Carolina's blue-line has been missing a key piece for most of the season as they have gone about three months without the services of Joni Pitkanen. He has been out since early December with both a concussion and a knee injury which required surgery but according to reports, he could be returning to the lineup as soon as Wednesday. His presence on the powerplay has been missed greatly and so have his puck-moving skills so getting him back will be a huge boost to the lineup. The question is, how will the Hurricanes use Pitkanen when he returns? The nice thing about a defenseman like Pitkanen is that you can use him in almost anyway you want. He can play top pairing minutes but can also play the powerplay/offensive specialist role and kill penalties if you need him to. After the jump, we'll take a look at how Kirk Muller and Dave Lewis might use Pitkanen based on who he's had success with in the past and what would work best for the rest of the defense corps.no comments
We've seen this team put together winning streaks despite getting dominated in the possession game and this past week was one of those times. The Hurricanes won three out of their four games and controlled roughly 45% of the corsi events at even strength. To most people, this would tell people that the Canes are a house of cards and a tough losing streak is right around the corner, but if you were to go by only shots and scoring chances, their underlying numbers do not look nearly as bad. The Hurricanes actually controlled 50.3% of the even strength shots this past week but only 49.5% at even strength, so they were being outplayed but not nearly as bad as the possession numbers indicate.
Numbers aside, I'm sure that many fans are feeling good about this past week. They shutout the top team in the Western Conference, had two comeback victories and a good effort against the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers. The Canes lack the talent to be a dominant possession team right now but Kirk Muller has them giving their best effort every night and I'm glad that we're starting to see more wins come with it. Although, I am a tad skeptical about how these final ten games will go because the Canes are still spending a lot of time in their own end and that's going to come back to hurt them sooner or later.
After the jump, we'll single out some performances from the last week.no comments
Players like Jerome Samson are frustrating because they are known as goal-scorers, need top-six minutes to be successful and have scored at nearly a point-per-game pace in every level but the NHL. Every team has a player like this in their organization and most of them are kept around for scoring depth at the AHL level and for emergency call-ups. Samson seems to fit in this class because he has been a 20-goal scorer for the Hurricanes AHL affiliates in Albany & Charlotte over the last four (could be five) seasons and has still yet to make his mark in the NHL. He has played 46 games with the Hurricanes over the last three years and has accumulated a grand total of nine points and scored his first NHL goal only this season.
Samson is a restricted free agent at the end of the year and considering that he was scratched in favor of Derek Joslin, a defeseman who has been forced to play forward due to depth issues, and eventually sent back to the AHL, many are wondering if Samson's time with in the NHL is coming to an end. His future with the organization is not looking promising but who is to say that Samson is destined to be a career AHL-er at the age of 24? With so many 19-21 year olds entering the league, it's tough for older "rookies" like Samson to make their mark in the league but it isn't impossible for a player to enter the league and become a full-time player in their mid-20's. The question is can Samson become a full-time NHL player next season at the age of 25, what kind of player will he be and will he break into the NHL as a Carolina Hurricane? Those will be explored after the jump.no comments
The news of Bobby Sanguinetti being called up has a lot of people talking about the future of Carolina's defense corps and how bright it is. With young players like Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy, Brian Dumoulin, Mark Alt, Danny Biega and Sanguinetti in the system, there is a reason to be excited and we've seen Faulk step in and contribute immediately. However, it will be awhile before some of the other prospects start making an impact and if Carolina wants to become a competitive team again, their defensive play is going to need a ton of help. They are last in the NHL in shots allowed at even strength and are a bottom-10 team on the penalty kill.
In my latest weekly report, I made a note saying that this team was giving up too many chances on a nightly basis and they reached a new low last week by surrendering 77 scoring chances over four games. You can't give up over 20 scoring chances per night and expect to be a winning team, so defense has to be somewhat of a priority for the Hurricanes over the next couple of years. Adding a scoring winger would be nice, but I feel that Carolina's defense really needs to be addressed with this rebuild. I've discussed goaltender Cam Ward and how his inconsistency has been a reason why Carolina is in the spot they are right now. The team's poor defensive play is a reason why Ward is depended on so much and why the Canes have lived and died by his performance this year. Addressing this need can go a long way.
When I say "defensively play," I do not mean that the defense corps needs to overhauled because I do not think the play from our blue-liners has been horrendous this year. More times than not, the defensemen are put into bad situations due to the forwards refusing to back-check or commit to playing in the defensive zone. It has led to some odd-man rushes and catastrophic breakdowns that turned into goals for the opposing team. Both goals Tampa Bay scored on Saturday night are examples of what I am trying to explain.
Going by what I see, I believe that the forwards are more of a problem with the Hurricanes poor defensive play than the blue-liners themselves, but part of the fun of being a statistician is testing hypotheses like the one I just came up with. Is the Hurricanes poor defensive play mostly due to the forwards not playing a strong two-way game or is it the fault of the blue-liners? It would be nice to know this now so we know what holes to fill over the off-season and whether or not bringing in another defenseman is a need. We'll start examining this after the jump.no comments
The Hurricanes managed to pick up three points in four games this past week when you consider how badly they were outplayed in all four games. They were outshot in all but one game (which was the one they lost, oddly enough), controlled only 41% of the even strength corsi events and 36% of the shots on goal which shows that they were struggling to control play and had a few bounces go in their favor the last week. Goaltending was one of the main reasons why they picked up five out of eight possible points last week as Cam Ward was outstanding in all four games. The Canes were also turning about 9% of their shots into goals, which definitely factored into them being in more games than they should have.
I'm willing to bet that the road trip had something to do with the Hurricanes being outplayed so badly as all four games were on the road and both were back-to-backs. Despite the tough conditions and rough defensive play (gave up over 60 even strength scoring chances) the Canes were still able to win two games and earn points in three, which is good but not promising in the long-term. Acquiring a first line winger might be the first priority this summer, but Carolina really needs to improve defensively if they want to be a better team next year.
After the jump, we will single out some performances.no comments
Another week is in the books and with that, we will look at the updated standings in the Southeast Division:
|Team||W||Pts||Corsi Tied.||Fen Close||GF||GA||Exp. W||Pace|
Remember, we are looking at wins, possession stats, each team's expected win total based on their goals for/against totals and their current point pace. See last week's post for more information on that.
The race for the top in the Southeast Division looks slightly clearer now. What was once a four team race has dwindled down to three teams with the Tampa Bay Lightning losing all three of their games last week and earning only one point. The playoffs looked like a longshot for them with the way their team has played, but they were only three points out a week ago. This slight losing streak they've been on has them seven points out now, which shows how small the margin of error is this late in the season.
It appears that Florida, Washington and Winnipeg are going to be the main contenders now and Washington has really closed the gap on Florida now. They did themselves a huge favor by winning three of their four games this week and earning points in all of them. The Caps have also seen their possession metrics improve and still have the best goal differential in the Southeast. This strong week puts them within one point of Florida, who earned three points in three games and still have a lead on the division. The four shootout wins and 13 OTL points has helped them a bit in that department, though. It is worth noting that the Panthers are missing a key player in Kris Versteeg and once he gets healthy, they could start to pull away but they are going to need to accumulate as many points as they can with Washington right on their tail. What could make or break Washington is the next couple of weeks where they have a five-game road trip featuring games in Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia. They need to earn points in the majority of those games to stay in the mix.
Winnipeg is in the mix despite being four points behind but they've seen their possession stats take a tip the last couple of weeks. They are still a borderline positive team when the game is close, but they are getting hammered in corsi, which probably means that they block a lot of shots. The theme for the Jets this year is they have been great at home and are struggling on the road, and that was the case this past week. They defeated Buffalo at the MTS Centre and lost to Vancouver and Calgary on the road. Winnipeg has three home games coming up this week, but only two more after that so they are going to need to make those games at the MTS Centre count and dramatically improve their play on the road. I still think that they are good enough to possibly make the playoffs as the #8 seed or even make a run at the division if Washington or Florida begin to slip up.no comments
If you have been keeping up with the scoring chance recaps, one thing you will notice is that Jamie McBain & Jaroslav Spacek have been the team's "highest rated" defensemen in about six of the last seven games. These two are also leading the defense corps in terms of possession metrics and are currently the only defensemen on the team with scoring chance percentages above the .500 mark. What this means is that whenever these two are on the ice, the puck is moving in the right direction and the Canes have been creating more chances.
Another thing they have in common is they rank near the bottom of the defense corps in corsi relative to quality of competition, which means they are mostly matched up against third and fourth liners from the opposing team. They are also among the team leaders in offensive zone starts, showing that they've been given a strong territorial advantage which has contributed to their success. Essentially, these two have been third pairing defensemen who have been seeing protected minutes and are used in mainly offensive situations. Some might see this as a knock on their game because they aren't being used against tough minutes, but I see it as head coach Kirk Muller utilizing both players to their strengths and it has had a very positive effect on the team's defense.
After the jump, we'll take a look at how McBain & Spacek have excelled in this role and the effect it has had on the rest of the defense corps.no comments
When the Hurricanes inked Tuomo Ruutu to a four-year, $19 mil. contract, the general consensus among the hockey blogosphere is that the team severely overpaid to retain him. There is no doubt that the contract is an overpayment but what I, and other Carolina fans, want to know is what can we expect from Ruutu over the next four years and what does he have to do to justify his contract value?
To figure out if a player is producing relative to how much money he is making, we can use an equation called "Goals Versus Salary." Invented by Rob Vollman of Hockey Prospectus, Goals Versus Salary (or GVS) measures how many goals a player is contributing towards his team compared to a player making the same amount of money. After the jump, we are going to see how much Ruutu needs to produce to justify his contract and whether or not we can expect that from him.no comments
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.no comments
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.no comments