Carolina fans have a lot to be excited about in Jeff Skinner. He is only 19 years old, has played two full seasons in the NHL and has been one of the team's best players in both of them. That is pretty amazing because there are some top prospects at his age who are still playing junior hockey. Overall, his game is still developing but he is already a dynamic offensive threat and it has shown this year as he leads the Hurricanes in scoring chance percentage and is second on the team in goals. His play away from the puck still needs some work and he really needs to clear up his act between the whistles but other than that, he's made a lot of improvements since last season. It might not be showing up on the scoreboard, but Skinner's offensive game has actually made a lot of strides this year which is what we will look at after the jump.
Whenever I write my scoring chance recap or any kind of stats, it is important to remember that the raw numbers need to be taken into context. Not all ice time is created equal as some players are used in tougher situations than others, making it more difficult for them to drive play in the right direciton. I have discussed zone starts numerous times before and how much of an effect they have, but another thing I want to touch on is matchups.
A coach will usually have a set of forwards and a defense pairing who he likes to use against the opposing team's top line, and their job is obviously tougher than a line that gets a lot of offensive zone starts against the bottom-six of other teams. Sometimes this line will be a primarily defensive unit and not expect to score often but there are teams who use one of their top-six lines in a "power vs. power" role because they have a center who can play tough minutes. Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Fisher and Olli Jokinen (this season) are some examples of these types of players. Zone starts are very important, but you also have to consider what kind of opponents they are playing against to see if they are beating out top-quality competition or feasting on weaker matchups.
The most commonly used stat to determine what kind of role a player is being used in is called "Quality of Competition" which measures how good of an opponent a certain player is facing on a regular basis. Some people, myself included, prefer to use "corsi relative to quality of competition" for this because it provides context. This is a really helpful stat but it doesn't tell you everything and it's hard to judge how a player is doing against certain competition when looking at raw possession stats. To fix this, I went back through every Carolina game this year and measured every player's scoring chance rating when they were playing against a certain line. We will look at this more after the jump.
History was made last night at the PNC Arena as the Hurricanes on their first shootout of the 2011-12 season. It only took them 81 games and seven attempts but they finally came out on the winning side of the skills competition and it was nice to finally get the monkey off their back there. Sure, the odds of winning a shootout is the equivalent of flipping a coin, but when you've witnessed 16 overtime overtime losses, six of which coming in the shootout, over the course of one season, it makes you want to pull your hair out so it was nice to see a win in that situation.
Last night's game wasn't exactly the perfect way to close out the PNC Arena since the Hurricanes had a stretch of about 20 minutes where the Canes looked flat and it didn't help that the refs were calling anything and everything. There were approximately 28 penalty minutes between both teams, which meant that this game would likely be decided by special teams and that was almost the case. The Hurricanes only goal came on the powerplay and the Canadiens were given a 5-on-3 late in the third period which very well could have decided the game, too. Both teams were relatively even in shots and scoring chances (19-18 Carolina overall) so it was fitting that this game needed to be decided by extra time and a shootout. It was also nice for Carolina to finally catch a break in the shootout and end the season's home stand on a winning note.
After that debacle against the New Jersey Devils, I said that I wanted to see the Hurricanes put forth a good effort in their last three games of the season and they certainly did that tonight in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. This was far from the best game that the Hurricanes have played because they had more than a few defensive slip-ups, got into penalty trouble and had to rely a bit on Cam Ward to bail them out of some tough situations.
The Hurricanes also made some good adjustments in the second period and did a much better job of limiting Ottawa's scoring chances after that. They kept a lot of the Senators shots to the outside and were doing their best to lighten the workload on Ward and it was effective for awhile. Ward still had to make a lot of big saves to keep the Hurricanes on top, but the volume of chances he saw in the second and third period wasn't nearly as hectic as the onslaught he faced in the first period, at least while the Canes were playing at even strength. All hell broke loose when the Sens pulled their goalie.
Anyway, this was a nice road win for the Hurricanes. They got a few lucky bounces, most notably on Brandon Sutter's goal, but they weren't terribly outplayed by the Senators at even strength and did a fine job of protecting their lead, something they have struggled mightily with throughout the season. We also got a possible glimpse into next season with some new defense pairings.
The Hurricanes may have finished March with a "winning" record of 7-6-3 but they did not play their best hockey this month at all. Out of the 16 games they played, the Canes outchanced their opponent at even strength a grand total of four times and controlled roughly 45.6% of the scoring chances during five-on-five play. A few awful games are bound to happen with those kind of numbers and the Canes had their fare share of blow-ups in March. They were shutout twice, were blown out by Columbus and surrendered a 4-1 lead against the Red Wings in a game where they were outchanced 23-9 at even strength.
They had a nice four game winning streak which gave fans some false hope of a miracle playoff push but the writing was on the wall that this team was about to go through another rough patch and it happened. The Hurricanes aren't doing enough at either end of the rink to be a competitive team and things seemed to hit a wall this month as they gave up almost 40 more chances at even strength than they created. Hence why I think the team's defensive play is something that needs to be heavily addressed this off-season.
You'll notice that in the individual player reports, that a lot of the team's top offensive contributors are giving up way too much in their own end. We'll look at those numbers after the jump.
Since the Hurricanes are now out of the playoffs, all that's left to worry about is their draft position. Even with only three games remaining, the Canes draft position can change dramatically because of how cluttered things are at the bottom of the standings.
The Jackets and Oilers have their spots in the lottery all sewn up but the difference between 21st and 27th place is only five points. The Hurricanes can finish the year in 21st or 28th place depending on how they do in these next three games and the other teams' performance will have some impact on that, as well. It's a little odd to think that only two points separate Carolina from a lottery pick right now but things could definitely turn out that way depending on what happens.
Here are the possible scenarios:
If the Hurricanes win out:
The Hurricanes will have 84 points if they win their last three games, the highest they can pick is 6th or 7th depending on how the tie-breaker is decided with the Minnesota Wild should they win out, too. Now, the odds of everyone else also winning out is unlikely (especially with some of these teams having games against each other), so the more realistic result is the Canes picking around 8-10th if they win their last three games. That would put them in a position to take an impact player, but their chances of grabbing one of the top forwards in the draft would decrease if they pick outside the top 5.
If the Hurricanes lose out:
The Hurricanes losing their final three games would mean that they would end up picking in the top five if the Habs win out, the Wild acquire three points and the Islanders, Leafs and Ducks acquire at least two points. If the Hurricanes turn in the kind of effort they had on Saturday, this could very well happen but I honestly hope that doesn't happen. Yes, I would like to see the Hurricanes get a high draft pick but I also want to see this team put forth some effort in their last two games. I didn't see any of that on Saturday and I know Muller is probably thinking the same thing. Either way, if Carolina does drop their remaining three games without securing any points, they will have a good chance of picking in the top five but a lot of it may depend on ohwo the Wild, Islanders, Ducks & Leafs perform in their last fwe games, too. The Ducks have one game in hand so they have a better chance at moving up in the standings.
What will likely happen
Carolina has two games remaining against playoff teams (Ottawa & Florida), one of which has already clinched and they have a game against Montreal on Wednesday. The game against Ottawa could go either way since they already clinched and can't get any higher than 7th place right now. Montreal is getting a lottery pick no matter what, so that game could be a toss-up and I wouldn't be surprised if we see Peter Budaj in net. The Panthers, however, still have not clinched the division or a playoff spot and may still need to by Saturday when they play Carolina on the last game of the season. For their sake, I hope they clinch before then but it could very well come down to the last game of the season, which will make game 82 very interesting for both the Panthers and the Hurricanes.
Things could really go either way with the last three games but I see Carolina finishing in the realm of 7-9th place at the end of the season.
Finding a top-line winger for Eric Staal is likely going to be one of the first priorities for GM Jim Rutherford this off-season. One of the problems throughout the season has been the lack of top-six wingers and it's definitely had an effect on the Hurricanes' positioning in the standings right now. Staal has recently found chemistry with Jiri Tlusty and a combination of Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose but with Ruutu playing better on the second line and Tlusty's ceiling being only so high, it's safe to say that the Canes can do a better job at giving Staal better talent to work with.
Although, if you look at Eric Staal's most frequent linemates throughout the years, you'll notice that he's never had one or two consistent wingers he plays with from year to year. Ever since 2007-08, Staal's regular linemates have changed every year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this trend continue next season. Something that I noticed is that some of his frequent linemates had career seasons when playing on his wing, and we are seeing that this year with Tlusty.
A great center can make his linemates better and Staal is in that category, but just how good can he make a certain player? This is something to keep in mind when looking for a winger through free agency because while Staal can make his linemates better, he can't make everyone a top-six player. After the jump, we will take a look at Staal's linemates since 2007-08 and which ones he had the most success with.
This may have been one of the worst performances that the Hurricanes have turned in this season. Not only were they shutout 5-0 by the Devils, but they looked just flat-out pathetic in doing so. Carolina had only six even strength scoring chances through two periods of play and that was with them playing from behind. The 'Canes getting outchanced every game is something that I am used to, but this is the first time under Kirk Muller where the Canes looked like they weren't even trying. They took careless penalties, were lazy in all three zones and committed some horrendous turnovers that led to chances and goals for the Devils.
I know that they were "officially" eliminated from the playoffs and played a game last night, but this was a completely lazy and uninspired performance from the Hurricanes and I know that Muller will not stand for this. It's a little hard to get too upset about this kind of performance because all losing does is effect the team's draft position but if the Canes are going to lose out, I'd rather it be from lack of talent than lack of effort like we saw tonight. A high draft pick isn't going to magically fix a team and it certainly won't fix the Hurricanes if they put together another performance like tonight.
There's three games left in the season and I hope the Hurricanes can put together some stronger performances than this. Win or lose.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
For what I feel like is the twentieth time this season, the Carolina Hurricanes played a solid game for about 40 minutes, took a lead into the third period only to give it up and lose the game in overtime. That might be a bit of an exgerration, but I feel like I've seen this script way too many times this season and seeing this team constantly blow leads eventually grates on you.
Tonight's 4-3 loss to the Jets was especially frustrating because it seemed like Carolina had control of this game for the first two periods but let things slip away by playing poorly in the third period. While Carolina did have a huge advantage in shots, they were not winning the battle at even strength at all. Both teams were tied with 10 even strength chances through two periods of play and what gave Carolina the advantage was the excellent play of their penalty kill and their powerplay producing seven scoring chances.
Those helped the Canes out on the shot and chance chart, but not on the scoreboard. It's not too often you see a team create that many powerplay chances and not get rewarded for it, but that was the case tonight. Had they scored on one of those chances, then this could have been a different game but it's hard to fault the failed powerplay for the other things that went wrong in the third period.
There's a lot of things to breakdown but I think this stat sums things up well. The Hurricanes held the Jets to 16 shots on goal through the first two periods. They allowed 18 in the third alone. Protecting a lead. How does it work?
Scoring chances & more after the jump
An ongoing issue throughout the season is that neither coach has been rolling four lines as often as fans would like. Ideally, most coaches would like to roll four lines and have their fourth unit out there for around 8-10 minutes a game. The role of the fourth line depends on the coach and under Paul Maurice this season, the fourth line was barely used. That has somewhat changed ever since Kirk Muller took over as head coach as Tim Brent has seen his ice time and his role increase quite a bit, but that hasn't been the case for others. Anthony Stewart and pretty much anyone else who has been plugged on the fourth line, the most recent one being defenseman-converted-to-forward Derek Joslin, have been averaging around 7-8 minutes per game.
With Staal's average ice time being well over 20 minutes for most of the season, I wouldn't mind seeing things more spread out but I think the fourth line itself is part of the problem. What I mean is that it wouldn't hurt to upgrade the personnel we currently have there. However, in order to improve the fourth line, we may need to address other issues in the lineup beforehand.