When we last looked at the Hurricanes scoring chance numbers, I said that the team's even strength performance was very solid and more wins should come if they continue to outshoot and outchance teams during five-on-five play. Nine games have been played since then and the Hurricanes have gone 6-2-1 during that stretch, so they are beginning to "turn the corner" so to speak and their record is starting to match up with their strong underlying numbers.
During even strength play, the Hurricanes have owned 52.7% of the scoring chances and have been outchanced at even strength in only three games this season. This is a very good sign because it shows that this squad is more capable of controlling the play at even strength and less likely to rely on the goaltenders to steal games for them. They've had to do that in a couple of games, namely Cam Ward in the overtime win over Ottawa, but Carolina has been outplaying their opponents more times than not this season going by their season scoring chance differential.
That being said, Carolina has a few issues and one of their biggest problems is getting off to slow starts.
Scoring Chances by Period and Game State
The scoring chance numbers posted above are tracked by yours truly. If you want a definition on what a scoring chance is and how they are tracked, go here.
Carolina is getting outchanced by twelve in the first period but have been making up for it in the next three frames by outchancing their opponents by a combined +33. The slow starts are still a concerning issue, though as not only are they being outchanced in first periods but they have also been outscored 16-5, as well. That makes Carolina's strong underlying numbers in the following two periods slightly less impressive because the Hurricanes have been playing from behind in a lot of their games and are pressing more than other teams would if they were playing with a lead. Carolina has still been competitive in close games so I don't think their high scoring chance percentage is completely due to score effects but the fact that they have been playing from behind in most of their games has definitely impacted their numbers a little bit.
Another thing that sticks out is that Carolina is producing at least 18-19 scoring chances per game total and a14 at even strength, which is a much higher rate than what they had last season. On the flip side, they are also giving up about 16-17 scoring chances per game which highlights this team's defensive struggles. They've been creating more than enough offense to come away a net positive but the Canes are living on the edge a bit with their open style of play. It's led to the team having a stronger offensive output than they've had in recent years but it's also led to a lot of defensive breakdowns and scoring chances against. It's a lot of fun to watch, I'll say that much.
Next we will look at how some individual players have been performing in terms of the number of scoring chances they've been on-ice for compared to how much they've been giving up in their own end. It'll be a way to single out who some of the top performers are which players need to pick it up.
Hurricanes Regular Forwards Scoring Chances
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
As expected, the top-line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty are leading the way offensively as the Hurricanes have owned over 55% of the even strength chances when the latter two are on the ice. Part of the reason is because they start so many of their shifts in the offensive zone but you can't fault them for taking advantage of it. The puck is usually in the opponent's end whenever these three are on the ice and the numbers reflect that well, as the Hurricanes top line has been a dominant unit in terms of territorial play. Tlusty and Staal have also been very good defensively although this is probably due to the soft zone starts they've been getting. The fact that they've been starting nearly 60% of their shifts in the offensive zone means they don't have to spend much time defending, so their scoring chance against numbers look great as a result.
One of the reasons why these three have been able to enjoy softer zone starts is the play of the Jordan Staal line, who have been getting less of a territorial advantage and facing opposing team's top lines just about every night. This line has been a little worse defensively than I expected them to be, but they are still beating out their competition and producing quite a bit of offense. Jeff Skinner being on this line is probably the key factor for that. Skinner's defensive play is still a work in progress but he has been able to add a lot of firepower to every line he's been a part of since joining the Hurricanes two years ago. He and Jordan Staal have made a great combination thus far and have caused a lot of problems for opposing teams. The fact that Skinner is able to push the play forward while playing tough minutes is also very encouraging since this is the first time he has been used in this type of situation.
Tim Brent hasn't played many minutes at even strength but he has been about 10 times better than he was last season. If you don't remember, Brent was pretty awful at driving the play forward at even strength last year despite his strong scoring numbers but that has turned around this year. He has yet to record a point at even strength but whenever he is on the ice, the puck is going in the right direction and Brent's had to do this with some tough zone starts to boot. Patrick Dwyer is also managing to push the play forward at even strength despite the tough minutes but he is doing it with stronger linemates in the top-six.
The third line, as a whole, has been brutal this season and I can't figure out why. All three of these players have been able to succeed in similar roles in the past and they aren't exactly being asked to do much with the top-six handling the tougher assignments. Jokinen, LaRose and Bowman should be able to thrive in this type of role but for whatever reason, they have not. Most of their struggles are due to their inability to create chances which is interesting because Drayson Bowman is sixth on the team in shots on goal and LaRose did well in this regard last season. Maybe it's a sign that need to do better to create plays and not just shoot from everywhere? These three need to make something happen very soon, because the numbers they've been posting are alarmingly bad compared to the rest of the forwards
Hurricanes Regular Defensemen Scoring Chance Numbers
Some people might point to Tim Gleason as the weak-link of the defense corps but take a look at the column on the far right. Gleason is starting a ton of his shifts in this own zone and is playing tougher minutes than anyone else in this group so he deserves some slack. I feel like his defensive play hasn't been as good as usual going by the eye-test, but he is actually giving up fewer chances relative to how many minutes he plays compared to the rest of the defense corps. Only Justin Faulk and Joe Corvo are giving up fewer chances per 15 minutes.
Speaking of which, Faulk's play has been pretty amazing this season. He usually gets the tough matchups every night, isn't getting a zone start push and is somehow managing to drive the play forward. Oh, and he is only 20 years old. Faulk was very good in his rookie season but he is playing on a completely different level now. He's had a couple of shaky games in the past week but that's been a slight blemish on what has been a great year for Faulk.
Not having Joni Pitkanen in the lineup for the next couple of games is going to be very tough since has been the team's best offensive defenseman and one of the key play drivers on the Canes blue-line corps. Pitkanen's role is replaceable but the Hurricanes don't really have someone nearly as good as him as a replacement with Faulk handling the tough-minutes. Jamie McBain has struggled to keep his head above water in similar minutes while Jay Harrison and Joe Corvo have been receiving much more protection from the coaching staff. Those two have been playing very well, though and Corvo has been doing a great job as a third-pairing defenseman.
Hurricanes Other Players Scoring Chance Numbers
I have a feeling that Zac Dalpe will be back on this team soon. He may have not been scoring enough to stay in the top-six, but he was creating plenty of chances relative to the ice-time he was getting. He can at least provide a spark to the third line which desperately needs it right now. The guy who was called up in place of him, Tim Wallace, hasn't been bad so far, though. He's been providing a physical presence without being a liability defensively, which was a huge problem for the fourth line last season. He, Brent and Nodl have done a nice job on that unit for the last week or so. As for Westgarth, he has also managed to be not terrible when he plays but he's also played only 27 total minutes this season.
So, there are a lot of things to like with the Hurricanes this year. The top-six is legit, they are producing a lot of offense and they have one of the best young defensemen in the NHL with Justin Faulk. The slow starts, penalty kill and third line are pretty big concerns, though and it will be interesting to see if there are any moves made to address these concerns. That being said, the Hurricanes are playing well enough to stay in the thick of the playoff race and hopefully they can keep it up for the rest of the ice. Not having Pitkanen or Gleason in the lineup could make things tough if they are out for awhile, though but injuries are often a good test of a team's depth. We'll know how the Hurricanes stack up in that regard soon enough.