One week of the NHL season is in the books and it's already been quite a ride for Carolina fans. Things started out very poorly as the Hurricanes dropped their first two games in humiliating fashion but they managed to get back to .500 after sweeping a home-and-home series against the Buffalo Sabres. How Carolina will perform from here on out is uncertain but the fact that they have been able to outshoot and outchance their opponents at even strength in every game this year is very encouraging in regards to future success if they can continue to do that in the long-term.
Who has stood out the most on the Hurricanes outside of goals and points in this first week of action, though? To do that, we're going to take a look at the team's scoring chance numbers that I have been tracking throughout the season. For those unfamiliar with what a scoring chance is or how they are tracked, here's a refresher. A scoring chance is defined as an unblocked shot directed at the net from a "dangerous scoring area" which is outlined in this diagram. Normally, I would track each chance and log them into Vic Ferrari's script to see which players were on-ice for the most chances in all three area of play, but the script hasn't gone live yet for this year so I've had to do that manually by using NHL.com's play-by-play sheets.
What I normally look for when doing this kind of analysis is the number of scoring chances a player is on-ice for his own team compared to the number of chances against he is on-ice for at even strength. I also like to incorporate how many chances a player is on-ice for/against relative to how many minutes he is playing but it's a little to early to do that kind of analysis.
Four games really doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, but taking a closer look at how some players on the Hurricanes have performed in this past week will give us an idea of who has stood out the most thus far.
SCF = Number of scoring chances a player was on-ice for during 5v5 play, SCA = Number of scoring chances against a player was on-ice for during 5v5 play, SC% = Percentage of even strength scoring chances a player was on-ice for, EV CF/15 = Scoring chances for per 15 minutes of ice time, EV SCA/15 = Scoring chances against per 15 minutes of ice time.
- Both Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal have yet to score a goal at even strength but they've been creating an impressive amount of offense there. The current first line of Semin, Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal has actually done a phenomenal job of keeping the puck deep in the opponent's zone and creating scoring chances. The goals will come to Semin as long as he continues to drive the play at a high level like he has these first few games.
- The fact that Jordan Staal is winning the chance battle and creating a high volume of offense is pretty encouraging because he is doing it while being matched up against opposing team's top lines. Defensively, he has been giving up a lot in his own end but the amount of offense he and his line are creating has made up for it thus far.
- Jeff Skinner currently leads the team with four goals and he has been a factor in creating a lot of offense for the Hurricanes, but it's worth noting that he's giving a lot back at the other end. Perhaps this is a result of him playing on Jordan Staal's line and the tougher minutes that comes with it? Possibly, but we'll know more as the season goes on.
- Jiri Tlusty has quietly been off to a great start this year and it's really nice to see.
- The one forward line that has been struggling for Carolina is the new third line of Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen and Drayson Bowman. These three have normally been sent out against opposing team's third and fourth lines and it's pretty disappointing that they haven't been able to drive the play at all in that situation. They were three of Carolina's better territorial players last year so I'm not sure what has been wrong with them.
- Patrick Dwyer has been pretty good defensively despite starting a ton of shifts in his own zone. Business as usual for him.
- The majority of Carolina forwards are creating more chances at even strength than they are giving up, which is a very good sign if they can continue to do this.
- Justin Faulk is obviously the major standout among the defense. He has been terrific at both ends of the rink and he has been doing this while playing on the team's shutdown pair alongside Tim Gleason. Faulk had issues with his defensive play at even strength last year, so I didn't expect him to be this good so early in the year.
- The other standout on the defense is Joni Pitkanen, who has really been all over the place in these first four games. The difference between him and Faulk is the latter has been much better defensively so far and has played tougher minutes. Pitkanen has basically lived up to his role so far, though and had to log a ton of minutes in Buffalo the other night.
- If Faulk is out for a considerable amount of time, it will be interesting to see how Gleason performs with different partners. He's been getting outchanced at even strength in the first four games and most of it is because he hasn't produced much offense at all. The Canes don't really have another shutdown defenseman to compliment Gleason, so I'm not sure what will happen if Faulk goes on the shelf for more than a few games.
- Joe Corvo and Bobby Sanguinetti have played similar minutes but Corvo has been slightly more impressive defensively. This might be due to Sanguinetti's performance against Tampa Bay where he was paired with Pitkanen and gave up six even strength chances while Corvo has been used in a sheltered, third-pairing role for most of the year.
It's tough to come to conclusions about anything when it's this early in the season but if you can take away anything from the Hurricanes first four games, it's that their performance at even strength has been pretty solid this year. That is a much welcomed change compared to last season and should lead to good things down the road if they continue to win the shot and scoring chance battle during five-on-five play. "If" being the keyword here.