Traditionally, October has been a challenging month for the Canes. The arrival of the North Carolina State Fair usually means a road trip for the team. In past Octobers, these early-season travels did little to help the Canes get off on the right foot. For example, the 2016-17 team started with six straight on the road - they finished it 1-3-2 and went on to end the season in seventh place in the division.
This year, a more favorable schedule (3 home, 2 road games) has helped the Canes get off to a fantastic start. With one more home game left before this year’s October road trip, let’s take a look back at last night to see what went right, what went wrong, and what was special.
The Good - The Team Defense
Except for the game against the Florida Panthers - where the Canes jumped out to an early 4-0 lead - each of the Canes’ games thus far have been back-and-forth affairs. Last night was no different.
Two separate one-goal leads were wiped away by the Isles on the power play (more on that later). Yet, as the second period wound down, the Canes found an extra gear. Goals by Erik Haula and Dougie Hamilton gave the Canes a two-goal cushion that was never seriously challenged in the third.
Well, the Islanders managed a grand total of two - count ‘em, two - shots in the final frame. Bear in mind, the third period included an Islanders’ power play and an empty-net scenario. It was the sequel to the bravura performance from last weekend, when the Canes held the Lightning to two shots in the final 45 minutes of the game.
Simply put, the Canes can play a style that flat-out denies chances to opposing teams. It’s rarely seen in today’s NHL, where speed and skill are so dominant, but the Canes’ elite team defense is a thing of beauty.
The Bad - Special Teams
Well, it was bound to happen. The Canes gave up five power plays to an opponent, conceded two goals on the resultant penalty kills, and went 0-3 on their own powerplay.
And then they won the game 5-2?
Yes. Yes, they did.
The special teams were bound to come back down to earth after their blistering start. On Friday night, neither the penalty kill or the power play looked particularly terrible, they just didn’t have their best stuff.
On the first power play goal for the Isles, the coverage simply breaks down. Brett Pesce is knocked to the ice right off the face-off, and in the ensuing scramble, two Isles are left wide open in front of Petr Mrazek.
What about the power play, you ask? Well, the Hamilton-Svechnikov-Teravainen unit has made hay with the seam pass so far. Nevertheless, they can’t force it when it’s not there. Andrei Svechnikov, in particular, forced it a couple times last night. In today’s NHL, teams scout the opposing powerplay. It was apparent the Islanders were ready for the seam pass from Svechnikov to Turbo, and they did an excellent job of breaking it up.
The key takeaway here is that the Canes special teams finally had “one of those nights,” but the team still won the game -- and in comfortable fashion.
The mark of a great hockey team is one that can beat you in multiple ways. Last night was an example of the Canes overwhelming a team at 5-on-5, to such a degree that their special teams laying an egg didn’t matter.
The Something Special - The Norris Candidate?
Ok, I get it - we’re only five games into the season. That being said, the Canes have won all five of those, and Dougie Hamilton has been absolutely stellar thus far. If he can maintain his current level of play throughout the year, he certainly will get some consideration for the Norris Trophy.
Exhibit A is the first goal of the game last night. When you’re a defenseman and you’re making plays like this, you’re going to turn some heads...
But before I make the case, let’s start with what a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman does.
First, you need to have a positive plus/minus rating. No player has won the Norris with a negative plus/minus rating since Nicklas Lidstrom back in 2010-11. But that was Nick Lidstrom, and it was practically an NHL by-law that he be given the award for the better part of a decade.
Next, you need to score like a forward - a really good forward. The last five Norris Trophy winners have averaged 19.6 goals, 46.4 assists, and 66 points. So, roughly speaking, you need four points in every five games.
So how does Dougie stack up against that pace so far in the very young season? Well, he has seven points in five games with three goals and a plus-5 rating.
Just for giggles, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce aren’t that far off Dougie’s pace...
Dougie Hamilton...3g, 4a, +5
Jaccob Slavin...2g, 2a, +2
Brett Pesce...2g, 1a, +4
Realistically though, Hamilton is the only one with a legitimate shot at the Norris this year. You need significant power play production to compete, and neither Slavin nor Pesce are going to see time on the power play barring an injury to Hamilton or Jake Gardiner.
Nevertheless, it’s great to see Slavin and Pesce jumping into the offense and converting some chances. As Pesce noted in his bench interview, the commitment to blueline scoring extends all the way to the front office, who expect goals from everyone.
As for Dougie, he now ranks 2nd in NHL in terms of points (7) by a defensemen, one behind the leader, John Carlson. His three goals are the most by a defenseman (tied with Kevin Shattenkirk), and he’s only one off the lead in terms of plus/minus rating by a blueliner.
Sure it’s early, but Dougie Hamilton is making quite the case for himself.