As we approach the midpoint of the season, we will be doing a lot of number crunching, averaging, and analysis as we try to hypothesize whether or not the Carolina Hurricanes will be playoff bound this Spring. In preparation of that, I started to look at a comparison of how the Canes were performing in the second quarter of the season, compared to the first quarter, and there is some good news.
In the last 20 games, the team has a 9-6-5 record and they have earned points in 14 of those 20 games, (total of 23 points). In the first 19 games, the team had a 9-9-1 record for a total of 19 points.
The Canes are averaging 1.15 points per game in the last 20 while they averaged 1 point per contest in the first 19. If they keep that same pace, (1.15) through the end of the season, they would earn an additional 49 points and that would give them a total of 91. That total may or may not be good enough to make the playoffs.
Another interesting tidbit? Nine of the last 21 games have gone to overtime, (43%). Only two games went past regulation in the first 18 games.
Carolina's scoring and shots-on-goal averages have dropped off in the second part as well, at first indicating to me that the team had probably slowed things down and tightened things up over that time period. But after further review, it turned out that assumption was incorrect.
While the Hurricanes are generating fewer shots in the offensive zone, their opponents have actually picked up the pace and are shooting more.
During the first 19 games, the Canes had averaged 32.5 shots per game, (total of 617) and scored 3.3 goals per game, (total of 62). But in the last 20 games, they have averaged 28.6 shots per game, (571) and have scored an average of 2.5 goals per game, (50).
In the meantime, they are allowing more shots per game, but remarkably, their goals allowed per game average has gone down.
For the first 19 games, they allowed an average of 31.75 shots per game, (total of 635), while in the last 20 games they have allowed an average of 34.7 shots, (total of 694). They allowed an average of 3.5 goals per game in the first 19, but now that average has dropped to 2.6 goals per game in the last 20 games, even though the shot averages are up.
The differences do not seem to be because of a change of strategy or slowing the game down, the difference is Cam Ward. Quite frankly, if the goalie was not standing on his head nearly every night recently, the team would most likely be nowhere near the playoff race.
The club is third from last in the league as they currently allow an average of 34.1 shots per game. The two teams with worse averages, (Atlanta and Anaheim), have each played 43 games while the Hurricanes have played 39. Can they keep their average in the next four games under 34.1?
Even though they have a 9-6-5 record in their last 20 games, the Canes have been out-shot in 17 of those 20, (694 to 571). In three of those contests they allowed 40 shots or more, (40, 45, and 47). In one game earlier in the year, they allowed 50 against Atlanta.
What's one secret to making it to the playoffs? Somehow, they need to cut down on the shots allowed.
They can do that by controlling the puck more often in their offensive zone, (cycling), by picking up their own shots on goal, and by being more aggressive and defensive minded in their own zone. Carolina's opponents are presently dominating puck possession, and that needs to change.
Does the coaching staff and team management expect Cam Ward to continue to carry the team on his back for the remainder of the season?
When I noticed the high number of overtimes in the last 21 games, (43%), it reminded me of the 2001-02 season when the Canes broke a franchise record for most consecutive ties at home. They played to seven consecutive ties from January 23 to March 18, 2002. (There was a long break for the Olympics in between those dates.) Some fans "celebrated" the record, not by throwing waffles, but by throwing ties onto the ice. (It's rumored that Paul Maurice still wears those ties today.)
The Hurricanes ended up playing a league high 27 games to overtime that regular season. They finished with a record of 6-5-16 in those 27 games. Remember, there were no shootouts back then. You either won or lost in OT, or else it finished in a tie. (Yep, they had a total of 16 ties that year.)
The good news about all of this was that the club was used to playing in tight games all the time and used that experience to their advantage in the playoffs. They finished with a league best, 7-2 record in overtime games during the playoffs and of course ended up making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Can the Hurricanes continue with the high percentage of overtime games this season and use it to the same advantage?