When Jordan Staal left Sunday’s game against the Florida Panthers with an apparent head injury and it was announced that he would not return, the Hurricanes were in the middle of a 2-0 drubbing of a first period at the hands of Aaron Ekblad and the Panthers. Staal leaving the game literally added injury to insult, and that point in the game felt like a turning point for the entire season for the worst.
That was, of course, until the ‘Canes rattled off three goals in less than four minutes to take a 3-2 lead that they would not relinquish for the duration of the contest.
But the euphoria that followed the thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Cats may have clouded our ability to realize how much trouble the ‘Canes would be in with Staal out of the lineup.
Carolina’s pivot has very quietly been undoubtedly the league’s best forward when it comes to underlying numbers and advanced metrics, and it isn’t particularly close. Allow me to demonstrate.
Jordan Staal Is Good
We’ll start with the most basic of advanced metrics, corsi share. According to corsica.hockey, Staal’s ratio comes in at 59.51%. The only forwards (min. 250 minutes of 5-on-5 TOI) in the entire league who have higher numbers than that are Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. They play on the Bruins’ top line together, and that line has been far and away the league’s best so far this season.
The players that directly follow Staal’s name on that list are two guys named Crosby and Kopitar. I’m not sure if they’re any good or not. Also cracking the top 50 are names like Stamkos, Panarin, Wheeler, Jagr, Thornton, and McDavid. Staal’s fellow Hurricanes and part-time linemates, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, come in at 13th and 16th in the league respectively.
Moving on to expected goals, which allows us to figure out which skaters are driving both shot quantity and shot quality. The story of Staal’s season so far looks even better through this lens. In fact, he leads the entire league in expected goals share (xGF%).
As incredible as that Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line has been, they haven’t been able to drive expected goals at the rate that Staal has. Neither has Crosby, or any other forward in the league for that matter. Really, only Pastrnak is anywhere close, and there’s not a single center within three percentage points of him.
So it’s great news for the Hurricanes that Staal has been so dominant this year. However, the fact that Staal is out right now is very, very bad news.
Because all that dominance of expected goals and shot attempts isn’t really happening when Staal isn’t on the ice almost literally tilting the entire rink down toward the opposition’s net.
When Staal is off the ice, the Hurricanes only control 48.21% of the expected goals that take place at even strength. That’s bad enough, but the Hurricanes are 24th in the league in 5-on-5 SH% and also 24th in 5-on-5 SV%. An expected goals share of 48.21% would put them in 21st in the league in that category.
It’s gonna take me a minute to run the numbers, so hold on just a second, but... yup. It doesn’t seem very likely that a team that’s in the bottom-third of the league in driving a combination of shot quantity and quality, having goalies that keep the puck out of the net, and having shooters that put the puck in the net is going to win many hockey games.
So the Hurricanes will have to find ways to win without their best possession driver, at least for the time being. Under no circumstances should Staal be rushed back from his concussion until he is absolutely ready to return. All that fans of the team can do is hope that that’s sooner rather than later.