Back in December when Paul Maurice was named as replacement coach for Peter Laviolette, a new emphasis was placed on defense. The coaching change was made just 25 games into the season and the Canes had a 12-11-2 record so far under the previous regime. But the numbers which probably caught Jim Rutherford's eye the most were the goals for and goals against totals.
Carolina had scored 65 goals in those 25 games, (2.6 goals average per game), but they allowed 75 goals against, (3.0 goals average per game). Obviously, the general manager could not allow those trends to continue.
So in came Maurice on his white horse and his well known defensive philosophies. As a previous purveyor of the trap, several fans, (as well as this blogger), felt that tightening up the defense too much might take away from the offense. But in reality, the exact opposite occurred.
The Hurricanes finished up the regular season by scoring 174 goals and allowing 151 in their final 57 games. They scored an average of 3.1 goals per game and allowed 2.6. Not only was Maurice able to tighten up the blueline which was job one, somehow he was also able to increase scoring as well.
Carolina ended up allowing a total of 226 goals for the season, good enough for fourth lowest in the East.
Goals Against 2008-09
- Boston 196
- New Jersey 209
- New York Rangers 218
- Carolina 226
- Florida 231
- Buffalo 234
- Ottawa 237
- Philadelphia 238
- Pittsburgh 239
- Washington 245
The 226 GA was also the lowest total for the Canes since before the lockout, by far. They even allowed more goals the year they won the Cup.
Carolina Goals Against:
- 2005-06 - 260
- 2006-07 - 253
- 2007-08 - 249
- 2008-09 - 226
Some of this improvement can be attributed to the maturation of Cam Ward, but there is no doubt that a change in system helped with the success and the coaching staff should get credit for that.
Now for the bad news.
While the Hurricanes were able to increase their "goals for" average after Maurice took over, they still only finished 10th best in the East.
Goals For 2008-09:
- Boston 274
- Washington 272
- Pittsburgh 264
- Philadelphia 264
- Atlanta 257
- Buffalo 250
- Toronto 250
- Montreal 249
- New Jersey 244
- Carolina 239
If Carolina would have scored their average of 3.1 goals per game throughout the entire season, they would have finished with a total GF of 254, good for sixth in the East. Will they be able to do that next season?
Most everyone seems pretty happy with Jim Rutherford's additions to the team this offseason and expectations are high, but a couple of big questions loom.
- How much can the defense improve after finishing near the top in the East last season?
- Will the Canes be able to improve their offense and where will the goals come from?
- Who will take Babchuk's, Seidenberg's, and Kaberle's place on the powerplay?
|2008 - Anton Babchuk||72||16||19||35||13||16||9||0||4||1||127||12.6|
|2008 - Dennis Seidenberg||70||5||25||30||-9||37||2||0||1||0||129||3.9|
Anton Babchuk and Dennis Seidenberg's 21 goals and 44 assists have been replaced by Andrew Alberts and Aaron Ward's 4 goals and 22 assists. And while Babchuk and Seidenberg each averaged more than 2 minutes per game on the powerplay, (2:45 and 2:22 respectively), Alberts and Ward barely registered any powerplay time at all last year.
|2008 - Andrew Alberts||79||1||12||13||6||61||0||0||0||0||46||2.2|
|2008 - Aaron Ward||65||3||7||10||16||44||0||1||0||0||53||5.7|
The other two newcomers, Tom Kostopoulos and Stephane Yelle are not necessarily big scorers either.
|2008 - Stephane Yelle||77||7||11||18||6||32||1||0||2||0||72||9.7|
|2008 - Tom Kostopoulos||78||8||14||22||-1||106||0||1||0||1||121||6.6|
The team certainly is bigger, tougher, and more physical than it was last season, but will they be able to score enough goals?
A few of the forwards can certainly pick up their games. Rod Brind`Amour, (16), Sergei Samsonov, (16), Erik Cole, (18), Scott Walker, (5), and Jussi Jokinen, (7), are each capable of more scoring production. After fine seasons last year, Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo will probably both need to improve as well.
Will Paul Maurice be able to continue working his magic? Can he utilize Alberts and Ward to sharpen the defense even more, but somehow squeeze additional offense out of the new defensive system? It will be an interesting season.