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The Hurricanes’ new-look defense can stop the puck, but can it score more goals?
Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.
For the past couple of years, those two names were interlocked as a Carolina Hurricanes’ lineup fixture, a defensive shutdown pairing: Slavin on the left side, Pesce on the right. Both American-born, both coming out of college hockey and both defensemen given long-term contracts with the Canes.
Slavin and Pesce. The fit was a good one.
But the coming of Dougie Hamilton this season has brought a change. It’s now Slavin on the left side and Hamilton on the right as the Canes’ top D pairing.
“Obviously Dougie is a really good player, a really elite player, and it’s easy to play with him,” Slavin said Thursday. “With he and ‘Pesc’ their games are a little different but they’re both solid players so it’s pretty easy to mesh my game with theirs. Just try to keep it simple for the most part.
“It’s been good with Dougie so far. I think our chemistry is continuing to grow and is getting better. We’re starting to get better reads off each other.”
Good defensive partners can bail out each other and Slavin did that for Hamilton, in a different way, late in Tuesday’s road game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Canes were holding a 2-1 lead, and holding on against a Wings push, when Hamilton was called for a delay-of-game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass attempting to clear the zone. The Wings had pulled goalie Jimmy Howard for a sixth attacker, setting up a six-on-four power play.
But Slavin derailed it. He outbattled the Wings’ Andreas Athanasiou for the puck along the boards and skated it out of the defensive zone to set up Jordan Martinook for an empty-net shorthanded goal, a play that exhibited Slavin’s skating and stick-handling skills.
“I just saw open ice and figured I take it,” Slavin said Thursday.
Sounds simple enough. Words don’t do it justice.
“It was awesome,” Hamilton said. “I was in (the penalty) box and it was pretty impressive. He’s capable of that. He’s a great player and it’s fun to watch.”
The one thing neither has done is score — not that the Canes’ back end, as a whole, has added much offensively.
Through Thursday’s games, Hamilton ranked ninth in the NHL in shots with 39 — the most among the league’s D-men — but also had the most shots by any player without a goal. And that after a season for the Calgary Flames in which he led NHL defensemen with 17 goals, including a hat trick during his 400th career game.
“He’s been snakebit a little bit,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We look at the chances every night and he’s right in there. It’s just a matter of time before the puck starts going in for him.”
Justin Faulk had a power-play score against the Wings for his first goal of the season. Pesce has two goals. That’s it for the D-men, who some believe rank among the league’s best as a group.
Slavin, who had eight goals last season, is 0-for-23 on shots. Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk also have yet to score. The six have combined for 99 shots — off the rush, from outside, in high traffic, you name it — and three goals, with 14 assists.
“Everyone from the back end wants to help out with that,” said Slavin, a left-handed shooter. “I think we have a very talented, offensive D corps that can contribute, and I think they’re going to come soon. Once they do come I think that will be huge for us.”
Hamilton, obtained in the June trade with the Flames, doesn’t seem overly concerned. A right-handed shooter, the 6-foot-6 Toronto native had a similar start a year ago with the Flames, scoring one goal — on 43 shots — in the first 14 games and two in the first 25.
“For me, I think I’ve always been slow at the start,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know what it is, but playing with good players and stuff you get set up (for shots). You’ve just got to try and find spots where they can find you and get those opportunities.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for me in the past. It’s getting on the first power play (unit) and getting opportunities, and that’s when you get more goals. For me, I just do the best with what I’ve got right now and try to make the most of every opportunity.”
Hamilton, who had six power-play goals last season for the Flames, is being used on a power-play unit with forwards Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen and rookie Andrei Svechnikov. Slavin and Hamilton are at the points.
Slavin, in talking about the rapport the two have forged, said they played as a doubles team in a ping-pong match in the players lounge at PNC Arena.
Did Slavin play the left side and Hamilton the right? “I’m right-handed when I play ping pong so we rotated,” Slavin said.
Whatever, they played off each other, made it work and won. Slavin and Hamilton.