The Hurricanes 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders last Saturday marked game number 25 for Kirk Muller as the Hurricanes new coach. Why is that important? Because Paul Maurice was fired after game 25 (4-3 loss to Ottawa in late Nov.) and we can now reasonably compare what the two have done as the Canes bench boss. The consensus among fans is that the team is playing better under Muller and that he should be the coach of the future. The question is, just how much better are the Canes playing under Muller than Maurice. Studies show that teams who fire coaches mid-season will improve by only one win for the rest of the year. Is Muller an exception? Find out after the jump.no comments
I was not able to live-track the Hurricanes-Capitals game on January 15th because I was at the game and it's taken me longer than usual to get the scoring chances posted for this game because I was planning on doing something special with this. Remember my post where I tracked zone exits for certain shifts to see how effective certain defensemen were at completing breakout passes? Well, I decided to expand on it and track zone exits for an entire game and add it to my scoring chance reports to get an even deeper idea of how the game went. That's not the only addition I made. Broad Street Hockey has been tracking zone entries for the Flyers all season and I have finally decided to start tracking them for the Hurricanes. Thanks to Eric Tulsky and his awesome script, tracking zone entries is made simple. All you need is Microsoft Excel, a game to watch and some time to kill. This will give us an idea of who is winning the battles in the neutral zone and, when combining them with stats like corsi, which players are driving the play better than others.
We will have a better picture of the entire team once we get more games tracked, but I wanted to get this project off and running and figured the All-Star break gives me some extra time to get it done. This is still a bit of an experiment, so let me know if you have any suggestions with the method that I'm using here. Advanced stats in hockey are growing by the day and tracking zone entries/exits will give us an even closer look at the Canes.
We'll get started after the jump
Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner, a strong penalty kill and a ton of missed shots.
What are the main reasons why the Hurricanes won this game. When your team is outchanced 15-8 and only records two shots on goal in the third period and wins despite that, it's usually a case of the goalie standing on his head and Cam Ward had to do that in the Canes 2-1 win over the Jets. Although, he had a bit of luck on his side with how many times the Jets missed the net with their shots. Regardless, Ward has been simply phenomenal this month as he improved his save percentage to .955 in January and has allowed only five goals in his last five games. This win reminded me of how a lot of games went last season. The team didn't exactly outplay the opposition but they got a lead early and let Ward do the rest. Sometimes that's just enough to win, but let's not make a habit out of it, okay?
Carolina goes into the All-Star break with a win and can end January with a .500 record (currently 5-3-3 in the month) with a win over the Islanders after the break. This is a hell of a lot better than November, isn't it?
Scoring chances & more after the jump
The months and weeks before the trade deadline are both my favorite and least favorite time of the season because while it is exciting to see some key players switch teams, it is unbearable to see the hundreds of articles and trade rumors from fans who think that x team can get a big return for a player with an expiring contract. The Hurricanes are going to be sellers this deadline and have a few players whose contracts run out this summer, so there is no shortage of ridiculous rumors surrounding them, especially with scouts from other teams being at all of their games lately. The constant posts saying that "the Hurricanes can get a first round pick for this player" are getting ridiculous and I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Look, we all know where the Canes stand this deadline and that there will be players moved over the next few weeks but those expecting management to clean house this deadline are probably going to be disappointed. The players you want to move at the trade deadline are those who have expiring contracts or ones whose value is at the highest that it likely will be in their career. This is the perfect time to get a team to overpay but that doesn't mean that everyone with an expiring contract will be moved. Remember two years ago when everyone was certain that Ray Whitney will be moved before March? It didn't happen, and while you can say that Rutherford made a mistake by letting him walk away for nothing, it shows that not everyone is going to be traded to make room for younger players. The cap floor is going to make it even more difficult to trade for just draft picks.
Let's face it, the trade deadline might be the most overhyped day in sports and most people seem to have a tough time remembering that. That is why I came up with a few tips for Canes fans so that we can make it through the next few months without going insane.
For whatever reason, overtime and the shootout have been cruel to the Canes this year, especially on the road. Last night's, 2-1 OT loss to the Islanders was the ninth OTL for the Canes this year and they have still yet to win a road overtime game. Frustrating isn't it? This game was definitely up there as one of the more frustrating losses of the season because Carolina had their chances and lost on a very strange goal. It isn't too often that you see a player bat in his own rebound out of mid-air but that's what John Tavares did on the game-winning goal last night. They were also stoned by Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov who showed signs of his 2004 form tonight stopping 32 of 33 shots.
The one thing we can take away from these tough losses is that the Hurricanes are staying competitive in all of their games. Five of their six losses this month have been by only one goal and they actually outchanced their opponent in three of those games including last night. The effort is there and the wins should follow once the team gets more skill up front and tightens things down on defense. They weren't outplayed as badly as the shot total indicates, but they still gave up a lot in their own end. For now, we just have to take the results as they come and focus on the positives of each game and there were quite a few in this one.
Carolina Hurricanes (17-24-8) at New York Islanders (18-21-6)
7 p.m. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
TV: FS-Carolina, MSG Plus
One thing that has been supposedly killing the Hurricanes this year is their performance in back-to-back games, especially in ones where they have to travel. Doing this is tough for any team because it's tough for players to find their legs when they already played a game less than 24 hours ago and have gotten very little sleep on top of that. Tonight's contest against the Islanders will be the Canes 11th back-to-back of the season and the good news is that they only have two left on the schedule after this because this type of setting hasn't been kind to Carolina this year. Their 3-4-1 record in back-to-backs may not seem terrible, but they have been outshot 193-238 in this situation and some of their worst performances of the year have come on back-to-backs. Remeber those big losses against the Flyers and Preds both happened when the Canes played the night before and so did that loss to the Penguins where they made Justin Peters face over 50 shots. That said, the Canes played well against Washington in a back-to-back last week despite the 2-1 loss and are coming off a pretty strong win last night so that should make people feel better about tonight's game. There's also the return of Chad LaRose, which should help.
Lines & more after the jump
Jim Rutherford has been a busy man this week as he made his second trade in four days by dealing winger Alexei Ponikarovsky to the New Jersey Devils for a 2012 4th round pick and defenseman Joe Sova. The timing of this trade may have been a bit weird, but I think it is safe to say that we all saw a move like this coming. Ponikarovsky is a pending unrestricted free agent and signed to a cheap $1.5 mil. contract so he was probably the easiest to move even if his performance in Carolina hasn't been great. My belief was that a team looking for a depth forward would give up a mid-round pick for him and that's pretty much what happened here. It's not a blockbuster trade or anything but it's a deal that works for both teams and should tell us a little bit about the market over the next few weeks.
My expectations for Ponikarovsky were pretty low when we signed him because of the season he had in Los Angeles but I was slightly optimistic because a lot of his struggles were related to decreased ice-time and weak line-mates. I figured a return to top-six minutes would help him rebound but his 7 goals and 15 points in 49 games indicate that hasn't been the case. With guys like Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, Jerome Samson and even Zach Boychuk looking to earn ice time in the NHL, some players are going to be moved and Ponikarovsky ended up being the first odd man out.
So why would the Devils want someone who can't score? Well, I don't know if you have looked at their roster lately but their bottom-six depth is pretty brutal, especially at left wing. After Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, they don't have any left wingers who can drive possession and/or play against tough competition. That's where Ponikarovsky fits in. They should be able to get an instant upgrade at LW on their third line with him and make their forward corps a little more deep as they push towards the playoffs.
Poni may have "lost his scoring touch" ever since he left Toronto in 2010, but one thing he is consistently good at is getting the puck moving in the right direction. In fact, he was one of the Hurricanes better forwards at driving possession and is performing slightly above the team average at creating scoring chances. The problem is that none of the pucks have been going in for him or his teammates. Ponikarovsky is getting about two shots on net per game and is on pace for only 12 goals, but his shooting percentage is only 7.1% and the Canes are shooting the puck at only 4.61% at even strength when he is on the ice. So, luck hasn't exactly been on Poni's side this year and it is possible that he may rebound. The Devils made a good low-risk move by trading for him since they had nine picks in this coming draft and Sova doesn't appear to be in their plans.
The biggest concern I had about trading Poni was that the Canes would get little to no value in return and they actually got more back than I thought. A fourth round pick probably means nothing to the Devils with their surplus of draft picks and that alone is worth Ponikarovsky to me. Getting a prospect along with him makes me like this deal a little more from Carolina's perspective.
For those of you who know nothing about Sova, the Devils blog In Lou We Trust has a fantastic write-up about him here where Britton Anderson gives some details on how Sova's game has developed at college. For those of you who want the Cliff Notes version, I will explain it here. Sova is talented offensive defeseman who attended the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for three years before signing with the Albany Devils. While at college, he was well known for his strong two-way game and was excellent at working the powerplay, which is where he accumulated most of his points. He is also known for his hard slapshot, which could make him a nice addition to the Charlotte Checkers lineup but Anderson notes that his decision making in the defensive zone is his biggest issue. He has spent this most recent season with the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL and Albany Devils of the AHL and his offensive productionfrom college has yet to carry over in either. (11 points in 31 games between the two leagues). It doesn't look like he has much of a future in the NHL but there's some potential here and I'm sure we'll find something to do with him.
In short, we got a mid-round pick and a prospect for a rental, which is pretty good in my book. There are going to be more trades coming from the Canes the next month or so and the players we have on the block right now will probably get us a much bigger return than what Ponikarovsky went for, so I would be cautiously optimistic about the trade deadline.
Games like the one we saw at the RBC Center haven't happened much this year. Not only did we witness Cam Ward's second shutout of the season, but we also got to see the Canes put together one of their best team efforts in a 3-0 win over the Washington Capitals. It was their first regulation win against the Caps in over two years, so I'm sure this was a big monkey off their backs. This was also the first time in awhile that the Canes completely dominated their opponent in all three zones which is something I hope to see more of the next couple of months. It doesn't matter whether you go by the final score, shots (33-22) or scoring chances (21-10), everything was heavily tilted in Carolina's favor while nothing seemed to go right for the Caps.
I must say, it is really nice to be on the winning side of one of these games for a change.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
Yesterday it was announced that Zac Dalpe will be called up from Charlotte and that he could be playing on the second line in Alexei Ponikarovsky's spot. This has gotten many fans excited because Dalpe is known as the type of player "who needs top-six minutes to be effective" and a big reason why his point total in the NHL is so underwhelming is because he's usually plugged in on the fourth line for most of his call-ups. What prevents me from being advocate for giving Dalpe top-six minutes is that his possession numbers have been horrible at the NHL level and he hasn't exactly been scoring either. Players like Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk were at least making the most of his ice time and creating scoring chances during his time here but I can't say the same for Dalpe. My thought is that he should be in Charlotte to work on his all-around game and have the team call him up when he is ready.
The argument against that is that Dalpe hasn't really been given a chance in Carolina because former head coach Paul Maurice regularly gave him only 4-9 minutes of ice-time. Over his 28 game NHL career, Dalpe has only played more than 10 minutes in eight games, so I consider that argument to be valid. Eight games is an incredibly small sample size, but to play Devil's advocate, I went through those games and looked how Dalpe performed to see if he does play better with top-six minutes. The results were pretty disappointing.
CF/15 = Carolina chances per 15 mins., CA/15 = Chances allowed per 15 mins.
This is Zac Dalpe's scoring chance data over his short career in Carolina and it isn't very promising. It is true that he plays better when given more ice-time but he is still underwater in scoring chances, which isn't good. Although, that is covering only eight games worth of data so making conclusions based off this would be silly. One thing we can say from the 28 total games worth of data is that fourth line minutes haven't done Dalpe much good in terms of development. Putting someone like him in a checking role is pretty much useless and he would likely be better off in Charlotte. It is also worth remembering that Dalpe was playing through an injury at the start of the year and that could have been one of the reasons why his ice-time was cut back earlier in the season. It seems that we won't have to worry about that this time because he's healthy and there aren't that many better options in the top-six. Ponikarovsky is controlling possession but not scoring, Tlusty has been on a huge decline for the past two months, LaRose is injuried and so is Samson. There is definitely room for Dalpe now.
I know that Dalpe is at the age where most high-ceiling players break into the league but it's not like this HAS to be the year for him or he'll be a bust. There is still plenty of time for him and I am excited to see how he performs during this next call-up. Bowman and Samson have all gotten their chances under Muller, now I guess it's time for Dalpe to get a "non-emergency call-up" audition.
Most of us have been waiting for Jim Rutherford to make a few trades and he did so last night by dealing forwards Jon Matsumoto and Mattias Lindstrom to the Florida Panthers in exchange for forwards Evgeny Dadonov and AJ Jenks. This trade likely won't much in the grand scheme of things but it does make sense for both teams. Florida needs forward depth for their AHL team in San Antonio and Matsumoto is the Charlotte Checkers leading point-getter. Carolina, on the other hand, needs more forward prospects that are close to being NHL ready and Dadonov fits the bill there. You can never have too many good prospects or players under 25, so I do like this trade for the Hurricanes even if Dadonov never pans out in the NHL, which is very possible.
The other two prospects in this deal could also have an impact but Dadonov appears to be the centerpiece because he has prior NHL experience and has the highest ceiling. He is a very skilled and talented player who possesses a solid two-way game but hasn't been a top-point producer at the KHL or AHL level, which does show some cause for concern but he was a very useful player for the Florida Panthers last year and could serve the Hurricanes well, too. We'll explore Dadonov and what he can do for the Hurricanes after the jump.