Can Canes' defense be more than the sum of its parts?

Odd mixture of experience and skill may be just what the team needs to compete

ldecock@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2013 

— Unlike some other teams, the Carolina Hurricanes have never been blessed with a Norris Trophy candidate on defense. They’ve made do for years with a hodge-podge of workhorses, specialists, cast-offs and youngsters. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

What’s the difference between the 2002 or 2006 groups, which were more than the sum of their parts, and the 2003 or 2007 groups, which were far less? Injuries hurt, but it’s not always easy to tell. In 2009, everything clicked. In 2010, it didn’t, in part because Dennis Seidenberg left – and became a key part of the Boston Bruins as they won the Stanley Cup.

“It’s guys who may not be superstars but are homing their game in at the right time, and I think that’s a big part of it,” Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo said. “Obviously in ’06, they had all these veteran guys. They were solid, very solid. Just maturity. They put their time in, started learning what it takes to be good every game, and it comes together.”

These are important questions because the Hurricanes enter the season with another unheralded group, with a similar mix of varying talents and potentials: Joni Pitkanen, still with the chance to be that Norris Trophy guy at some point in his career; Justin Faulk, also with that potential down the road but still very young; Corvo, Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison, all hardened veterans; youngsters Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti and possibly 19-year-old Ryan Murphy as well.

It’s not a group that blows anyone away on paper, but the same could be said in 2002, 2006 and 2009. The Hurricanes are counting on 2013 joining that list.

“A big part of that is all chemistry, finding the right fit as a group,” said former Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley, the fulcrum of both the 2002 and 2006 blue-line groups. “You have to believe in each other and in the system. All that plays into it. If you look back at 2006, we had chemistry in all three pairings. We had a very aggressive system, but we were all capable of playing it. You have to buy in and have that trust from Day 1.”

That’s one area where the Hurricanes may have an advantage this season, with only a few days of training camp to prepare. They had very little turnover in the offseason, and the only new arrival, Corvo, has already played with most of the other defensemen. He’s also a right shot, which balances out the left and right sides of the pairings.

“Especially with the late start, that’s going to pay off greatly,” Harrison said. “We have that unspoken communication ability. Last year, we experienced some injuries and had to play with each other all the time, not to mention Joe has been here, we’ve all played with Joe before. That transition is relatively seamless as well.

“Getting into that groove where there’s that unspoken communication where you know what you’re getting from your partners is one of the intangibles that a great defense corps has. We have the capability and the personnel to achieve that this year.”

DeCock: @LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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