This was certainly a strange week for the Canes when you compare their shot data to scoring chances because while they were heavily outshot this past week, they actually outchanced their opponents overall. A large reason for this is because of the 47-save shutout they had against the Bruins last Thursday. That was a game where they were outshot by a wide-margin but a lot of the Bruins' shots weren't high quality chances and the scoring chance numbers looked much closer. The same thing goes for the game against the Kings. Either way, Carolina went 2-1-0 this past week and owned 51% of the scoring chances...and only 43.6% of the shots. Like I said, it was a strange week but the Canes started February off on a strong note either way. Let's take a closer look at the past week for Carolina and single out some people.
For the last few years, the Southeast Division has been one dominated by the Washington Capitals with the rest of the teams fighting for wild card spots but things are very different this year. The Capitals haven't been their usual selves and the division appears to be up for grabs with the top three teams being separated by only five points and even the Hurricanes are only 10 points out at the bottom of the division.
The Southeast has been the weakest division in the NHL by far and it is looking like they will be producing only one playoff team this year. The question is which one will it be? The general consensus is that the Washington Capitals will get their acts together, get hot at the end of the year and take the division but the underlying numbers tell a completely different story. In fact, the underlying numbers for every team tell an interesting story and it isn't pretty for any of them. Only one team has a Fenwick close rate above 50%, every team has a negative goal differential and the clubs fighting for the division title would be bubble playoff teams at best if they weren't granted the automatic bid. The term "Southleast" has never been more true than it is this season.
Find out what they say after the jump
An injury to Chad LaRose back on January 10th caused Kirk Muller to shake things up once again and he did so by placing everyone's favorite waiver claim Andreas Nodl on the third line with Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer. This is the usual "defensive unit" for the Hurricanes that starts a lot of their shifts in their own zone and is matched up against other teams top lines. Nodl's specialty is defense so he seems like a natural fit on this line and ever since he has been placed on it, they have seen a fair amount of success.
In the 11 games they've played together, this line has been on ice for only two goals against, have a scoring chance percentage of 53.4% and are doing this while starting at least 64% of their draws in their own zone.That is extremely impressive for a line that gets this kind of workload. We know that Sutter and Dwyer have been doing this all and their success has been on-and-off, so is Nodl the secret behind this line or is he just riding a hot streak?
I don't think it is fair to say that Nodl is the complete reason for this line's success because he's been invisible on just about every other line and we've seen guys like LaRose and Tlusty play well with Sutter & Dwyer before. However, I do think that Nodl's defensive play is a big factor behind this line's success. Whenever you are on ice for 27 scoring chances against in 11 games, you are doing something right.
Every team needs a unit like this to be successful and it looks like the Canes are on the way to finding there's but the one thing that worries me is their lack of offense. Brandon Sutter is becoming a great two-way player but Dwyer and Nodl aren't exactly offensive stalwarts. Dwyer has nine points all season and Nodl has only five. I know Nodl has 22 with the Flyers last year but I'm willing to bet that most of it was due to playing with Mike Richards and James Van Riemsdyk. Sutter isn't Richards and Dwyer is obviously not JVR so Nodl's point total probably isn't getting over 15.
Either way, I can appreciate this line's great play in their own end for now since their success appears to be legit and not just luck-driven. Although, the PDO Crystal Ball isn't projecting good things for this line as all three members have PDO's above 1000 and it's due to high save percentages. I would keep a sharp eye on that because a small downturn could be just around the corner. The low amount of scoring chances they are giving up makes me confident in them for now, though.
Until tonight, the Hurricanes had not beaten the Los Angeles Kings since Feburary of 2007 and it looked like that streak would continue after the Canes looked flat in the first period and were trailing 1-0. It marks the third straight game that the team has gotten off to a sluggish start and this one was probably their worst yet, but it was all uphill after that...sort of. Carolina battled back and looked a lot stronger for the rest of the game which resulted in them taking home a 2-1 win.
It was definitely an ugly win and there were a lot of things that went wrong for the Canes (awful powerplay, only one even strength scoring chance in the first period, outshot yet again) but all of that usually gets minimized with a loss. Carolina has a lot of things to feel good about with this win, as well. Jiri Tlusty had one of his better games and scored a goal on what was a fantastic individual effort and the Hurricanes played a solid defensive game so Ward did not need to completely stand on his head for them to win.
Not the full-sixty minute effort that we always look for but a win against a good team and two points to get Carolina out of last place in the conference.
Scoring chances & more after the jumpno comments
The Hurricanes finished January with a record of 5-3-4 which is the first winning record they have had in a month this season. Definitely a huge milestone for a team that has struggled as much as the Canes have this year. Things do seem to be getting better under Kirk Muller, though. They are winning slightly more games, they earned points in over half of their games in January and if they don't win, they are at least competitive. The one thing that seemingly hasn't improved is the team's underlying numbers as they are stuck on a treadmill there. Their scoring chance percentage at even strength improved by only .01% from December to 47.4%, which is still pretty bad in the grand scheme of things. No one said that climbing out of the basement of the Eastern Conference would be easy.
Cam Ward was a big reason why the Canes earned 14 points in the standings in January as he had his best month of the season. Carolina was also outchanced in half of their games which is actually not bad compared to the rest of the season but still could use some improvement. Regardless of what the underlying numbers say, I have seen some improvements with this team and hopefully they can start to outshoot and outchance their opponents on a more regular basis because that is what is going to lead to more success. As of right now, Ward is dictating most of our success which is fine but not stable with how much goalie performance can vary. Most of the time, it's all about the 18 skaters in front of the goalie.
Let's see how those skaters have performed through scoring chances after four months of hockey.
The Hurricanes continued their dominance of the Bruins this season as they shut them out 3-0 in what was one of Cam Ward's finest moments. He stopped all 47 shots thrown his way and was under fire in the first period when the Bruins were performing a shooting gallery on him. Ward's play in that period along with Eric Staal's goal proved to be huge because after that, the Bruins seemed to turn off the gas while the Canes took things to a different level. Carolina throttled Boston in the second period by clogging up the neutral zone and continuously forcing turnovers which led to Carolina outshooting Boston 15-4 and outchancing them 8-2. Boston did come back to life after that but still couldn't get anything past Ward despite outshooting Carolina 47-31.
The shot count may indicate that the Canes were horribly outplayed, and they were for the entire first period but the team really woke up after that and took it to the Bruins. All four of Carolina's wins against Boston this year have been in regulation and this is the third of fourth that has been by two goals or more. This might sound abnormal but there have been equitable reasons for the defending Cup champ's struggles against Carolina this year when you go back and look at the games. Cam Ward and Boston taking the second period off being the explanation for this game.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
Carolina Hurricanes (18-25-9) vs. Boston Bruins (32-14-2)
TD Garden, 7 p.m.
TV: NHL-Network (US)
If you told me at the beginning of the year that the only teams that the Hurricanes would be on the verge of sweeping the Boston Bruins then I wouldn't have believed you. Well, they are 3-0 against the Bruins this year and with a win tonight, they can make me look like a fool. Re-visiting the scores of those games is even stranger because the Canes have handed the Bruins one of two of their only losses that have come by more than two goals (4-1 win back in October). Their last win over Boston was also a "clear victory" thanks to an empty net goal by Eric Staal making it a 4-2 game but that was a game which Cam Ward had to steal for Carolina, or at least keep them in it. He made 33 saves on 35 shots and I would expect him to get that kind of workload again with how the Bruins often pump 30+ shots on goal per game.
The Canes could really use a win after looking flat against the Islanders on Thursday, so let's hope for a sweep.
More after the jump
Seeing how this was the first game that both teams played in about a week, it was expected that we would get a sloppy game last night and that's certainly what happened. Most of the game was a neutral zone struggle, there were tons of great chances that were fanned on and the defensive play was very loose. It did lead to some entertaining saves by Cam Ward and Kevin Poulin, though. The 5-2 final score is a tad misleading because the Islanders scored twice with the empty net but the fact of the matter is that neither team played that well, but the Hurricanes got into penalty trouble (four consecutive minors) and the Islanders burned them twice on the powerplay. Carolina's play at even strength wasn't bad, but they weren't doing enough and made some horrific mistakes at the worst times (see Tavares' first goal). Definitely not a game to remember, but not a "burn the tape" type of game either.
Scoring chances & more after the jump
A shocking development occurred this afternoon as Jim Rutherford re-signed defenseman Tim Gleason to a four-year deal worth $16 mill. per year. This news came as a surprise to many because it is rare for Rutherford to negotiate with potential free agents during the season, and Gleason was a player that many thought would be traded before the deadline. Trading Gleason around this time makes perfect sense for the Hurricanes because there are a lot of teams in need of defensemen and Rutherford could have gotten a hefty return for him. At the same time, re-signing Gleason now also makes a lot of sense.
Find out after the jumpno comments
Technically, it isn't the midway point of the season but the All-Star break is generally a good time to assess a team's performance, so I am going to hand out awards to the Hurricane players who stood out in both positive and negative ways. It's been a year full of disappointments for Carolina but there are still a lot of things to point out and not all of them are bad. One interesting thing about this year is that a lot of categories are wide open, especially when deciding who the team's "MVP" was in the first half. I eventually settled on a few choices that I'm satisfied with but you may not be, which is why I'm looking forward to debating about this subject.
Without further ado, here are my choices: