The Carolina Hurricanes have a system in place that works. Every player buys into the defensive structure that’s in place and goal scoring comes from everyone. There is not just one player that is relied on for goals, as all four lines have key contributors. However, one area that the team relies on more is the back end.
When it comes to the offensive side of things, the Hurricanes’ defense are not afraid to jump into the play. Furthermore, the blue line has eclipsed 65 points combined this season and is a key part of the success. For the most part, the back end is solidified with its pairs but there is one glaring pair that needs to be solidified.
Figuring out the Third Pair
When examining the Hurricanes’ defensive pairs, the top two are untouchable. Brent Burns and Jaccob Slavin perfectly complement one another. Burns excels offensively and Slavin is one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league. They feed off one another and Don Waddell has done an excellent job finding a partner for Slavin.
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The second pair has been a constant in the lineup. Much like the top pair, it brings balance. Brady Skjei has been a key offensive weapon for the Hurricanes and can play in all situations. Skjei currently leads all Hurricanes defensemen in points (15) and is coming off back-to-back 30-plus point seasons. Brett Pesce has been deployed on the power play (PP) but has shown to be strong in the defensive zone. The chemistry they’ve developed together over the years is unbreakable. As a pair, they do a great job of shot suppression and have 1.66 expected goals against per 60 minutes.
The biggest question and hurdle for the Hurricanes is solidifying the third pair. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour has options but it is about pairing the right players together for sustained success.
The Cooks in the Kitchen
When it comes to the blue line, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Waddell loves his defensemen and sticks to the blueprint that has worked the last few seasons. However, it poses a problem because there are six spots and seven players. Depth is a good problem to have but if you place the wrong people together it could cost you at a crucial time. For example; look at the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. They had seven healthy defensemen and had trouble figuring out who to play. In the end, it burned them when it mattered most.
The three players that Brind’Amour has tinkered with are Dmitry Orlov, Tony DeAngelo, and Jalen Chatfield. Each player has been paired with one another and the results have been different each time. It’s time for the third pair to be solidified with the right players who execute well together.
Solidifying the Third Pair
Putting players together is never an easy thing to do. However, over a quarter way through the season, it has become clear which pair is bringing the most success to the team.
No disrespect to DeAngelo, but ultimately he is the player that should be sitting. To create more offense, Waddell brought him in to help elevate a PP unit that managed to struggle during the 2022-23 season. However, he has not been good in his own end and putting him with Slavin isn’t an option. When paired alongside Orlov, teams were having their way with them offensively. They averaged the highest expected goals against per 60 minutes (3.32) and surrendered the second most goals against (nine). They do not complement one another, as both are similar players. There is one pairing that has proven to have worked and should be the third pair moving forward.
Jalen Chatfield deserves to play and his work ethic speaks volumes. He may not have the production of his teammates but he is one of the better shutdown players on the team. Pairing him with a player like Orlov would give the Hurricanes another balanced pair. Orlov excels in transition and can push the play forward and Chatfield is a stay-at-home defenseman. Together, they’ve proven to work and do a great job at both ends of the ice.
As a pair, they’ve excelled offensively, as they average 2.34 expected goals for per 60 minutes. They’ve surpassed their expected rate and have eight goals as a unit. If you’re an opposing team, good luck trying to break through these two. They’ve done a great job of shot suppression, averaging 1.19 expected goals against per 60 minutes and 3.2 overall. They’ve surrendered four goals in total but the duo has better results than the Orlov/DeAngelo pairing.
Play What Works
Any team would be fortunate to have the type of depth the Hurricanes do on defense. The options are endless and if an injury occurs the next man is on the horizon ready to go. However, with everyone healthy, the decision of what the third pairing should be is crystal clear.
Each player brings something unique and different to the lineup. However, when it comes to pairings, playing the best duo is always the safest bet. In this case, Chatfield and Orlov should be the third pair moving forward.