By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – As the Carolina Hurricanes prepare to face off against the Colorado Avalanche during a matinee meeting at PNC Arena on Saturday, the feel-good atmosphere that surrounds the team’s 4-2-1 start must be tempered a bit.
Yes, this team is currently sitting atop the Metropolitan Division standings and tied for second in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
Yes, the team is playing a more exciting, fire wagon-style of play, albeit with a structure to it.
But as the focus has been on the front end, a growing concern is brewing in the back end.
No, it’s not the goaltending – at least not all of it.
It’s the defensive corps that must answer the bell now.
Playing head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s risk-reward style of never-ending skating and hustle will eventually tire legs and focus on the defensive end will falter.
As much as 3.6 goals for per game has provided the difference to overcome 3.1 goals against, the explosive flare-up on the front end will eventually calm to a steady ember-like burning rate.
Carolina’s forwards have provided the entire scoring spark that has put this team up on its perch after seven games.
However, opposing teams will the focus to shut them down as Winnipeg and Tampa Bay did earlier in the week.
The Jets and Lightning handed the Hurricanes their first successive losses, holding them to three goals total in 3-1 and 4-2 losses, respectively.
How did that happen so quickly?
Well, it’s obvious – the defense hasn’t contributed anything in terms of goal scoring.
With the exception of two goals scored by Brett Pesce, not one of the team’s other top-six blueliners have contributed any scoring to the cause.
Nothing, nada, rien.
They’ve taken a combined 100 shots on goal and come up with just two markers, but other than Pesce’s 14.3 percent shooting percentage on 14 shots on goal (SOG), there are zeroes across the board.
And everyone wonders why the power play is struggling.
Leading with 29 shots on goal is Dougie Hamilton, holder of the most shots on goal among the league’s and team’s defenseman this season while holding the NHL’s longest active streak (172 games) in putting rubber on the net.
That’s all fine and good, but no regulation goals scored to-date doesn’t and won’t help maintain this team’s offensive output.
Following close behind with 21 shots on goal is Justin Faulk, another key cog in the team’s machine that must fire and click (i.e. score) on all cylinders more.
He still hasn’t.
Jaacob Slavin (17 SOG), Calvin de Haan (12 SOG), and Trevor Van Riemsdyk (7 SOG) are equally culpable.
It’s understandable that goalkeepers Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney will face more opposing scoring attempts as their D-men play an aggressive end-to-end style, pinching and working to initiate opportunities on the offensive end.
With goals-against-average numbers of 3.06 for Mrazek and 2.64 for McElhinney, Vezina Trophy-like numbers are not to be expected from them.
And that’s okay.
As long as they provide the ‘game and hustle’ to make enough stops while more goals scored for are tallied, that will translate into wins.
Right now, the Hurricanes’ scoring engine is revving, but the goal-scoring from the back end is missing.
This energetic and fast start will eventually be all for naught unless Carolina’s defensemen kick it up a notch and get the job done at even strength and on the power play.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport