After a torrid start to the 2019-20 season, the Carolina Hurricanes have been stuck in a streaky loop. The question is just what is it that’s holding them back?
Let’s get the ugly out of the way right off the bat: the Carolina Hurricanes’ game on Monday against the Washington Capitals was atrocious. You can point the finger wherever you like, but there are no clear answers.
Want to blame the officiating? Fine, just remember that the Hurricanes did absolutely nothing with 3 second period power plays. Yes, the calls were uneven at best, but Carolina did get chances with the man advantage and fell flat.
Maybe you want to blame the goaltending? Okay, but considering that both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer posted shutouts in consecutive games (giving both goalies three apiece on the season), that doesn’t ring true. No, they haven’t been perfect, but the Hurricanes have still allowed the fifth-lowest goals against in the NHL. Unless you expect the netminders to start putting up goals, we need to focus elsewhere.
Let’s move up to the defense. We’ve already established that Carolina has done a good job of keeping pucks out of their own net compared to the rest of the league. Jaccob Slavin has continued to be a rock star on the blueline, though he has made more mistakes than he usually does. Then again, that could be skewed because it’s something he does so rarely that when you see it happen, it really stands out. By and large, he’s been every bit as good as we’ve come to expect from him.
Perhaps some of Slavin’s miscues have come due to his partner, the offensively-minded Dougie Hamilton. The big redhead has made huge strides in his defensive game this year, though his overall style of play is always at risk to lead to a bad misplay. Hamilton did struggle for a stretch but seems to have found his footing again on the defensive side of the puck. Plus, he’s putting up points, a fact that helps balance the lapses he sometimes has in his own end.
Not to be overlooked is Brett Pesce, the anchor of the second pairing. To be clear, I’m using anchor as a positive descriptor, put down your torches and pitchforks. While his offensive game is down a bit from last year, he continues to play a reliable, skilled brand of defense. The coaches seem to agree, considering that Pesce is logging the highest average ice time of his young career.
Things become more intriguing when you look at the #4 spot. For a large chunk of the season, Pesce was paired with Joel Edmundson. While perhaps not the best fit for the second pairing, the Pesce-Edmundson duo gave Carolina a big and physical pairing not completely bereft of offensive skill.
After a shuffling of the deck, Edmundson dropped down to the third pairing, trading places with Jake Gardiner. Gardiner, another offensive defenseman, has had a rough go with the Hurricanes this year, sitting at just 12 points through 46 games. That said, Gardiner has looked to be on the upswing of late, notching 3 points in his last 5 games. If he can continue to reign in some of his lesser defensive moments, he can provide the Hurricanes will a solid second pairing.
Remember, I said if.
The third pairing (which has consisted of Edmundson/Gardiner and a combination of Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury) has been okay. Nothing incredibly impressive but not an albatross. Besides, the third pairing alone isn’t going to sink a team.
So, where does that leave us?