In advance of tonight's game -- Rick DiPietro is indeed getting the start, by the way -- we swapped Q&A's with Canes Country, the Hurricanes blog on SB Nation. (Come to think of it, there are probably other "Hurricanes" blogs on SB Nation, but they involve lesser sports played by peasants.)
What follows are Brian LeBlanc's answers to my questions about the Canes:
Brian: It took a little while for the rest of the team to catch up to him, but now that they have done so (for the most part) signing Semin has proven to be a stroke of absolute genius. Eric Staal has had his best start since 2007, and the combination of Semin, Staal and Jiri Tlusty is tied for the fourth most productive line in hockey this season according to Left Wing Lock. It's been a lot of fun to watch Semin play, and he's much more of a playmaker than anyone had given
him credit for in Washington. Those types of creative, playmaking wings are the ones that Staal excels while playing with, similar to Cory Stillman back in the day.
The danger is that Semin's price is going up with every point, and there's no guarantee the team will open the wallet if he commands $9 million on the open market to keep him. That's the biggest question surrounding the team right now, and we won't know the answer for a good while.
Brian: He's been pretty much as advertised: a slight defensive upgrade and a significant offensive one over Sutter. Staal is a bit more flexible than Sutter (he plays on the power play, for example, something Sutter rarely did) and he's established a good chemistry with Jeff Skinner on the Canes' second line.
It's been a long time since the Canes have had center-wing combinations on two separate lines that are both consistently offensively dangerous, and while Kirk Muller [ed. note: obligatory curse] has given in a couple of times to a bit of a panicked Staal-Staal-Skinner line in an attempt to get a spark, that's been few and far between.
Overall, keeping the brothers separate except on the power play has been surprisingly effective, and Jordan Staal has proven his worth to this point in the season (even though it took him a good long while to score his first goal).
I see the Canes are giving up the most shots in the league right now, but also putting the most shots on goal and are actually +2 per game there. What's in the water? Are we going to see a run-and-gun affair?
Brian: To put things in basketball terms (something we understand pretty well 'round these parts), the Canes in this offseason moved from a half-court set with lots of set plays and plenty of dumps into the offensive zone to a more full-court look with a good number of odd-man rushes and more offensive improvisation. The high shot numbers are indicative of that shift, and more to the point of a team that hasn't quite figured out how to stay defensively responsible when they're going at full speed.
The defense has had a Swiss-cheese quality to it all year, with the notable exception of Justin Faulk, and it seems like every night one defenseman just has an awful game that leads to a boatload of chances for the opposition. The Canes don't have the look of a team that will need to win games 7-5 on a regular basis, but they're never going to be confused with the mid-'90s Devils [ed. note: Thank goodness.] in terms of defensive prowess. Against a team like the Islanders that also likes to push the tempo, I wouldn't be surprised to see it turn into a wide-open game in fairly short order.
Thanks to Brian for the insights. He is hereby forgiven for bringing up one of those lesser sports.