The Hurricanes closed out the last three games of their home stand by going 1-1-1 and slightly outchancing their opponents at even strength by owning 52.5% of the scoring chances. This will be the second week in a row that the Canes outchanced their opponents in the span of the week, which is a good sign for the team moving forward. Although, it's worth mentioning that they only outchanced one team this week (Tampa Bay 16-10) and it was by a wide margin so that likely had a an impact on their overall score. I still think it's a good sign that this team isn't getting shelled at even strength every game like they were earlier in the year and are actually managing to keep things close with most of their opponents. They could have easily been 2-1-0 this past week but they still have some areas they need to work on, one of the biggest being staying out of the box. After the jump, we will take a closer look at how the Canes did this past week and single out some top performers.
There is about 20 games left in the NHL season and we still have yet to see one team emerge as the favorite in the Southeast Division. The Florida Panthers currently sit in first place by four points but I've seen biggest leads evaporate before, so this race is far from over. To get an idea of who will come out of this logjam in first place at the end of the year, I am going to take a look at each team's underlying numbers and determine who is more likely to win the division and earn that much desired playoff spot.
I'm going to do this at the end of every week until the season's over so we can see how things progress over time.
|Team||W||Pts||Corsi Tied.||Fen Close||GF||GA||Exp. W||Exp. Pts||Pace|
Before we get into anything, I'll break down the table for you. I have displayed the team's wins, points, even strength possession stats, how many goals they scored compared to how many they gave up and their expected win and point total going by Pythagorean expectations. If you don't know what that is, it's basically an expected winning percentage based on how many goals a team scores compared to how many they surrender. For instance, the Canes have scored 171 goals while giving up 197, which would give them an "expected" winning percentage of 46.4%. That equals to about 28 wins.
This method is a good way to see which teams are beating their opponents more handedly and relying less on overtime/shootouts for points. You can see the the Hurricanes have gotten the shaft in that department because they "should" be about four wins better than they are right now but the 14 OT/SO losses bring them down.
Right now, there doesn't seem to be a clear favorite in the division. All of the top four teams are separated by one win and six points and none of them are that great. Florida has been a solid team this year but the main reason why they are leading the division right now is the 12 points they've earned from overtime and shootout losses. The Panthers aren't blowing out teams this year at all as they have the same amount of "clear victories" as Carolina (10) and have earned points in 26 of the 31 one-goal games they were involved in. It's also worth mentioning that they are tied with the Caps for the division lead in fewest goals allowed, showing that good goaltending has been one of the reasons for their success. Florida technically has more points than they "should" right now but they have an edge on the Winnipeg Jets with games in hand and are slightly better at controlling possession than Washington. Their margin of error is also a bit larger than the Caps right now.
The Jets playoff chances are very realistic right now but the fact that they trail Florida by four points and have played two more games might hurt them. They haven't been overwhelmingly better than Florida this year, but I would not be surprised if they ended up winning the division when all is said and done, especially with the Caps seemingly in free fall mode. Although, Washington leads the division in clear victories (16) and have finally broke the .500 mark in corsi tied so they could possibly make a run for the division. Time is not on their side, though.
As for Tampa's recent surge, I still don't think they can take the division. That team has been awful at controlling possession all season and it hasn't changed much at all. The reason for their resurgence is due to some extremely high shooting percentages that aren't sustainable in the long run. Their goaltending is still worst in the league, too even if Mathieu Garon has improved lately. That and their depth is incredibly weak with Vinny Lecavalier and Victor Hedman out of the lineup. Steven Stamkos' line and Eric Brewer are going to need to carry this team the rest of the way if they want to make the playoffs. The Anaheim Ducks basically did the same thing last year so it's possible, but very unlikely.
That's how things look right now. I'll be interested to see what changes next week.
Once upon a time, Zach Boychuk was the Carolina Hurricanes top prospect. He was selected in the first round of the 2008 NHL draft and was known for having great hands and huge scoring upside that any team would welcome. At the time, he had 82 goals and 214 points in 194 games in the WHL so it's easy to see why he was such a high draft pick. Everyone, myself included, thought that he would be playing in the Hurricanes' top six at this point but he has still yet to find a full-time spot on the roster and was just reassigned to Charlotte again.
Boychuk has shown that he can score at junior and the AHL level but he still has not been able to carry over that success into the NHL. Some say that the reason for this is that he is undersized, which is a valid point because at 5'10" and 185 lbs., he isn't exactly a big player and can get knocked off the puck easier than others. Other say that his game is more suited for a bigger ice sheet but his high scoring rate in the AHL suggests otherwise. Whatever the issue is, he just doesn't seem to fit well with the Hurricanes no matter who the coach is.
In last night's game against the Lightning, Boychuk played about eight minutes and a grand total of two shifts after the first period. When I first watched the game, I didn't notice him make any glaring mistakes and wondered what caused Kirk Muller to pull the plug on him. So, I went back and re-watched all of his shifts and jotted down anything noteworthy that he did when he was on the ice. After I examined his play more closely, I'm still a tad confused but noticed some of the deficiencies in Boychuk's game.
We will take a look at those shifts and examine Boychuk's NHL career a little closer after the jump
A great effort from the Hurricanes tonight went to waste as they dropped their fourteenth overtime decision this season in a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. When playing at five-on-five, the Canes were doing just about everything they needed to do to win. They were getting the puck in deep, winning battles along the boards and generally outplayed the Lightning. Their hard work was rewarded in the second period when they took a 3-1 lead but bad luck and a couple third period penalties ended up shifting things in the Lightning's favor.
The Canes found themselves in another overtime game and an absolutely atrocious roughing call on Brandon Sutter gave the Lightning a four-on-three, which they scored on. Given the Canes horrible luck and play in overtime this year, an outcome like that was inevitable but it's disappointing to see the team play well enough to win but come away with only a point because of some mental miscues and a couple bad breaks.
The Hurricanes performance tonight was nothing to sneeze at but the mental mistakes, penalties and bad breaks are getting very frustrating. Things like this are expected with a growing team and we have seen them improve so much since the beginning of the year, but tonight's game showed that there are still problems that need to be fixed.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
Cory Lavellette of Canes Country mentioned on Twitter this morning that the Hurricanes have three defensemen with at least seven goals (Harrison, Faulk & McBain) and 29 goals from their blue-line this year. That's a pretty big surprise when you consider that their best offensive defenseman has been out for over half of the season, but it did get me thinking about where the Hurricanes rank in the NHL when it comes to the amount of offense they get from defensemen.
When you think of how much "offense" a team is getting, most will look at goals as a way to judge that. As most of you probably know by now, there is a lot of luck involved with scoring goals and that is especially true when it comes to defensemen, so we have to look at more data here. For this study, I went to Behind the Net Hockey's shot data page and looked at how many even strength goals, shots on goal and missed shots each team's defense had. I also included their average shooting distance and shooting percentage for good measure. I'm going to do this with only five-on-five data for now to weed out some of the noise that special teams create, but I will include some powerplay data along with it.
After the jump, we will take a look at how much offense the Hurricanes defensemen are really supplying and where they rank in the NHL.
The Hurricanes losing streak to the Rangers continued tonight as they dropped their third game of the year to them tonight 3-2. Despite the shot count indicating that the Hurricanes were grossly outplayed, this game was actually pretty close for most of its duration. Still, the Rangers were unquestionably the stronger team tonight as the Hurricanes struggled to create a lot of good scoring chances. Entering the offensive zone wasn't much of a problem for Carolina, the issue was that once they entered the zone, they ran into a wall of New York players and couldn't seem to maneuver around them. The lone exception being Jeff Skinner, who looked like the best player on the ice.
In the second period, I noticed more players were just opting to dump the puck in and hope something would come of it and that's not the best strategy to go with when you're playing the Rangers. They thrive on capitalizing on other team's mistakes and that's exactly what they did on all three goals. The first goal was due to a blocked shot leading to a turnover, the second goal happened because Derek Joslin could not clear the puck and the third goal was due to Jaro Spacek's clearing attempt hitting the linesman which led to an odd-man rush. The Rangers aren't a dominant possession team but they are very solid fundamentally and defensively, which means they will jump on every opportunity they get. Alll New York had to do in the third period was sit back and play good defense and they executed that strategy to a T.
Carolina played a good game for the most part, but the mental mistakes and terrible powerplay (1/5 with four chances) put them in a bit of a hole and they couldn't do enough offensively to lead a comeback. A regulation loss had to happen sooner or later.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
New York Rangers (40-15-6) at Carolina Hurricanes (24-26-13)
RBC Center 7 p.m.
February is behind us and the Hurricanes certainly enjoyed themselves during that month going 6-1-4 and actually posting some respectable underlying numbers. Like I said in the scoring chance recap, the rebuilding process is going to be slow and steady and that's pretty much how it's been for the Canes this year. Will Carolina be able to carry over their success in February to March? If their underlying numbers keep improving, then possibly. The month begins with a tough test tonight against the Eastern Conference's best team, the New York Rangers. We've had two not-so-pleasant outings against the Blueshirts this year, so it would be nice to get a win against them tonight and stay strong at home. It should be interesting at the very least after seeing the lines that Kirk Muller used in practice.
More on that after the jump.
"Progress" is a word that you will hear pundits say when referring to the Hurricanes for the rest of the year. A horrible start buried them from playoff contention and ever since Kirk Muller took over, the main thing we are looking for is effort and progress when it comes to the team's future. The effort has been there on most nights but progress was coming at a slow pace during both December and January. Last month, however, we saw the Canes on-ice performance take a few bigger steps forward. They went 6-1-4, have slowly climbed their way out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference and look like a better team. They also did not lose a game by more than a goal for the entire month. The question is, do the underlying numbers show that Carolina is improving?
Sort of. Their overall corsi tied and scoring chance percentage have made minimal improvements from the last month and they are still underwater in both categories. This is mostly because their possession metrics were so poor for the first few months but during February, their EV scoring chance percentage was 49.4%. That's actually a lot better than their performances in other months but still mediocre. Their corsi tied percentage, however, was a much stronger 51.7% during the 11 games they played in February. Considering that they were without Tuomo Ruutu for most of those games, that's very impressive.
So yes, Carolina is making progress and played some very good hockey this past month. I don't think that they are a good team yet but they are a hell of a lot better than they were in October and November. Muller has been able to get the most out of a lot of players on this team but I still think the Canes are missing a few pieces if they want to be a contending team next year. After the jump, we'll take a look at which players were controlling the scoring chances for Carolina.
When you take a look at the roster the Hurricanes dressed tonight, you will see that they had three forwards who have never played a full-season in the NHL before, two of whom would likely be playing top-six minutes and their 7th/8th defenseman was being used as a forward. To the casual fan, this looked like an easy win for the 5th place Nashville Predators but that wasn't the case as the Hurricanes took home a 4-3 victory. The best part about it was that they outplayed Nashville for most of the game but a main reason for that was due to the Preds constantly digging their own grave with penalties.
Carolina had six powerplay opportunities tonight and scored twice, two of which were goals that either tied the game or gave them the lead. The Canes ended up outshooting and outchancing the Preds overall but they ended up trailing them at even strength. That's largely because Carolina was playing with a lead in the third period and elected not to play too aggressive. It wasn't exactly a pretty finish but it's another win. Besides, special teams is what help decide the last game when the Preds scored four PPGs so it only made sense for the roles to be switched this game, right? I'll go with that.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
As the whole hockey world knows, yesterday was the trade deadline and the Hurricanes....well they didn't do anything. The common thought around the league was that the Canes would be sellers this year because they are last in the Eastern Conference and have/had a few expiring contracts but they ended up re-signing two pending UFA's and trading no one in the last month. The only pending UFA who was moved this year was Alexei Ponikarovsky for a 4th round pick and Joe Sova. Guys like Ruutu, Gleason, Allen and Spacek (i.e. the players everyone thought would be traded) are still on the team and the first two were given new four-year contracts.
Am I a little disappointed that Jim Rutherford didn't move anyone? A little, especially after hearing talk from Bryan Allen's agent saying that an extension "wasn't going to happen." As much as I like Allen, he is someone who could have a good amount of value to a contending team and could have gotten Carolina a decent return. His NTC makes him difficult to trade but if he didn't want to re-sign then trading him makes the most sense. That said, Rutherford has until July to negotiate a new contract with Allen and I still have some hope that they can get something worked out. Allen is someone who I think will be a good fit on the team for the next couple years so keeping him around and negotiating a new contract might be the best thing.
Not trading Spacek sort of makes sense to me because I'm not sure what kind of return he will garner. Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill both fetched second round picks and Spacek isn't exactly far away from their class. However, he has been used in a completely different role with the Hurricanes than those two. Carolina has been sheltering him and using him as a third pairing defenseman and those kinds of players generally don't go for much. I like Spacek and he has played well but I'm not sure if he fits into the Canes future plans nor do I think that Rutherford missed out on a big return for him.
There were some other names I heard circulating around like Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose and I'm not sure how legit those were because LaRose is injured and wouldn't fetch much and Jokinen has shown great chemistry with Jeff Skinner on the second line. Anthony Stewart was another name mentioned but if someone wanted him, they could have had him for nothing two weeks ago.
Did Rutherford miss an opportunity by not dealing any of his players? Possibly. History shows that he doesn't like dealing for draft picks and maybe he just didn't see any offers he liked. The Hurricanes definitely need some more pieces to rebuild with and they could have gotten it this deadline by trading one of their pending UFA's but if the only offers they got were draft picks then I can understand why Rutherford didn't make a move. What Carolina needs is someone who can come in and help in the next couple of seasons instead of someone that's 4-5 years away from now. That's what I think Rutherford's mindset is. He did indicate that he wants to be active in free agency and acquire a first line winger, which is good news if he can do that.
One problem I had with him not trading Spacek or Allen is that we have seven healthy defensemen on the roster right now, all of whom are not waiver exempt, and when Joni Pitkanen returns we will have eight. We're already dressing Derek Joslin as a forward and that probably won't last for much longer so does he go back to the press box for the rest of the year? What happens to him next year? Also, another defenseman is going to need to be scratched to make room for Pitkanen and I honestly have no idea who that will be.
I don't particularly agree with all of Rutherford's strategies but I understand why he chose not to make any moves this deadline. There is still a few months left for him to work a deal out with Allen and if he can't, then he can always trade his rights over the summer. Just like Ruutu, the worst thing he can do with Allen is let him walk away for nothing and I think JR's has learned his mistakes enough times to not let that happen again. At least I hope so.