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Playing all teams below them in the standings, the Carolina Hurricanes have now lost four straight and have fallen out of playoff position. While the loss to the Rangers on Thursday was actually a strong effort coupled with poor puck luck, the loss to Ottawa was disconcerting. Coming in with a three-game losing streak, one would have expected intensity and a sense of urgency. Instead, the team failed to show up for the period and road the 3-0 deficit to a 4-1 loss.
As is often the case during a losing streak, the issues are many right now. Top of my list are two things. First, the team has yet to establish any kind of identity as a hard-working, forechecking team that is difficult to play against. That was the core of the 2018-19 team and its calling card. Second, the team has become a train wreck defensively. The volume of odd man rushes surrendered in recent games has been far too high, and the team’s defensive zone coverage has also been prone to too many big ‘oopses’.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe aims to make some adjustments to help put a floor under the current plunge and build a foundation to chart the next climb upward.
The blue line
Some of my comments about the Canes gradual defensive decline awhile back have proven to be the canary in the coal mine. What a difference a few weeks makes. The same blue line that was scoring in bunches and defending well early in the season is now at the forefront of shoddy defensive play.
Slavin/Hamilton are suddenly trending like they did in 2018-19. Last year the duo had a good start, but it ended abruptly when Hamilton struggled. The two were ultimately separated with Hamilton dropping to the bottom pairing. The two were reunited later in the year once Hamilton found his mojo. The 2019-20 version is trending similar. Hamilton especially started red hot both scoring and playing adequate defense. Of late, Hamilton has been in the middle of far too many defensive lapses, so while he continues to be an offensive help as a fourth forward, his defense is struggling.
Gardiner/Pesce is also struggling…at least half of it. Early in the season, Gardiner was quiet in a good way defensively playing on the third pairing and quietly offensively in a bad way not bringing much of the playmaking that was his strength. He has since been boosted into the top 4 paired with Brett Pesce. He has struggled in recent games in that role.
Edmundson/van Riemsdyk have also had some issues. Edmundson is still trying to adjust to the Canes style of play. As a stay-home defenseman, he seems to be a bit lost at times trying to figure out if he is supposed to follow his instincts to sit back a bit or the system which leans toward pushing forward. He too has factored in too many defensive break downs.
As I said on Twitter, I think the time is now to build to top load ‘steady’ into the top 4 to try to stabilize things.
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) November 10, 2019
I think it's time to top-load 'steady' on the blue line. Some combination of Slavin, Pesce, van Riemsdyk and either Fleury or Edmundson in top 4 until they can at least stop the bleeding and calm things down. #LetsGoCanes
— Canes and Coffee (@CanesandCoffee) November 10, 2019
Telling players to do better and make fewer errors will not cut it. I think it is on Brind’Amour and his staff to make some adjustments to help right the ship.
The current iteration of the Canes blue line aims for balance but instead right now just means that there are holes on all three pairings and that Brind’Amour really does not have a single pairing that he can trust right now.
My list of defenseman playing decent or better hockey right now is Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That would be my starting point for trying to build a top 4 that can help stabilize things. I would actually lean toward inserting Haydn Fleury as the fourth at least for an audition, but Joel Edmundson could be the other option.
My defense pairings would look something like:
Slavin / van Riemsdyk
Fleury or Edmundson / Pesce
Fleury or Edmundson / Hamilton
Fleury and van Riemsdyk both might be overslotted in the top 4 long-term, but I think especially in the case of van Riemsdyk that he could be a calming steady that is desperately needed right now.
I question whether the team would sit Gardiner. As a long-timer signed to a four-year deal, the risk is that damage is done to his confidence and/or place on the team.
The forecheck and intensity
Unintentionally foreboding bad things to come, on October 21 I wrote an article entitled “Fool’s gold versus a formula.” The article suggested that winning early with raw offense decreased the need to reestablish an identity as a team fueled by its forecheck. Fast forward to today, and the team’s magical scoring has dried up a bit. Still minus a forecheck even remotely close to what the team had in 2019-20, scoring is down.
Whereas the blue line situation at least has the potential for improvement with lineup changes, the forecheck is more about getting the entire roster to find a higher gear. Tuesday’s game was a positive sign that the potential is there. But the team seems to be failing to find an ignition switch right now. Last season, Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook played leading roles in dialing up the intensity level when it was lacking. Martinook had an uncanny sense for when he needed to have one of his running around shifts where he played like a heat seeking missile. Similarly, Ferland seemed to be able to feel when he needed to provide a thunderous hit or drop the gloves to jolt the team into a higher gear. With Ferland gone and Martinook injured, the team could be lacking in terms of forechecking catalysts.
But at a basic level, the team needs to buy in 12 forwards deep and find a higher gear playing without the puck.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you see the blue line as being as significant of a contributor to recent woes as I do? If so, what changes would you make to try to solidify the defense?
2) What are your thoughts on the forecheck? Does this group have it in them to reach a gear similar to 2018-19? If so, how can the team reach that level?