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Systems Analyst: Offense from Defense

Or, more specifically, Noah Hanifin. And Justin Faulk too, apparently.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

As the Carolina Hurricanes continue their push towards missing the playoffs by four points yet again a wild-card spot, five wins in their last six contests have the team riding high.

Some suspect goaltending performances, a lack of scoring and ill-timed defensive lapses continue to hold the team back in a highly competitive division, but a few impressive individual performances have put the team on the right foot heading into the second half of the season.

With regard to individual players taking the reins, no Hurricane has done that quite like Noah Hanifin. His three-point effort in Nashville is just the latest in what has been a breakout season. In fact, the rest of Carolina’s defensemen might just learn a thing or two from the way Hanifin jumps into the attack.

For example, Hanifin makes the team’s opening goal against the Preds happen with quick thinking and quick feet. Derek Ryan wins a faceoff, and Jeff Skinner hops in to support.

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Faceoffs are usually a point of strength for Carolina, and this is an example of why. Centers rarely win a puck straight back to their defensemen; instead, they rely on wingers to help gain possession. Here, Skinner has the jump on Austin Watson and uses it to his advantage.

Skinner finds Hanifin at the blue line, who immediately walks the puck in.

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This is where Hanifin makes the play happen. With pressure coming in fast, he knows that there is more room to work with on the power play and makes his way low. A less-offensively-inclined d-man might hold the puck and pass across the line, or chip it low.

Note the Skinner-esque mohawk turn he pulls to evade Watson. That’s skill and confidence working perfectly together.

Hanifin works the puck low with his head up.

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A young player’s decision-making can often be a symbol of how well he or she is developing—this play is a fine example of some positive traits further emerging in Hanifin’s game.

Scanning the zone as he carries the puck, he looks off Skinner to force Mattias Ekholm into a bit of a stutter-step, opening up a brief window towards the net. It’s not an easy play to make by any means; Ekholm is a solid defenseman, if he sees through the ruse, Hanifin is out of luck before the play can even develop.

He finds Ryan in the slot for a nifty tip.

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Give credit to Ryan here; he presents his stick blade as an easy option for Hanifin, and manages to angle it perfectly to work as a ramp past Pekka Rinne. And if Hanifin’s pass isn’t weighted as perfectly as it is, the puck doesn’t jump enough to find the top corner.

Justin Faulk managed to return to the land of the scorers with a two-goal outing on Saturday night. His first was another great showing of a d-man jumping into the rush.

With three Sabres forechecking, its the perfect time for Faulk to take advantage of the open ice. Acting as the center, he takes a pass from Teuvo Teravainen and breaks out with Sebastian Aho.

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This is all about Faulk reading the play. If Buffalo had kept a player high (as they should have with a 2-1-2 forecheck), he likely chips the puck out. But he does well to recognize the play at hand and join in.

Faulk wisely heads the puck up to Aho to keep the play onside.

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Probably not the kind of pass/play that will get recognition, but it’s important to make quick decisions during 2-on-1’s. Any hesitance gives the defenseman time to break up the play—even an early pass like this one helps to keep the opposition on its toes as you break up the ice.

Aho feeds Faulk right back, and the latter makes no mistake finishing the play.

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What a slick pass by Aho. It’s always fascinating to see how the League’s elite scorers alter their stick position to change the angle of a shot; here, Aho does the same to find a window of space between Rasmus Ristolainen’s legs and his stick. It’s a simple but elegant move, and one that removes the risk of a pass breakup.

That’s not to take away from Faulk’s finish, either. It would be easy, particularly for a defenseman, to overthink the shot and wait too long to fire the puck. The cerebral Faulk takes one touch and lets it rip, catching Chad Johnson while he is still moving.

As Hanifin continues his breakout year and Faulk looks to return to his scoring ways, the Hurricanes hope their defensemen can help reverse their scoring woes, at least a little bit. And while that help may eventually come in the form of a trade for a top-six piece, it’s always crucial to have production throughout the lineup.