Canes' Late-Game Woes Costing Points

By now, it's well-known that the Carolina Hurricanes have struggled immensely on the power play.  Since going 2-for-3 on the power play on February 8 in New Jersey, the Canes have clicked at a ghastly 4-for-72 pace, and it's been so bad that last night's 1-for-5 performance against Toronto actually increased the Canes' percentage with the man advantage since February 9 by more than a full percentage point - from 4.5% to 5.6%.

But for all the hand-wringing over the power play, the bigger problem might be the Canes' recent propensity to give up the game-winning goal in the third period or overtime. The Canes have been outscored 7-5 since March 1 in the third period and overtime and, worse, all but two of those goals against have been game-winners.

Game Result GWG Time of GWG
3/1, vs. Panthers W, 2-1 Staal (CAR) 14:55 1st
3/3, vs. Sabres W, 3-2 (OT) McBain (CAR) :26 OT
3/4, at Blackhawks L, 5-2 Johnson (CHI) 2:50 3rd
3/9, vs. Thrashers L, 3-2 (OT) Stapleton (ATL) 1:38 OT
3/11, at Capitals L, 2-1 Hendricks (WAS) 7:24 3rd
3/12, vs. Blue Jackets L, 3-2 MacKenzie (CBJ) 18:59 3rd
3/15, at Sabres W, 1-0 Sutter (CAR) 19:01 1st
3/16, vs. Maple Leafs L, 3-1 Phaneuf (TOR) 10:51 2nd

 

A 3-4-1 record is bad enough when you're in a playoff race.  To give up the game-winner in the third period or overtime in four of those five losses is doubly problematic.  In the four-game run from March 4 through 12, the Canes' four losses were all thanks to game-winning goals in the third period or overtime.

To this end, the Canes' problems at the end of games aren't just a recent thing.  The Canes have allowed 82 goals in the third period or overtime this season, nearly a full 40% of their 207 total goals against and fourth-worst in the NHL.  Only the hapless Avalanche and Senators, plus the fell-off-a-cliff Thrashers (and this might have something to do with their falling off a cliff after Christmas), have allowed more goals against in the final 20-plus minutes of games.

There's an unmistakable trend in the numbers: the Canes are scoring a bit more in the third period (76 GF in the 3rd or overtime, compared to 60 and 58 in the 1st and 2nd, respectively), but the effort to put those pucks in the net is leaving them vulnerable to exhaustion at the other end.  After last night's game, Eric Staal now leads the league in total ice time, playing 1,548:58 in 70 games which puts him four seconds ahead of Alex Ovechkin - and sixteen minutes ahead of anyone else in the league.

It's no coincidence that the Canes are breaking down at the most critical time of the game.  Paul Maurice's propensity to rely heavily on his top nine forwards leaves them vulnerable to being a step behind late in games.  The Canes' schedule didn't do them any favors, and on its face it certainly seems reasonable to expect your best players to take the ice in crunch time.  But at the same time, you can't expect those guys to run out there every other shift for the first 40 minutes and then expect them to have gas left in the tank by the end of the night.

The Canes are 22-1 when leading after two periods, that's true.  But it also speaks to the importance placed on scoring goals early.  The combination of lack of timely goal scoring and overworked players is a high-risk proposition to begin with, and when one part of that equation breaks down the Canes' success soon follows, and leads to things like a 7-10-4 record since the All-Star Break and dangling perilously on the edge of missing the playoffs.

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