In yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe, I first called out the two factors that can decide any playoff series (goaltending and special teams scoring) and followed up by saying that I thought that past those two automatics the single biggest factor in the Canes’ playoff success would be if/how well at least two of Martin Necas, Seth Jarvis, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and/or Max Domi could provide scoring in top 6 slots.
I believe that another top factor will be Jaccob Slavin’s defense pairing. The off-season saw the departure of Slavin’s 2020-21 defense partner Dougie Hamilton and the addition of a group of players to theoretically replace what he brings with a committee. Ethan Bear figured to be a steady even if unspectacular capable top 4 defenseman defensively. Tony DeAngelo figured to take Hamilton’s slot on the power play and also pick up at least some of the slack from the blue line scoring lost with Hamilton’s departure. And Ian Cole and Brendan Smith brought experienced depth if needed to fill gaps.
In general, the Canes blue line has worked out reasonably well even if maybe not how originally envisioned. Brady Skjei has had a strong year and coupled with Brett Pesce’s steadiness, that duo has been solid. Jaccob Slavin has been his usual self and helped boost whoever has played next to him. And Tony DeAngelo has had a strong season offensively and more or less filled the offensive gap created by Hamilton’s departure. But then the script takes a bit of a turn. Bear has been up and down and also in and out of the lineup with a couple ailments and also just healthy scratched. He did not seize the slot next to Slavin as many anticipated. Instead, DeAngelo has played the most time in that role and figures to start the playoffs there. During the first half of the season, he looked better than I expected defensively and generally competent in that slot. Very much like Hamilton, he was prone to being caught up in the the play on occasion but made up for it with what he was generating offensively. But during the latter part of the season, DeAngelo has been more inconsistent defensively, logged a couple really rough games and re-raised the questions I had about what his ceiling was defensively. Slavin helps, but against top teams in games where a couple mistakes can turn a game or even a series, I think ideally he would slot as a #5 defenseman. In that slot, Canes coaches could allocate an oversized share of his ice time to lesser defensive match ups where he could capitalize offensively. But as a #4 next to Slavin, DeAngelo’s defensive play becomes more critical when seeing a regular helping of other teams’ best scoring forwards.
I believe that how well DeAngelo plays in a top 4 role next to Slavin or how well someone else plays in that slot will be critical to the Canes playoff success. If DeAngelo regresses defensively, playoff opponents will work hard to exploit that and try to use it to gain the scoring edge needed to win a series. If instead, DeAngelo can continue to do what he has done offensively and also be steady defensively, he can play a key role in giving the Canes the upper hand by forcing opponents’ top forwards to focus on being sound defensively instead of attacking offensively.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with me naming Tony DeAngelo as a key to the team’s blue line in the playoffs?
2) Based on his regular season play that was especially strong in the first half of the season but more up and down at times in the second half, do you think DeAngelo is capable of both leveraging his strengths offensively and at the same time being competent or better defensively in a top 4 slot?
3) What other thoughts do you have about the Canes blue line heading into the playoffs?