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Beauties on the Blueline: How the Canes’ defense is helping drive success

The Carolina Hurricanes’ blueline was revamped in the offseason but is proving to be a crucial part of their current success.

Detroit Red Wings v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the top teams in the league and one the biggest driving forces for their success is the play of the blueline.

The Canes have allowed the least amount of goals against per game among all NHL teams (2.21), they allow the least amount of shots against per game (27.5), and have allowed the least amount of total chances against, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

The Hurricanes’ defense is also a master class on penalty killing, currently ranked second in the league with a 90% kill rate.

Along with the stellar defensive work, the blueline has also been a staple source of offense for the team. The defense has accounted for 16.52% of the team’s total goal share and 26.81% of the team’s total point share.

Carolina’s defensemen have also accounted for six game-winning goals this season, the second most among the league, so they are making contributions at key times.

And this is with almost every defensemen having had to spend time in COVID protocol at some point this season.

The blueline has done an excellent job of staying consistent in spite of absences and injuries and a lot of that credit can also go to new assistant coach Tim Gleason for his work with them.

The Canes’ system is one of the most open in terms of giving defensemen the green light to jump into plays and a lot of that trust stems on having players who can skate really well.

You’ll consistently see Hurricanes defensemen in opposing circles and even behind the goal line and that helps drive the overload system Carolina that employs — that being to always pressure opponents when they have the puck to create turnovers and giveaways or to win puck battles.

It’s a fun system to play in, but it requires a lot of trust as it can lead to odd-man breaks and chances if you get caught out of position. And for once, Carolina may just have the right personnel to maximize the efficiency of this system .

So let’s take a closer look at the individuals that make up Carolina’s blueline.


Jaccob Slavin

  • 33 GP, 1-17-18, 23:57 ATOI

The crown jewel of Carolina’s blueline, Slavin is on pace to have his best offensive season of his career while still maintaining his elite-level defensive play alongside it.

According to PuckIQ.com, among defensemen with at least 150 minutes of ice time against elite competition, only 12 in the entire league this year have played a greater percentage of their ice time against them than Slavin, with only two of those players (Charlie McAvoy and Jonas Siegenthaler) having a higher CF% against that level of competition.

Oh, and he’s only taken three penalties all year. One offensive-zone trip and two real iffy calls. So basically, Slavin is dependable and virtually never puts his team in a tricky situation. The ultimate “get-out-jail-free” card, if you will.

And his is all while he is currently on pace for a new career high in points, averaging 0.54 points a game or put a different way, a point every 1.83 games.

Also, for the past few games, he’s been playing as the second power play quarterback, so just another box ticked off for Slavin in terms of team responsibilities.

There’s a reason why he wears the “A,” was an All-Star in 2020, won the Lady Byng last year and has been garnering Norris buzz for a few seasons now. He’s just really good.

However, he’ll be missing at least the next couple of games due to entering COVID protocol on Tuesday.

Brett Pesce

  • 21 GP, 2-10-12, 21:22 ATOI

Now that Slavin has started to garner more national attention, it seems that Brett Pesce is poised to take over the mantle for most underrated defenseman.

He’s played his entire career alongside Slavin, and has gotten the second fiddle treatment at times because of it, but real ones know that Pesce has alternated with Slavin as the Canes’ most dependable defenseman for years.

Also on pace for the best offensive season of his career with a 0.57 points per game pace, Pesce is usually known for his defensive abilities — which he has used to carry the second pairing for years — but with time as the second power play quarterback and rocking a slapshot that seems just a bit faster this season, he may just be becoming more of a dual-threat blueliner.

He’s physical, blocks shots, is a strong skater able to keep tight gaps on attacking players, and has great defensive awareness knowing when to jump into plays or when he has to cover for his partner.

He’s got an active stick and is also able to join the rush to create odd-man situations.

And when the Canes are needing to kill a penalty or close out the final minutes of a game, Pesce is out there in those shutdown situations, playing sometimes the entire length of a 5-on-3 or 6-on-5 situation.

He is just as crucial to the team defense as Slavin and it’s about time he starts getting the respect that he deserves outside of the Carolina fanbase.

Brady Skjei

  • 33 GP, 5-8-13, 20:17 ATOI

Brady Skjei is in his second full year with the Hurricanes and is just now starting to look like he’s finally piecing it all together.

He has four goals and eight points in his last five games and seems to be the player that the Hurricanes anticipated they were acquiring at the trade deadline two seasons ago.

The sample size is too small to make claims of an offensive rejuvenation, but Skjei has the shot and skating ability for this to be more than just a lucky bender.

But even if the offense isn’t sustainable, Skjei has been an excellent penalty killer and an indefatigable, iron-lung in crunch time situations able to eat up big minutes.

His defensive game has made strides and he has looked solid for long stretches of play.

The only downside is that sometimes his decision making leaves a bit to be desired and those plays result in some bad looks against, but he is much more constant than the lowlight reels might suggest.

If he can continue to generate offense like he has been over the past few weeks, the Canes may need to try him on the second power play unit.

Tony DeAngelo

  • 26 GP, 6-18-24, 19:01 ATOI

When Dougie Hamilton left in free agency, there were legitimate concerns over whether or not the Hurricanes could be able to make up for his offensive impact.

It seems those concerns were greatly overblown though, partially because of the balanced contributions throughout the blueline, but mostly due to the excellent play of DeAngelo.

DeAngelo is an elite passer who skates well in the offensive zone and does not hesitate to get involved down low in plays or jump in on the rush. He runs the first power play and creates high-danger chances with his great vision, able to setup shooters with difficult passes through traffic.

He is currently 12th among defensemen in total points — averaging nearly a point per game — and a recent promotion to the top pair with Slavin may see those numbers grow even more.

He plays with a bit of an edge and isn’t afraid to get involved in scrums and stick up for his teammates on the ice.

DeAngelo is still a bit shaky in his own zone due to his aggressive style, but that’s usually the tradeoff that comes when you’re geared for offensive production.

Ian Cole

  • 31 GP, 1-6-7, 17:09 ATOI

Ian Cole was brought in for toughness, grit and defense and he has delivered on all of those, being an excellent third pairing guy.

The fact that he has generated a good amount of offense on top of efficient penalty killing and stay-at-home defensive play is just the icing on the cake.

The Canes have had issues icing an impactful third pairing in recent years, but Cole has now made the team defensively solid on every pair, which is huge.

Cole has had issues with penalties, but luckily for him the Canes are a very elite penalty killing team.

He isn’t the fastest skater by any means, but so long as he doesn’t whiff on a hit in the neutral zone, he is able to keep himself in a good enough position to limit opportunities for opposing skaters.

His veteran presence and leadership were probably the biggest appeals in free agency, but he has proven to be the best pickup in terms of pure defensive impact.

Ethan Bear

  • 26 GP, 2-5-7, 16:25 ATOI

Bear is in an interesting place with the Canes.

He began the year with Slavin and had solid results, but after missing a good stretch of time due to being in COVID protocol, he’s now down to the third pair with Cole and getting the least amount of minutes per game.

Bear has been a really solid player, who is driving offense and being reliable in his own zone, it’s just that he so happens to be on a extremely stacked blueline.

Skjei and Pesce are a constant pair and with how well DeAngelo has played offensively, moving him up with Slavin was a no-brainer. So that leaves Bear as the unfortunate odd one out.

However, having Bear on the third pair with Cole is a huge boost for the team overall. Because of how well each of them are playing, it gives the Canes three legitimately great pairs and that goes a long way in matching up against opponents.

With all three pairs being reliable on defensive, not able to be pushed around and all being able to get the offense going, there is never a worry of a significant drop in play when your other guys are resting. More rotations means a more balanced approach and the ability to maximize players when needed.

Bear can and should still have a bigger role with the team in the future, but for now, he brings exceptional balance to the blueline.

The Backups (Brendan Smith, Jalen Chatfield, Maxime Lajoie)

  • 30 GP, 2-2-4, 14:39

With nearly every regular spending time in COVID protocol, the Canes have needed to call on their depth to fill in the gaps, and so far they’ve been up to the task.

Smith has struggled with getting burned in transition, but he plays hard and offers a solid net-front presence and has even chipped in some unexpected offense, even getting a game-winner.

Lajoie has been fine in his limited time, which is all you can ask of a fill in, but the real intriguing piece has been Chatfield.

He was just another depth pickup in the offseason, but the time he did play, he showed that he should more than likely be the seventh defensemen on the team. He skates well, gets involved in the offensive zone and has played solid defense.

What seemed like a whatever pickup may just be the solid depth a contender needs for the inevitable injuries.

*All stats as of 1/9