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Carolina Hurricanes Benefit from Playing Backups

The Canes have earned over half of their points in games where they play the opposition's backup goalie this season.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the all-star break, the Carolina Hurricanes sit seven points out of a playoff position. Just three weeks ago the Canes sat just one point behind the Flyers for the final wild card position, so what happened? In the Canes’ case, it may be more important to look at what didn’t happen?

By the Numbers

When the Canes climbed the standings they stopped seeing backup goaltenders. In November and December, the Canes played only 10 games against starters and 14 games against backups. During these months the team earned a 14-9-5 record while playing backups a whopping 58.3% of the time.

In January the Canes have seen more starters than backups, nine games against top talent versus only three to backups. This month the Canes have a 5-7-0 record, well below the pace for a playoff team.

Simply looking at games played doesn’t prove anything, but looking at their records against starters and backups there starts to be a trend. Against starters, the Canes all season have a record of 9-14-4 for 22 points which leads a lot to be desired. At this level of performance, the Canes wouldn’t even be close to a playoff team. If you look at what the Canes’ record is against starters and extended it to the first 48 games of the season, the Canes would be 16-25-7 for just 39 points.

However, the Canes have benefitted from playing 44% of their games against backups. In those games, they are 12-6-3 for 27 points. So despite playing 44% of their games against backups, they have earned 55% of their points in these games.

Clearly, the Canes’ record has been drastically inflated by playing backup goaltenders. The Canes have had two win streaks this season. The first came against all backup goaltenders in November. The second, longer streak came against two backups and two starters. This means only two of the games involved in their win streaks came against the top goaltender of a team.

The most problematic thing for the Canes this year is that by every metric they are underperforming, even largely against backups. Their PDO is the third lowest in the league at just 97.8, suggestomg that the Canes save percentage or shooting percentage could improve by a combined 2.2%. The Canes are also in the bottom half of teams when it comes to shooting percentage (7.4%) and goals for (124).

What it Means for the Canes Moving Forward

These numbers would be fine, if a bit concerning, if the Canes had played every game within the Metropolitan Division. However, when you take this and add it to the fact that the Canes have played just above half of their games against starting caliber goaltenders, it becomes problematic. How can a team underperform so much against sub-par talent?

The Canes drastically need to improve offensively. If the Canes’ shooting percentage was up to par and moved closer to the average PDO, the Canes would have 30 more goals, pushing them into the top 10 in the league in goals and leaving them with a positive 18 goal differential.

If the Canes want to be one of the best they have to beat the best. When the team moved close to the playoff line, opponents realized they had to take this team seriously. Since then they have lost five straight games. The Canes need to improve on a night in and night out basis against top goaltenders to have any chance to make the playoffs.