I had ambitious plans of finishing up a fairly in-depth article on the Carolina Hurricanes defense, but after a long day and another tough home loss on Tuesday night, I just did not have the time and/or energy to finish it. My hope is to post that for Thursday morning.
Instead, today’s Daily Cup of Joe will touch on that only at a high level and combine it with a couple other issues that seem to be on a constant rotation in a bad way.
Putting aside leadership, character, winning culture and whatever other fuzzy, hard-to-measure items you want to also lump into this category, I see three specific issues that are less fuzzy that are at the root of the Hurricanes’ troubles and seem to at times (like right now) have the team plugging one hole only to have water start leaking from the boat from another hole.
Interesting is how quickly problems seem to rise and fade right now. After two lackluster outings effort-wise and virtually no offense over the weekend, the goaltending issue that seemed to be top of mind only a few days earlier was suddenly a lesser concern for many. In the Monday Coffee Shop, in a poll that asked readers, “Who shoulders the most blame right now?”, readers voted the goaltending a distant fourth behind the skaters, Ron Francis and Bill Peters.
Despite the fact that other matters might seem more pressing right now, the Hurricanes rate near the bottom of the league based on most statistics. The team has had more than its fair share of starts where the Canes starting netminder was bad enough to sabotage all else and push a game into the loss column. And beyond that, statistically sub-par netminding’s ‘a goal here, a goal there’ effect also subtracts points over time.
No doubt, the Hurricanes would be in a better place right now with more consistent at least league average netminding.
2) Forward fire power and the lack of catalysts
While the Hurricanes depth at the forward position has improved over the past few years, the team is still short in terms of higher-end offensive forwards. When I consider the center position, I would not say that the Hurricanes have a single center who would be a top 6 in terms of playmaking skill and ability to generate scoring chances by distributing the puck to line mates. I do think Jordan Staal is a legitimate top 6 forward and a perfect yin and yang complements to a more offense-leaning center, but the Hurricanes really do not have such a player right now at least who is playing the center position. Instead, the Hurricanes have two offense-leaning players in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen book-ending Staal. The line has been the team’s best, and it does score but only in relative terms looking within a team that generally lacks scoring. Despite being team high in scoring, Teravainen and Aho’s 41 and 40 points respectively are a good 10-20 points behind the leaders on many teams, and the Hurricanes see a significant drop off from there.
I continue to think that the Hurricanes are at least one player away offensively at the forward position. During the entire offseason, I clamored for the addition of a playmaking center capable of being a catalyst for a scoring line and boosting the scoring totals of two line mates in the process. That is still one way to skin the cat, but if the Hurricanes think that Sebastian Aho ultimately belongs back at the center position and possibly also want to leave room for Martin Necas in case he beats schedule, then just maybe the answer is to add a wing who could support the transition. (Therein lies my recent consideration of Max Pacioretty who is allegedly available.)
Regardless of if it is a center or a wing, I continue to think that the Hurricanes are one top 6 scoring forward away from being able to consistently score enough.
3) A talented but still learning blue line
Last but not least is the blue line. Canes fans have been talking about the blue line becoming a strength in the future for so long now, that it is sometimes assumed that the transformation is complete. While the blue line does have its games when the group’s skating ability rises up and helps tilt the ice into the offensive zone, it also fairly regularly suffers growing pains. High ceilings may eventually be reached, but they do not match the reality of today that sees the Hurricanes still struggling at times to be solid two defense pairings deep. I talked about this on a player by player basis on January 25, but the short version is that the Hurricanes still lack steady, every-game top 4 defensemen who can be counted on game in and game out.
In addition, the Hurricanes blue line in total continues to be light in terms of offensive production. The ability to produce offense is a must-have in today’s NHL for a defensive group to claim greatness and it is even more critical for a team like the Hurricanes that lacks elite scorers and is scratching and clawing for enough goals to reach the league average.
That last component, offense from the blue line, is the subject of my half-written article that considers that subject about three layers deep.
The multiplier effect
All NHL teams have strengths and weaknesses and in a league where half of the teams make the playoffs, a team does not have to be flawless. But the issue that the Hurricanes have in 2017-18 is that they just have too many weak links such that one of the three seems to rise up regularly. The Hurricanes have had stretches where the goal scoring was there but managed to have that sabotaged by shoddy goaltending or defense. More recently, the team’s netminding has been mostly better, but the lack of 5-on-5 scoring by the forwards has the scraping to get to two goals and mostly not making it of late. And the defense seems to have what I term a ‘train wreck’ game defensively about once every 6-10 games.
The visual that I keep getting is one of Coach Bill Peters trying to stop water from leaking in from the side of the boat. At any given point in time, he has two hands and can plug two holes, but if a third emerges, it is simply impossible. I think that is the state of the team right now — simply one too many holes to cover to win on an extended and/or consistent basis.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these three issues do you see as most detrimental?
2) Do you see others?