A main goal for the Hurricanes this off-season was to strengthen their top-six by adding at least one top-line player, something they accomplished by trading for Jordan Staal and signing Alexander Semin. Not having enough horses up front was a major problem for Carolina last season, so both of these additions are going to go along way in improving that. However, another problem for the Hurricanes over the last few years has been extremely poor defensive play and it's debatable to say that their defense heading into this season is better than last year's unit.
This is especially true on the penalty kill as the Hurricanes were in the bottom-ten in terms of penalty kill success percentage and were also just outside the bottom-ten at preventing shots against when playing with a man down. We all know that the Hurricanes struggles to control play at even strength put them in a lot of holes last year, but their porous penalty kill also contributed to that. There were a lot of games last season that got out of hand because the Hurricanes would get into penalty trouble and inevitably have a lot of shots and goals scored against them during those sequences. Granted, you are already playing with a disadvantage if you are on the PK, but there are a lot of teams with strong PK's and the secret to their success is easy to figure out; they were very good at preventing shots against.
Preventing the opposing team from getting shots on net during the penalty kill isn't as hard as one would think. A simple face-off win and successful clear usually drains at least 10 seconds off the clock and it takes longer than that for the opposing team to set up shop once they get the puck in the zone. After that, the team on the kill has to do their best at keeping the puck to the outside and gaining possession whenever they can so they can erase more time off the clock. Blocking shots and preventing opposing forwards from screening the goalie is also very important when it comes to killing penalties, as well and the latter was something the Hurricanes had a big problem with, namely the defensemen.
This may become an even bigger problem next season with Bryan Allen, one of the team's top penalty killers, gone and no replacement brought in. Another key penalty killer in Brandon Sutter was also lost this off-season, so the team's PK units are going to feature some new faces this season. Given how bad the Hurricanes PK has been the last few years, change may not be the worst thing in the world but is there a chance that the Canes PK might be worse than what it was before? After the jump, we will take a closer look at this and discuss what some of Carolina's PK units could look like.
When discussing the penalty kill, you have to think about two things; the forwards and the defensemen. The defense gets the most attention but the forwards play just as much of a role at preventing shots and the Hurricanes may have better penalty killing forwards than they had last season. I mentioned the Sutter/J. Staal trade-off earlier and that could end up working out well for the Canes because of how good Jordan is at killing penalties. You also have Patrick Dwyer, who was the team's best defensive forward last season and him along with Jordan Staal should make a good first PK unit up front. After that, you have quite a few players with experience killing penalties like Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose, Andreas Nodl, Jiri Tlusty and Tim Brent.
Another player who should be considered for penalty kill duties is the newly acquired Alexander Semin. He may have the reputation as a "one-dimensional" player who "doesn't play defense" but these criticisms likely come from people who have never watched him before? Why? Because a simple look at his past ice time shows that he killed penalties during 2009 through 2011 in Washington and I'm pretty sure that "one-dimensional players" wouldn't be used on the penalty kill. It's even stranger that he was taken off the PK last season because he was actually very good when it came to preventing shots. Compare his 2010-11 season to some of the other Carolina forwards with experience on the PK and you almost have to consider him.
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Semin was only used on the second unit but using him there would be an upgrade over most of the players on this list, especially Tlusty who was torched on the PK last year. That being said, having both Jokinen and Nodl on the team means that they don't have to use Semin on the PK but having him available is always good. Another thing I would like to point out here is that the addition of Jordan Staal could reduce Eric's time on the penalty kill because the Canes have two very solid penalty killing centers with Jordan and Jussi Jokinen. The main thing to take away from here is that the Hurricanes have a lot of options when it comes to what forwards they can roll on the penalty kill. Defensemen are another story.
It's easy to see how big of a loss Allen is on the PK and how confusing it is that the Hurricanes did not sign anyone to replace him for at least this season. Gleason was already logging more minutes on the PK than any other defensemen on the team and that he struggled to keep up with the workload. Unfortunately, it looks like that will continue unless one of the other blue-liners can help pick up some of the slack. Which player that will be is a good question because not many of these players logged big minutes on the PK last season.
Although, something positive here is that Pitkanen, Harrison and Faulk were all decent to great on the PK and could possibly play more minutes next season. Faulk might actually be the X factor in all of this because he was miles better than the rest of the team at killing penalties, at least when it came to preventing shots. If he can play on the first unit and carry this success over into next season then Carolina's PK might be in better shape than it appears on paper. Pitkanen and Harrison could also step into that role as neither were bad last season and Pitkanen has experience playing in all situations. There could be a lot of problems if even one of these players gets injured, since there isn't a lot of depth present.
To sum things up, the Hurricanes penalty kill resembles the rest of the team. They gained a lot up front but lost a bit on defense, so the Hurricanes will have to hope that the gains outweigh the losses or that one of their defensemen can step into a bigger role without much issue. The second point, unfortunately, seems like a huge question mark right now but we will have to see how things play out.