Jamie McBain's goal on Monday night's game against the Boston Bruins was a bit of a milestone for the Hurricanes. Not only was it the young defenseman's first goal of the season, but it was also the first time all year that the Hurricanes scored in the first period. That's right, it took five games into the year for the Hurricanes to finally score in the first period and they've scored the opening goal only once in those five games, too.
Obviously, this is a very small sample size to work with and it could end up not meaning a lot in the big picture, but I think most Carolina fans would agree that this team has had a problem with slow starts this year. They've been outscored 1-8 in first periods this year and have spent the majority of three games battling back from holes that they dug themselves into. Just what is going wrong for the Canes at the beginning of games, though? Some might say that the team has a tendency to come out sleeping for the first ten minutes like they did in the Bruins game on Monday but getting into penalty trouble is what sunk them against the Florida Panthers on opening night.
Whatever the case is, the Hurricanes really need to start playing better in the opening 20 minutes because a poor start usually sets the tone for the rest of the game. I've mentioned before that the Hurricanes play at 5-on-5 has been pretty solid this year but it would mean a lot more if the team wasn't playing from behind for most of their games. Teams usually outshoot the opposition when they are playing from behind so Carolina having the advantage in shots and scoring chances during even strength play would mean a lot more if they were either tied or leading for most of their games.
Just what is the root of the problem for the Hurricanes in the first period, though? After the jump, we will take a look at how Carolina has played in the first 20 minutes compared to the rest of the game to see if we can find any answers.
To break down the Hurricanes play in each period, we are going to look at their differentials in shots, goals, scoring chances and the amount of penalties they have taken compared to how many they've drawn. In addition, we will also look at their shooting percentage compared to the opponent's to see how much good and bad luck has played in Carolina's poor starts.
GF = Goals for, GA = goals allowed, SF = Shots for, SA = Shots against, CF = Chances for, CA = Chances against, S% = Carolina's shooting percentage, Opp Sh% = Opponent's shooting percentage, PPGF = Powerplay goals for, PPGA = Powerplay goals against, PD = Penalties drawn, PT = Penalties taken
A quick examination of Carolina's first period numbers shows that these first five games have been a perfect storm of bad luck and poor play. They aren't getting completely dominated in shots and scoring chances so that's a good sign but they are still on the wrong end of the latter category. The fact Carolina is shooting at less than 2% in the first period should make some people optimistic going forward because there is no way in hell they are going to continue to get that unlucky for the rest of the season. Likewise, I doubt the opposition will continue to convert on over 15% of the shots they take, either.
Another thing that sticks out that four of the seven powerplay goals they've given up have been in the first period and they have taken 12 penalties in that frame, as well. However, they have also drawn ten penalties but have yet to score on the powerplay while giving up four to their opponents. Ladies and gentlemen, there is the root of the problem and it's been something that has been a thorn in Carolina's side all year. They are winning the battle at even strength but terrible special teams play has come back to haunt them in more ways than one. Even if they weren't shooting at less than 2% in the first period, they would still be getting outscored because of the four powerplay goals they've given up. I should also mention that they also have one shorthanded goal against in that period, too. Losing the special teams battle can be a killer and Carolina needs to improve their work there. Carolina has also been taking a lot of bad penalties but they've been drawing more than their fair share, too. Regardless, both factors reflect poorly on the special teams units as a whole.
The third period also hasn't been too kind to the Hurricanes either but their struggles there are not nearly as bad as they are in the first period. They are outshooting their opponents pretty strongly but not getting many scoring chances and have surrendered three powerplay goals against. The second has been Carolina's best period this year and part of the reason is because they have been playing from behind a lot and it's also why their underlying numbers appear as strong as they are right now, which is why I'm a little skeptical about how the rest of the season will go.
Some good news in regards to Carolina's first period struggles is that some of it is related to bad luck and their shooting percentage will eventually even out. Their issues on special teams are another story, though and where the Hurricanes need to sort out most of their problems.