Hurricanes By the Numbers: Half-way Point

Jamie Kellner

How have the underlying numbers changed for the Hurricanes since the last time we checked?

Eleven games have past since the last time we looked at the Carolina Hurricanes scoring chance numbers and the team has undergone quite a few changes since then. The end result has been okay, as the team went 6-5-0 during that stretch and they are still owning over 50% of the even strength scoring chances, but their numbers are a tad worse than they were when we last left them. Instead of owning over 52% of the even strength scoring chances, the Hurricanes are now barely owning 51% of them. They were missing quite a few key players from their lineup during this time, so it's not too surprising that their underlying numbers are a little worse than they were earlier in the season. Whether or not they'll return to where they were when the team was completely healthy remains to be seen, but the fact that they are still winning the battle at even strength even with the injuries is encouraging.

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The graph above shows how the Hurricanes goal, scoring chance and corsi (shots on goal + shots blocked + shots missed) percentages have changed over the course of the season. You can see that both their scoring chance and Corsi percentage have dropped a bit since the beginning of the year, showing that their ability to control the pace of play at even strength has decreased. Meanwhile, the Canes goal percentage has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride for most of the season and it's been on the upswing for the last five games or so. This will probably become more in-line with the team's other numbers after a few more games if the Hurricanes continue to own about 50-51% of the even strength scoring chances. The team has gotten a tad lucky at even strength when it comes to shooting the puck and it reached a high on Saturday night against the Devils when they scored five times on 18 shots. The Hurricanes probably have enough offensive firepower to stay above water in terms of goal differential, but it's unlikely that they'll continue to score on 12-15% of the shots they take for the rest of the season. The shortened season might allow some teams to run on high shooting percentages, but it's still not the most reliable method for sustained success.

Scoring Chances by Period and Game State

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The Hurricanes performance in the different stages of the game is pretty to how it was when we last looked at it. They've been doing most of their damage in the second period but they've been a little worse in third periods than they were earlier in the season. This might be due to them playing with some recent games and playing more conservatively in the third period as a result. We saw this in the wins over the Devils, Penguins & the first win over Florida, as the Hurricanes led by three or more goals in each of those games. The first period is also still a problem for the Canes, as they've been outchanced by 12 at even strength there. With that being said, the Canes are still winning the even strength battle here even if it's not by much. They are basically just slightly outplaying their opponents instead of dominating them territorially and that's not the worst thing in the world. Although, being able to control the play territorially puts less pressure on your goaltenders to steal games, which might be needed with Cam Ward out for awhile.

I mentioned earlier that the injuries have affected Carolina's performance over the last month or so and a look at the team's individual numbers shows who has been missed the most during this stretch.

Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances: Forwards

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The top line has been receiving a lot of love this season, deservedly so, but the work done by the Jordan Staal line also deserves some appreciation. Staal and Jeff Skinner have been the Hurricanes best forwards at driving the play at even strength and they've been doing it while playing some tough assignments. One of the reasons why the top line has been so good is because the second line has been taking on most of the tougher matchups, allowing Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty to start more of their shifts in the offensive zone and giving them more offensive opportunities. Adding to that, both Skinner and Jordan Staal are producing a ton of offense while playing these minutes and that is going to go a long way when it comes to providing secondary scoring. It's also very encouraging for Skinner's development as an all-around player because he was used in only sheltered minutes in years past. Out of all the players who were injured over the last month, Skinner's had one of the biggest voids to fill because nobody else on the team was able to replicate this production.

I know nobody wants to hear this right now, but the top line might cool off soon, if only because they are performing at such a ridiculous rate at even strength right now. Yes, they are owning the majority of the scoring chances when they are on the ice, but they are also shooting at 14-15% during 5v5 play, and the chances of that continuing for an entire season are unlikely. They will probably end the season with strong scoring numbers based on what they've done now, but I don't think Eric Staal will continue to keep score at a 100+ point pace like he has done thus far. It's fun to watch and I'm going to enjoy the ride while it lasts, but there have been only a handful of players who have been able to maintain a shooting percentage that high for an entire season. Both Semin and Staal have been able to elevate the shooting percentage of their linemates, but neither have scored at this kind of pace before.

The good news is that Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner might be able to relief some of the pressure off the top line if/when they come crashing down to Earth. Another forward who can pitch in on secondary scoring is Patrick Dwyer, who has seen some time in the top-six this year and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. You could say that he is a better fit for the second line than Jussi Jokinen, although the latter has improved considerably since the lat time we looked at his numbers. Riley Nash can also provide some secondary scoring, even though his numbers look weak here. I haven't put too much thought into them because he hasn't played many minutes and has been playing some tough assignments in terms of where he starts most of his shifts.

Some might say that Drayson Bowman can provide secondary scoring and while his shot is hard to ignore, the Hurricanes have been getting pinned into their own zone more times than not whenever he is on the ice. Chad Larose has had a similar problem this season when healthy, which is why he has mostly been used in the bottom-six.

Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances: Defensemen

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SCF = Scoring Chances For, SCA = Scoring Chances Against, SC +/- = Scoring Chance Differential, SC% = Scoring Chance Percentage, EV CF/15 = Even Strength Scoring Chances For per 15 Minutes, EV CA/15 = Even Strength Scoring Chances Against per 15 Minutes, Diff = Scoring Chance Differential per 15 Minutes, OZ% = Offensive Zone Start Percentage at Even Strength

I mentioned earlier that Skinner's injury left a big void to fill in the forward corps, but I think Joni Pitkanen's presence is the toughest to replace. The impact of an offensive defensemen is often very underrated with a lot of people because while they are prone to mistakes in their own end, their ability to drive the play forward is critical. Take Pitkanen for instance. No one is going to consider him a top defenseman in the league, but whenever he is on the ice, the Hurricanes usually have the puck in the opponent's offensive zone more times than not. The fact that he's able to do this while eating up 18-20 minutes of even strength ice time per night is very tough to replace and why I think his return will give the Hurricanes a huge jolt in the arm.

Joe Corvo has had a similar impact, only he is playing against weaker competition than Pitkanen normally does. Still, Corvo's play has been very good this season and it might surprise some that he has been on-ice for only seven 5v5 goals against all year. Again, Corvo has been used against third pairing competition for most of the year, but he has had to take on some extra minutes lately and is playing his role fine.

With that in mind, the play of Justin Faulk has helped soften the blow of losing Pitkanen just a little bit. He can't replace his offense, but Faulk's ability to play this well defensively while being matched up against the opposition's best players helps a lot. The fact that he is doing this at such a young age is also pretty unbelievable. Faulk's development has been pretty interesting because he was pegged as an offense defensemen coming out of the draft but he has shined more as an excellent shutdown defensemen in the NHL.

One player who has had to play more minutes in Pitkanen's absence is Jay Harrison and while he has been okay this season, he doesn't bring the same level of two-way play that Pitkanen does. The amount of offense Harrison has produced this year has been very impressive, but the Hurricanes are giving up almost as much back in their own end when he is on the ice. Harrison is a versatile player and he's done a fine job of picking up the slack for other players, but he has his limitations.

Defensemen who have struggled at preventing scoring chances this year are Tim Gleason, Bobby Sanguinetti and Jamie McBain. Although, Gleason has played against much more difficult assignments on a shutdown defense pairing so I'm willing to cut him some slack. His numbers actually aren't that bad when you look at how often he has started his shifts in the defensive zone and consider that he is normally matched up against opposing team's top-sixes. Sanguinetti and McBain, on the other hand, have mainly been confined to the third pairing and have been struggling to create & prevent scoring chances despite the sheltered minutes. McBain has been slightly better than Sanguinetti, though.

Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances: Depth Players

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It's worth noting that the Hurricanes have used 30 different skaters (33 counting goaltenders) this season because of all the injuries. To make things worse, a lot of the guys who they called up from Charlotte struggled when they were with the Hurricanes. Two of the exceptions were Zac Dalpe and Andreas Nodl and neither are options now because they are injured. Riley Nash is another exception since he is basically part of the everyday roster now. Chris Terry also had himself a solid NHL debut on Saturday night so here's to hoping that he can continue it. Even if he doesn't stick around, Terry could provide some good organizational depth which is never a bad thing to have.

The Hurricanes are in good shape right now at the top of the Southeast and basically need to be a .500 team the rest of the way to win the division. The fact that their underlying numbers have slipped a little in the last few weeks worries me, but they have been able to win despite that and are slowly getting more healthy with every game. I talked about how much Skinner and Pitkanen mean to this team, so having them both back in the lineup will help a lot.

Scoring chance numbers are tracked by yours truly, other stats are courtesy of Behind The Net.

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