The Carolina Hurricanes have had mixed results from the first half of the season. There have been frustrating times, but there are positives to take away from things so far this season. By most standards, the young team has improved over their performance from last season, which shows that Bill Peters and his staff are having a positive impact on the team in their third year behind the bench.
The Canes currently sit in sixth place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division, with 37 points and a record of 15-11-7. Their record has them seven points out of a wild-card spot, but has them within striking distance as the ninth-place team in the East.
The two major improvements this season over last year’s edition is the team’s outstanding special teams play and their ability to win tight games. In the past month, the Canes have won just about every type of game imaginable, which is a testament to the job that the coaching staff has done so far.
The area of the game that the coaches usually have the most impact on are special teams. The systems which coaches implement can drastically affect the success of these units. The Canes have improved their power play rate from 16.3% last year to 20.4% this season, currently ranked ninth in the league.
The penalty kill unit has been even better than the power play. Last season the Canes’ 84.3% penalty kill rate was fifth best in the season. This season the Canes are the best in the NHL at killing penalties. The Canes kill off 90.6% of their penalties successfully, more than three full points higher than the Blues and Bruins, the next two teams on the list.
To put it in perspective, there is more of a spread between the first-place Canes and everyone else than there is between second and eighth in the penalty kill rankings.
More surprising is the fact that the Canes have only allowed eight power-play goals to their opponents, six fewer than any other team in the league, while they have scored five short-handed goals. This is only a goal differential of -3 while down a player. No other team is any closer than -11. Clearly, the penalty kill unit has had a huge effect on the success of the team this season.
The Canes have also been the most disciplined team in the league this year, taking only 85 penalties, five fewer than the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets. The coaches are getting through to the players and as a result, they are not putting themselves in bad positions.
The Canes are 9-6-7 in one-goal games, so while they have lost more close games than they’ve won overall, they’ve earned points in 16 of 22 such games so far this season. Their 22 one-goal games are the most in the Eastern Conference and second-most in the NHL behind the Blackhawks’ 23.
The biggest issue the team has had this year is an inability to maintain leads late in the game. The Canes are 9-1-5 in games when they lead after the second period. Late in games with the lead, like clockwork the Canes will typically fall into a defensive shell, and almost inevitably will concede a late goal.
The team will disregard what got them the lead, and are content with dumping the puck in and giving it right back to the opposition, electing instead to withstand a shelling in the defensive zone. This has led to a 60% regulation winning percentage when the team is leading after two periods, worst in the NHL.
Peters has consistently preached playing to the final horn every night, but the message seems to be lost at times on the bench. While some of the goals in these scenarios can be chalked up to mistakes made by inexperienced young players, there’s a mental block that keeps putting the team in the same position over and over again.
The Canes can’t take their foot off the gas pedal and have to learn how to keep consistently doing what makes them successful in the third period. They need to make a better effort to bury teams, rather than giving opposing teams the ability to get back into games late.
The Bottom Line
Overall the team is in a good position. However, having even three more points from those five overtime losses would have the Canes in a much better position in the playoff race. The coaching staff has gotten a great deal out of this team, and it is important to keep faith in what they are doing.