Saturday saw Liles/Faulk, Hainsey/Slavin, Hanifin/Pesce. Slavin the top 4 was new (not counting a very short stint next to Justin Faulk right when he was called up or a few random shifts here and there). Hanifin/Pesce was also new. I posted some thoughts on the changes in Saturday’s game recap HERE.
We will know tomorrow whether these changes were a 1-game event to try to distribute ice time in the second half of a back-to-back or if they will last longer.
The new combinations and roles provided at least a short look at new possibilities for the future of the Canes blue line. It is important not to draw any final conclusions from a single game obviously, but it is still interesting to get first reads on things, and I thought Saturday was especially interesting on a couple fronts:
There was a stark contrast between Pesce with Liles and Pesce with Hanifin.
Liles/Pesce seemed to find chemistry immediately out of the gate and was reasonably decent at moving the puck up the ice as a 2-man unit without either player doing much galloping off with the puck. Both players tended to play their side of the ice when they were trying to get out of their own end, and both players were real good at understanding defense partner puck support. Whereas forwards supporting the puck can require being close, for defensemen in their own end it is actually much more about keeping a good distance and constantly maintaining a safe passing lane.
Hanifin/Slavin also seemed to find chemistry almost instantly. Both players freelance a bit with the puck on their stick, but they rarely seemed disorganized and also seemed to react off each other pretty well.
In their first game together, Hanifin and Pesce seemed to be figuring each other out a bit and seemed minus instant chemistry. Hanifin had a bit more ‘use whatever piece of ice you need’ Pitkanen style of play to him, and there were multiple times where Pesce seemed unsure on where to go to get out of the way and provide a passing outlet if needed. I think the difference for Pesce is that with Liles, he could predict where Liles would go. The result was that it was pretty easy to figure out where he should be based on what he could predict Liles would do. The result is that his reactions/adjustments are more to what is in front of Liles. With Hanifin, I think Pesce needs to react a bit more to what Hanifin does. I do not think it will be nearly as extreme, but I equate it to playing with Joni Pitkanen.
I do not Hanifin and Pesce had the instant chemistry that both had with another partner, but this is not abnormal or necessarily a bad thing. Allowing at least a couple games for both players to adjust is reasonable/normal. If they stay together, it will be interesting to see if Pesce and Hanifin adjust to each other and can find some chemistry.
In this post on November 28, I wrote a post on him awhile back I asked if Jaccob Slavin was “the greatest harbinger of the Hurricanes future.” All 3 of Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin can skate. All 3 project to create offense. But I think Jaccob Slavin is the 1 who arrived no compromises and no adjustments to dial down his game while he learns. Right out of the gate, he was willing to play with the puck on his stick trying to make things happen. He looked pretty good doing that in a somewhat sheltered bottom pairing role. Now it looks like he might get a chance to do it in a top 4 role. The difference is significant. First, he will see more ice time against the other teams’ best players which will be a bigger challenge defensively. Second, he should also see more ice time with the Canes top scorers which opens the door for him to push the envelope in terms of creating offense. It will be interesting to watch this unfold hopefully at least for a few games to get a read on if/how ready Slavin is for this role.
Still 2 separate sides
I also still think that the other thing to watch as the season unfolds is if 1 or more of the right side defensemen moves across and gets a trial on the left side. With James Wisniewski signed through 2016-17, the Canes are currently scheduled to have 4 right side defensemen (Faulk, Wisniewski, Pesce, Slavin) next season, and that does not even count Ryan Murphy. It is likely that John-Michael Liles slot on the left side will open up when he becomes a free agent at the end of this season. It seems like the Canes are suddenly overstocked on the right side with the potential to balance things by moving a defenseman across to the left side. I wrote up the possibility of trying a Pesce/Faulk combination in this post on November 21. That is still a possibility as is moving Jaccob Slavin across to the left side. Right now, Coach Bill Peters is still focused on trying to make something of the 2015-16 season (as he should be), but if the Canes fall out of the playoff hunt, some D pair tinkering in this regard could happen.
Right now, I am just thoroughly enjoying watching the trio of young defensemen develop and try to new situations, and Saturday’s shake up offers a whole new batch of fun stuff to track.