Through the season’s first five games, the Carolina Hurricanes sit a 3-2-0 overall and have dropped two of their last three contests.
They’re in the midst of a six-game road trip and have already dealt with the injury bug. Freddie Andersen exited Tuesday’s contest against San Jose after taking a puck to the mask and was absent against Seattle, while Sebastian Aho has missed the last two contests with an upper-body injury.
With the absence of Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, who is recovering from ACL surgery, there have been some lineup reshuffling and moving pieces.
I certainly understand that a lack of healthy forwards has been a factor in the lineup construction, but once Aho returns, and certainly when Svechnikov makes his season debut, the 12 forward and six defenseman lineup should be set in stone.
Impacted the most in the early going has been Dmitry Orlov and Jalen Chatfield.
Orlov is still adjusting to Rod Brind’Amour’s system and immediately going on a west coast road trip does not make it any easier. But, a main issue has been the unreliability of Tony DeAngelo with him on the third pairing.
DeAngelo has been the culprit for many mistakes, some that have even led to goals, and it makes sense for Carolina to prioritize their big free agent acquisition versus DeAngelo on an expiring contract.
By no means is Orlov entirely exempt from some sub-par play, but it certainly is no easy task to get acclimated to the system without a reliable partner or even knowing who will play alongside you on a game-to-game basis.
Jalen Chatfield brings that stability and his physicality, speed, and defensive mentality will enable Orlov to find his footing and also contribute offensively.
While Chatfield spent last season in Raleigh and DeAngelo on a struggling Flyers squad, Chatfield finished +27 and DeAngelo at -23 with both accruing over 1,000 minutes of ice time. So far, DeAngelo has +/- of -4 and even with three assists, has yet to finish a contest with a + rating.
Of course Orlov has a +/- of -10 and part of it is due to his own performance, but Chatfield can help solve multiple problems within the lineup.
With Chatfield serving as the sixth defenseman, it not only will strengthen the defense, but allow a 12 forward rotation and keep lines consistent.
In theory, DeAngelo could solve the latter problem, but the Hurricanes have allowed 11 goals in games without Chatfield and with DeAngelo in the lineup.
Through 38 shifts, Chatfield has yet to be on the ice for an opposing team’s goal and while DeAngelo has recorded two points on the power play this season, it appears that Carolina’s man advantage can find success without his impact.
The Hurricanes have scored three power play goals in the last two games without DeAngelo scoring a point, including two third period goals in a comeback effort against San Jose in which he was off the ice due to a misconduct penalty.
With his biggest asset being able to quarterback a power play unit, Carolina has shown the ability early on to score on the man advantage without DeAngelo.
Over five games, the Hurricanes have allowed an NHL-high 24 goals, but also scored a league-leading 24 goals. Defense has been the issue, which brings up the question, why deploy an offensive third pairing in Orlov and DeAngelo when scoring is not the problem?
In addition, DeAngelo is liable to find himself in the penalty box quite often, as he sits second on the team with 12 penalty minutes. Although they all came in one contest, he has garnered 47 or more penalty minutes each of the last four full seasons.
With Carolina bringing in Brendan Lemieux and Michael Bunting, both who are aggressive and willing to be in the middle of a skirmish, adding in DeAngelo to the mix creates more unnecessary opportunities to go on the penalty kill.
Calling up Callahan Burke ahead of Saturday night’s matchup in Colorado may be a sign of Aho missing more time or it could be out of convenience with him being on loan to the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.
Aho’s availability may play a role in the lineup construction tonight and in the future, but when he returns, Orlov and Chatfield should headline the third defensive pairing for a defense that has struggled immensely in the early going.