It seems like we’ve been singing the same song about the Carolina Hurricanes throughout this six-game road trip: some positive signs surrounding a horror story. Last night, the horror story came in a 10-minute stretch of the first period, with the Detroit Red Wings jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, withstanding the expected Carolina surge, and potting an insurance goal late to send the Canes to their fifth defeat in six games.
I Need A 60-Minute Man
At this point you pretty much can take to the bank that the Canes are going to have a stretch of simply horrific play sometime in the course of a game. To their credit, they have yet to put in a full 60-minute performance of outright suck, but in the NHL, even switching off for 10 or 15 minutes is usually enough to seal a team’s fate.
Case in point: the first period last night. The Wings were up 3-0 and absolutely controlling play in every sense, leading to some really ugly-looking stats at the first intermission:
Carolina's fourth line needs to be burned with fire, Hainsey and Pesce getting torched, Faulk and Slavin playing well. pic.twitter.com/tkvvO1fIMY— Brett Finger (@brettfinger) October 26, 2016
I mean, you have to really work to have a 39.2% even-strength CF in just one period.
But the Canes managed to work around their slow start and really control the play in the final 40 minutes. Problem was, their first period burned them, and despite nearly 70% possession in the final two periods, it was too deep a hole to dig out of. Notice, especially, how well Brett Pesce and Ron Hainsey played in the last two periods.
Nordstrom continues a stretch of strong play after a rough start.— Cane-alytics (@Cane_alytics) October 26, 2016
Pesce has been very good this season. pic.twitter.com/YRB9sJREL1
Now, you could make the argument — and have a solid leg to stand on — that score effects played a big role; after all, as we’ve learned this season, the three-goal lead is The Worst Lead In Hockey (tm). But Pesce, in particular, was a +13 in the final two periods, and the pairing as a whole went from a -14 to a +11 in the final 40 minutes. That’s solid play, and Pesce was rewarded with his first point of the season, assisting on Jordan Staal’s goal that cut it to 3-1.
Whither Justin Faulk?
Remember last season when Faulk went gangbusters early in the season? This year, it’s anything but. The numbers don’t lie: no matter who he plays with, Faulk is underperforming.
Faulk has spent most of his time with Jaccob Slavin and Ron Hainsey, both of whom have a higher relative shot-attempt percentage without Faulk than with him. In Slavin’s case, it’s a difference of more than 10%.
Faulk is playing more minutes than any other defenseman, and offensively he’s fine, his five points tied for the most among defensemen with Noah Hanifin. But when your chief minutes-muncher is such a liability in his own zone, it’s little wonder why the Canes are handing out goals like they’re fried candy bars at the State Fair.
The Requisite Section About The Goaltending
You knew it was coming. There’s not much that can be said at this point other than yes, it would be nice to get a big save every once in a while. The first goal last night is a perfect case study: Ward is slow to get set for the pass from Andreas Athanasiou, and the puck is off Thomas Vanek’s stick and into the net through Ward’s legs before he can snap the five-hole shut.
Needless to say, Ward was not happy after his team went down 2-0 seven minutes later...
...and it was a minor surprise that Bill Peters left him in to start the second period. However, without that decision, we never would have seen possibly the most awkward breakaway of all time not involving Marek Malik.
Steve Ott vs Cam Ward is about was graceful as you think it was pic.twitter.com/SyYMk7x5U2— Ky.L. Stine (@KyleWIIM) October 26, 2016
The most concerning thing about the Canes’ performances in goal so far this season — and this is a positional thing, not just a Ward thing, despite the fact that Eddie Lack has had a bit more success — is that while their even-strength shooting percentage of 9.3% is solidly in the middle of the pack, ranking 13th in the NHL, their even-strength PDO of 96.2 is the worst in the league.
There’s no other way to put it: even with a better than average shooting percentage, the Canes stand no chance as long as their goaltending is below replacement level. We thought going into the season that the Canes would have trouble scoring, and so far while they’re right in the middle - 15th out of 30 teams - in goal scoring, they’d have to be shooting the lights out to overcome the subpar play in net.
Generally speaking, you would want 9-10% of a PDO to come from shooting percentage, and 90-91% from save percentage. The Canes’ skaters are holding up their end of the bargain. It’s time for the goaltenders to do likewise.