposed his five-hole as much. Nor would have needs to make a second movement after Filppula out-weighted the goaltender.

Outside of those two moments he played a quite game and delivered key saves after the Islanders took the lead near the mid-way point. That type of performance is good enough to win games consistently.

No line-blending

Despite the self-declared mistakes by rookie head coach Rod Brind’Amour by not playing certain players enough, it was refreshing to see keep lines and pairings mostly together.

Sometimes in-game lineup changes are an overraction to nothing and a coaches’ vain attempt at control during the game. The last third period adjustment to add Andrei Svechnikov with Necas and McGinn felt like the right amount of change once the team shortened the forward rotation to three lines.

I’d rather see more status-quo during the game and see adjustments to lines on a game-by-game basis.

Stray Observations

  • Sebastian Aho is proving he’s an NHL center. But he will have to thank Teuvo Teravainen for his defensive zone play that allows the 21-year-old to fly the zone for offensive chances.
  • Want to see more low-to-high (goal-line to sidebar or blue-line) passing on the power play, which looked effective despite zero goals. The same puck movement, Aho to Hamilton, led to the Canes only goal 6-on-5 late in the game.
  • No drop-passes on power play zone entries was delightful.
  • Islanders Coach Barry Trotz must have made adjustments during the first intermission. Canes struggled to leave the zone as cleanly in the 2nd period. Carolina “slowed” down considerably, and ended up trailing as a result.
  • Will Brind’Amour be able to make similar adjustments?
  • On Filppula’s goal, Jaccob Slavin entered the defensive zone on the strong side, where Dougie Hamilton was already present. When he floats to the other (right) have the ice, he causes himself trouble — couldn’t clear the puck in the left corner which led to a give away and then the goal.
  • After tying the game in the, the Aho and Staal lines switched after every non-icing whistle in the last two minutes of the 3rd Period.
  • Writer’s Note: Emily and I may not be able to produces anything with this level of detail after every game, but we’ll try to contribute something on a regular basis. Depending on schedules, we may group observations from multiple games.