The season is about half-way over and it has already been quite a roller coaster ride for Hurricanes fans. Right now, there's plenty of good vibes to go around with the team on a four-game winning streak but it hasn't been this way all year. In fact, the tone in Raleigh was much different only 10 days ago when the team had gone five games without a win and they've had a few stretches like that this year. Consistency is hard to find in the NHL, but it seems like the Canes have had more up-and-down sequences than any other team in the league and unfortunately, the losing streaks and winless stretches have been more prolonged and as such, the Canes find themselves sitting outside of the playoff picture.
That said, they are still alive in the race and can overtake the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last wild card spot with a win tonight. This begs the question, are the Hurricanes an improved team from last year or are they only alive in the playoff race because of the terrible state of the Eastern Conference? Most would be inclined to say yes because the Canes have a realistic chance at the playoffs and all of last season blends together as one giant black hole of suck because of how the season ended (nine wins in their last 29 games) but their record after 43 games isn't terribly different from what it was last season.
This year, the Hurricanes have 45 points in 43 games with a record of 18-16-9. Compare that to the 37 points and 17-23-3 record they had after 43 games last year and it's safe to conclude that this team is better...marginally. They're only one win better and their point total is boosted from nine loser points thanks to a 3-6 record in overtime and shootouts. They're still in the thick of things now, which couldn't be said about them in 2011, but it's pretty obvious that they'll need to be a lot better to make the playoffs. A closer look at their numbers from this year emphasizes this point.
|2013 5v5||2014 5v5||2013 Overall||2014 Overall|
Last year, the Canes were a positive team in most shot metrics, but they had a terrible goal differential due to sub-par goaltending. I don't want to put too much blame on the goalies but a team save percentage of .897 is simply not going to get it done in the NHL, especially when you play behind a defense that gives up 30+ shots a night. Speaking of which, bad defense was a major part of the Canes problems and they've actually improved there, albeit slightly. According to Extra Skater, the Canes were giving up 31.4 shots per 60 minutes during 5v5 play last season. They've improved that to 30.8 shots per 60 minutes this year, which is, again, a marginal improvement at best. The problem is that their offensive production has gone down by a significant margin.
It may have not resulted in a lot of scoring last season, but the Canes were creating 32-33 shots per 60 minutes last year and were capable of being a much better offensive team. This year, they are producing less than 30 shots per 60 minutes and when you combine that with the team shooting at only 6.6% at even strength, their offense has gone down the drain. They are averaging fewer than 2 goals per 60 minutes at even strength and are starved for offense on most nights.
Now, I expect the team's 5v5 shooting percentage to eventually regress to around the league average because it's hard for a team to sustain a 6.6% shooting percentage for an entire season, but it's tough to say how much offense they'll produce. The Hurricanes have had trouble controlling the play at even strength and as such, have produced fewer shots and that limits how many opportunities they have to score. They could still end up with a poor goal differential even if they start to get luckier with finding the back of the net.
Things have been trending in the right direction since Jeff Skinner & Alex Semin returned from their injuries, but the Canes' overall performance is still a little worse from where it was last season. Khudobin/Peters have done a terrific job filling in for Ward (who has not been good this year) and that's helped them stay alive in the playoff race Good goaltending was a luxury this team did not have last season, so it's best to take advantage of it while they are still in the hunt. The rest of the team will need to pick it up if they want to be playing hockey come late-April, though.
Stats taken from Extra Skater