I've been playing the "bad luck" card to explain most of the Hurricanes struggles last year because a lot of the team's struggles were out of their own control. The Canes were destroyed by injuries, had scoring issues despite leading the NHL in 5v5 shots per game, received sub-par goaltending for half of the year and lost all but two games that went to extra time. Everyone knew that tangible qualities like the ones listed above were going to play a significant role in where teams finished in the standings and the Hurricanes got the short end of the stick in all of them. Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract web site does a great job of illustrating this point with this chart showing each team's "Luck Score." It's pretty easy to tell that the Hurricanes were very unlucky in just about every category that is said to go either way in a full-season.
Some encouraging news in all of this is that the Canes were a positive puck-possession team at even strength and should be better next year once regression sets in and their second line starts producing. However, another area that Vollman's Luck Score goes over is each club's "Special Team Index," which looks at the combined performance of their power play and penalty kill. As you can probably guess, Carolina was near the bottom of the league in that category and have been for years now. Some teams can get by with mediocre special teams by making up for it at even strength, but others, like the Hurricanes aren't so fortunate.
The Canes were a good team at controlling the play at during five-on-five action, but they had trouble scoring and got below-average to replacement level goaltending for the second half of the season. Combine that with putrid special teams and that will generally earn you a place in the NHL's cellar, in a shortened season at least. What does luck have to do with special teams, though? Quite a bit, actually.
I was hesitatnt to accept this idea at first, but when you consider how much luck is involved with goal-scoring and goaltending, it's easy to see why special teams performance can vary so much on a year to year basis. Special teams success is gauged by a team's power play or penalty kill percentage, which is determined by how many goals they score or allow while playing up or down a man. It's been stated and proven over and over again how shooting percentage is not a repeatable skill at a team level and as a result, success on special teams usually ends up being very random. This is especially true for a team's power play percentage.
If you look at each of the top ranked power plays over the last six seasons and where they ranked the following year, you'll notice some interesting observations.
Only two of the top ranked power plays stayed in the top 10 the following season and only one of them converted on at least 20% of their opportunities. After running hot on the power play for one year, each of these teams saw their 5v4 shooting percentages dip the following season while their shot rate stayed relatively constant. Much like it is at even strength, the most a team has control over on the power play is creating chances and getting the puck on goal. With the exception of the Detroit Red Wings, all of these team's ability to do that didn't change much the following season, but their power plays ended up being worse going by shooting percentage and success rate.
This all relates back to the issue of whether or not shooting percentage relates to shot quality and while there might be some correlation there, it doesn't appear to have much sustainability over long stretches of time. The ability to generate shots, on the other hand, is much more repeatable and this is why the general rule of thumb is that your power play is on the right track as long as you generate chances. Still, there are a lot of coaches will drive themselves crazy to fix a struggling power play even when they are getting a high volume of shots on goal. Sometimes, a little patience can be the cure to everything.
Does this apply to the Hurricanes, though? They've been ranked in the bottom-half of the league in power play percentage in the majority of the last six seasons, but how much of it is related to percentages and how much of it is the team's doing? After the jump, we will answer both questions and discuss how it will affect the team next season.no comments