Carolina Hurricanes (10-18-5) at Florida Panthers (17-9-6)
5 p.m., Bank Atlantic Center
One of the most important things to do during the season is win games in your division, the Hurricanes have only one victory in the Southeast this year. On top of that, they have only gained three points in games against Southeast teams and that's partially the reason why they are in as low in the standings as they are now. Today is a great day to turn things around, though as they take on the suprise team of the Southeast, the Florida Panthers. How long this success lasts is up for debate but it's looking highly likely that the Cats are on pace to make their first playoff apperance in over a decade. However, they have been on the receiving end of a lot of luck this year and that's played a role in their success.
Things like luck and regression are difficult to accept at first because it doesn't make the best story but the truth is that they both play a big role in hockey and can explain hot and cold streaks going on. Goalies are usually the biggest victim of good or bad luck and we've seen a recent example in Cam Ward who has played well below his abilities this year. We know that a sub-.900 save percentage is unsustainable for him and we've already seen him look like his usual self in the last two games, so there's some regression going on right now. Eric Staal was also a victim of bad luck for the first two months of the season and now he's got 8 points in his last 7 games.
Some of the beneficiaries of great puck luck have been Florida goaltender Jose Theodore (.933 EV sv%) and their entire first line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann (all three have on-ice shooting percentages of 11%+). That isn't too say that these players are "bad" but they certainly aren't as good as they have been. Regression might be what comes back to hurt this Florida team because the strong goaltending has played a big role in their success and their first line has accounted for 48% of their goals. On top of that, Versteeg is the only player on their first line that appears to be driving possession well so when their shooting percentages regress, so does most of their scoring. For the Hurricanes, bad luck has played a role in their struggles but regression going to the mean isn't going to save them because there's a lot more going wrong with this team...but they are at least a win better than they are now. It doesn't sound like much at first, but it's true.
Let's see how the percentages play against Florida tonight.
Lines, analysis & more after the jump