A season ago, one thing that Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis identified as one of the places where his team went wrong was on the third defensive pairing.
Over the course of the season, that group consisted of Noah Hanifin, Klas Dahlbeck, Matt Tennyson, and Ryan Murphy. Hanifin wound up thriving in a top four role following the departure of Ron Hainsey. With Tennyson signing in Buffalo as a free agent and Murphy being dealt to Calgary before ultimately winding up with Minnesota, Dahlbeck was the only one of the group who remained in the mix for a roster spot on defense this year.
Whether intentional or not, that decision, for the time being at least, has paid off while Carolina has played their best hockey of the season. Francis’s offseason plan for fixing the defense was the acquisition of Trevor van Riemsdyk and a reliance on the development of 2014 first round pick Haydn Fleury.
van Riemsdyk has thrived on a pairing that I would tab as this team’s second pairing with Hanifin, and while Fleury hasn’t been a complete disappointment or anything close to that, the understandable ups and downs he has faced as a rookie defenseman in the NHL have led head coach Bill Peters to look for a bit more of a reliable option in recent games, and Dahlbeck has provided that and more.
“He’s competitive again, and a big strong guy,” Peters said of his defenseman. “He’s been excellent, he’s been a good pro... gives us a physical presence also.”
The numbers back up Peter’s assertion that the resurgent Dahlbeck has been a helpful presence on the blue line. Albeit in limited minutes in comparison to the rest of his peers, Dahlbeck’s expected goals share of 60.55% is tops among Hurricane defenders. It’s worth noting, though, that his corsi share lags behind that number a fair amount, coming in 51.78% which is exactly tied with Fleury’s for the lowest share out of the group.
Look for one of those numbers to move toward the other one pretty sharply soon. Either Dahlbeck has been very good at limiting the quality of the chances being allowed while he’s on the ice, or he’s benefitted from the forwards he’s been playing with creating quality chances and driving up that expected goals share. I think it’s a bit too early into his relative season to discern which is the case at this point.
Of course, there is the question of what is behind Dahlbeck’s improved play, since regardless of whether or not his true quality is more reflective of his CF% or xGF% this year, he’s most assuredly been much better than he was a season ago.
Color commentator Tripp Tracy has regularly attributed Dahlbeck’s improved form to being able to play on his natural left-handed side more often, and while I certainly think that’s part of it, I think being paired with Justin Faulk on a regular basis as opposed to a guy like Tennyson has really helped bring some comfort and given Dahlbeck more clarity on what’s expected out of him on the ice.
Too often last year it felt like Dahlbeck was being asked to carry the bottom pairing, and that’s just not the sort of thing a guy like Dahlbeck should be tasked with. For now, it seems like he’s brought some stability to Faulk’s game and freed Faulk to more confidently join in on the offense, as he did when he scored two goals on the rush in a recent game against Columbus.
At the very least, Dahlbeck’s improved play has been a contribution to stabilizing what was one of the team’s biggest weak spots a season ago. Even if this is just a temporary run of very strong play, his ability to pull this together for a few weeks has given Fleury a chance to reset himself a bit and watch some games from a bird’s eye view.