Carolina fans should know this well but it takes a lot of trial and error to get the right line combos and defense pairings. Some trios click instantly (see the first line Tlusty-E.Staal-Semin) while others take more time to gel (see almost every bottom-six unit). This was especially the case last season with the team cycling through so many different players and they were basically playing musical chairs with the wing spots on lines 2-4. Still, the Canes should have two solid units going for them at even strength if the roster stays as it is come opening night.
The defense pairings, however, are another story. Those seemed to be in a constant state of experimentation throughout he year and the coaching staff could not seem to settle on three solid units. This isn't completely their fault because the Canes had a couple of new players entering the fold and had no training camp to work them in. On top of that, they had a ton of injuries, so that's going to lead to the defense pairings getting jumbled around more than a little bit. This process won't get much easier for them next season because they enter the year in a similar situation in terms of personnel.
The team's core defensemen are returning (Faulk, Pitkanen, Gleason & Harrison), but there will be two new players added in Andrej Sekera and Mike Komisarek. There could be even more new blood on the roster depending on how Brett Bellemore and Ryan Murphy look during camp. Either way, it will likely take a few games for the Hurricanes to settle on some defense pairings next season because injuries prevented a lot of guys from developing chemistry last year and they ended up using 16 different pairings, which is a high amount for a condensed season.
This is where having a full training camp and some pre-season games can come in handy because it will give some time for the new players to settle into the roster instead of just throwing them into the fire like last year. It was pretty easy to tell that some players looked out of place earlier in the year based on the mistakes they were making and it took them a few weeks to find their legs, Joe Corvo & Bobby Sanguinetti being two key examples. There should be less of that this year, but there will likely be some experimenting with the defense pairings until the coaching staff finds three units that they want to settle on.
When drawing up defense pairings, you also have to consideration what roles they will play. You want your first pairing to be able to play at least 20 minutes a game and play against other team's first or second lines while your second pairing will play a little less than that. One of these is going to be designated the "shutdown" or "tough minutes" pair and get the majority of the heavy assignments against the opposition's best forwards. Some teams rely on their top pairing a lot more than others (see the New York Rangers), but it's better to have defensive depth and not put a ton of strain on two players.
After that, you have the third pairing, which should play about 13-15 minutes a game and be able to not get destroyed against other team's depth lines. Coaches are usually flexible with what they want their third pairing to do but in the end, they need to be able to hold their own against lesser competition.
Do the Hurricanes have the personnel on defense to role all three units like this? If Joni Pitkanen stays healthy and Sekera can play as well as he did in Buffalo then yes. How should they be organized, though? Right now, that's tough to say because so much can change over the next couple of months, but looking at how each of the defense pairings performed last year will give us an idea of what the Hurricanes can do with their defense.no comments