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Built For Speed

The Carolina Hurricanes are one of the fastest teams in the NHL. They also employ a system which gives them the freedom to utilize that speed at just about any time during a game. Carolina also draws a lot of penalties, so many penalties that some coaches and fans around the NHL are complaining that the team is "diving", or embellishing their reactions to certain hits, so that a penalty will be called.

Let's take a look at some statistics and see what the hoopla is all about.

According to the NHL Stat Machine, Carolina leads the NHL in drawing penalties by a wide margin. The Hurricanes have drawn a total of 401 penalties so far this season. The next closest team is the Philadelphia Flyers with 372. Surprisingly, another skilled team like Ottawa only has 312. The lowest in the league is Tampa Bay with a paltry 278.

The league team average is 336 penalties issued, which means that the Canes are drawing almost 1 penalty more each game than the league average. Before I looked at these numbers, I thought that the Western Conference would have fewer penalties called because they seem to allow more hooking and holding on the left coast. But according to the Stat Machine, the opposite is true. The total number of penalties drawn out West is 5121 while the number in the East is 4972.

To take this another step, I checked out more stats from a site called Behind the Net, a source specializing in the gathering a multitude of stats. According to this chart, the Canes have played with a man advantage (5 on 4) for a league high 619 minutes. This is a full 50 minutes longer than the next closest total of 568 by Pittsburgh. Yet the Penguins have scored one more powerplay goal during that scenario than the Canes. (65 to 64). Montreal has done a marvelous job on the powerplay during 5 on 4 play and has scored 77 goals in just 540 minutes. The Flyers have scored 74.

If we take a look at the next chart and compare individual player stats, we'll see that Eric Staal leads the league in penalties drawn with 43. Erik Cole is right behind with 42. Here is a look at the top 10.

  • Name GP penalties drawn

  1. Eric Staal 79 43

  2. Dustin Brown 75 42

  3. Erik Cole 70 42

  4. Alex Ovechkin 79 41

  5. Alex Kovalev 79 38

  6. Sid Crosby 50 38

  7. Evgeni Malkin 78 37

  8. Anze Kopitar 79 37

  9. Pavel Datsyuk 78 35

  10. Rick Nash 76 35

There are really no surprises on that list. The most talented, skilled, and fastest skaters will draw the most penalties.

So what does all of this mean? First of all, we can see why some coaches are trying to bend the league's ear concerning the penalties called in Carolina's favor. There is a huge gap there and what easier way to complain about the disparity of calls than to claim that the Canes are divers? My question is, would you consider all of the skaters in the top ten list as divers, or just some? Why should Staal be considered a diver, but not Brown or Ovechkin?

If you do a re-sort option on that chart and click on penalties drawn per minutes played, you will see Sid Crosby near the top of the list along with Erik Cole. Sean Avery makes that list along with another Cane, Chad LaRose.

There are a couple of things that stood out to me during my review of these numbers. While it seems like the refs sometimes do a pretty poor job of calling a game and allow many things to go unpunished, according to these stats it seems like they have been more than generous to the Hurricanes, compared to several other teams in the league. No wonder Ottawa fans complain!

Also, I would have expected Carolina's powerplay to be better than it has been, considering all the extra time they spend with the man advantage. If only they had one of the better performing powerplays in the league, they would also have one of the best records.

The bottom line is that I don't necessarily think that Eric Staal and Erik Cole are divers. I will admit that sometimes they go down pretty easily, but faster skaters are easier to take down. It's also extremely difficult to stop either of those players, one on one, without hooking or holding them. And I especially don't think that Peter Laviolette spends time teaching his players how to dive, nor is it a tactic which is intentionally used. That accusation is ridiculous.

Of course Carolina is getting ready for the game of the year tomorrow night in Washington. I'll have some pre-game hype about that either later today or tonight. Carolina's destiny is in their own hands, will they be able to grasp it?