The Carolina Hurricanes concluded their preseason slate on Sunday afternoon in front of their home fans against the division rival Washington Capitals. A capacity crowd saw an energetic tilt that should set the tone for what could be an exciting season as the Canes look to build on last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. But what did we truly learn from the preseason about this Canes team?
1. Hunted rather than Hunter
Ric Flair famously said, more than once, “To be the man - whooo!!! - you gotta beat the man!” While no one would confuse the Hurricanes with the Nature Boy or as the “team to beat” in the Eastern Conference or Metropolitan Division, some of that logic still applies.
For years, the Canes sought to punch through and become part of the playoff party again. Now, following a memorable playoff run a season ago, the Canes will no longer be afforded the opportunity to sneak up on opponents. True, no fanbase will be placed on the edge of their seats just because the Carolina Hurricanes are in town, but the teams around the league certainly recognize that the Canes are a legit force to be reckoned with. As such, Carolina can expect to get a quality effort from their opponents on any given night. There is no more sneaking up on people for the Canes. That was evident simply with the intensity shown at PNC Arena on Sunday.
2. Injuries already biting some newcomers
While the severity of each injury is not quite known as of yet, the Hurricanes have already been dealt a bit of tough luck on the health front as free agent acquisitions Ryan Dzingel (lower body) and Jake Gardiner (undisclosed) are both at risk for missing next week’s opener and potentially more time. Dzingel was slotted into the group with Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter at points in preseason, so the loss of the 56-point scorer from last season could be a big issue if his absence is long-term. Based on how the injury he suffered during the preseason game in Nashville looked, though, any sort of short-term loss would be welcome, as it appeared the injury could have been far worse.
For Gardiner, the Canes seem to be hopeful that his absence will be temporary as well. Regardless, the injury bug arriving early is not something Canes fans are interested in dealing with.
3. Welcome to the party, James Reimer
The news that Anton Forsberg was going on waivers, presumably to be sent to Charlotte, means that James Reimer is ready to serve as the backup to Petr Mrazek. It is a bit head-scratching considering how solidly Forsberg played in the preseason, but the difference in salary between Reimer ($3 million) and Forsberg ($775,000) probably made it Reimer’s job to lose, and he didn’t, despite a spirited competition from Forsberg.
With Alex Nedeljkovic back in Charlotte again, it seems as if the Canes have decided on the two goalies that they will move forward with into the season. If Reimer falters, though, Forsberg could come back up - that is, if no one claims him on waivers tomorrow.
4. Sebastian Aho is ready to take another step
While Sebastian Aho did not receive a letter on his jersey in the announcement of the captaincies for the Hurricanes on Sunday, he made a statement in Sunday’s contest that he is nevertheless ready to become more of a leader for this team, both in terms of the locker room, but more importantly on the ice. His two goals Sunday were his first two of the preseason, but his speed and quickness are becoming matched more and more by his patience and shrewdness. Aho is coming into his prime as he begins his new five-year contract, and the Canes are hoping that the Finn takes yet another leap towards superstar status in 2019-20. If his preseason play is any indication, he is well on his way.
5. The Canes and Caps…it’s a thing
While you could argue that these two teams perhaps didn’t like each other very much before last April’s epic playoff series, there is simply no arguing it now. Sunday’s preseason matchup in front of a raucous (I honestly don’t think that is overstating it in the least) crowd at PNC Arena highlighted the animosity between the two teams.
Capitals coach Todd Reirden made comments to the Canes staff after the second period, as he was upset regarding apparent “chirping” from members of the Canes staff towards eternal agitator Tom Wilson. Wilson was so incensed by whatever may have been said near the Canes bench that he had to be restrained by officials and ended up shoving a referee to earn a 10 minute misconduct.
And remember, this was preseason.
Whenever these two meet in the regular season, expect a playoff-like intensity. (And it won’t take long - the Canes are the visitors for the Caps’ home opener on Saturday.) No matter the reasons, and there have been many layers added to this story since their postseason bout began last spring, it is going to be fun to see the Canes involved in what we may at last be able to label a rivalry going forward.