After two preseason games, it appears that nothing has changed on the back end for the Carolina Hurricanes. They’ve given up 10 goals in two games with both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin allowing softies. On the surface, the song remains the same.
But this is still the preseason, a time to work out the kinks. And to experiment.
Wednesday’s tilt against Columbus is a prime example. Justin Faulk, Andrej Sekera, and Ron Hainsey were all absent, while Ryan Murphy, Brett Bellemore and Michal Jordan suited up instead. Though the lineup was reminiscent of a few games in mid-Feburary a year ago, how Kirk Muller used them wasn’t.
Murphy led the way with almost 23:00 of ice time while Tim Gleason got just over 18:00, much of it shorthanded. Jordan and Bellemore also ended up playing more than Gleason. The two combined for nearly 9:00 shorthanded while Jay Harrison, who averaged 2:00 per game on the kill in 2012-13, only saw 0:33.
Thursday in Buffalo was much of the same. We know what Faulk brings to the table. Sekera, Hainsey and Murphy, mostly, are still unfamiliar to Muller and they were the ones who got the playing time.
The goal here is to see what works and what doesn’t. After all, that’s what the preseason is for. In the regular season, Faulk, Gleason, and Sekera won’t alternate games, and Jordan and Bellemore are more likely to begin the year in Charlotte than Raleigh.
We knew the change was not going to happen overnight. Though the defense is more talented than it was a year ago, building chemistry is going to take time. Especially with so many new faces.
But, as in every sport, September match-ups should be taken with a grain of salt. Take the tale of two Hurricanes. Ten years ago, Eric Staal led the NHL during the preseason in goals with 7, but finished his first year tied for 12th among rookies with only 11. On the other hand, Jeff Skinner scored just two points in four games before going on to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie.
Both turned out pretty well.
Save for Murphy, the Canes’ projected top seven defenders aren’t inexperienced. They don’t need the preseason for anything more than a tune-up or to get into “game speed” or to learn the nuances of their new teammates.
There are still four more games and two more weeks before opening night, and there might still be more bad than good. It’s all a learning process, and that might even bleed into the beginning of the regular season a bit. It’s not time to panic yet.