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By the Numbers: A Tale of Two Penalty Kills

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After an elite penalty kill helped keep Carolina in playoff contention last season, the group is not faring nearly as well this year. What does that mean for this year’s team

October 7, 2017. Carolina Hurricanes vs Minnesota Wild, PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC. Copyright � 2017 Jamie Kellner. All Rights Reserved. Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes had a good penalty kill last year. Like, a stupidly good penalty kill. Over the last three full seasons prior to this one, the then-thirty teams combined to put up 90 different individual seasons on the penalty kill.

Duh, Kyle. That’s basic math. Thirty times three is ninety. You didn’t need to include that explainer. Well, you’re right. But I want to make it clear how big of a sample you can have to determine that Carolina’s penalty kill was good last year.

Let’s start with shot attempts against. On a per 60 minute basis, the shorthanded Carolina Hurricanes gave up 80.33 shots against. That sounds like a lot, right? 80 is a high number. But it’s not. In this context, it’s a very very low number. That’s first in the three-year NHL out of 90. In second place was the 2015-2016 shorthanded Hurricanes. The 2014-2015 shorthanded Hurricanes came in at number seven.

We can take that to mean that in your average two minutes of 5-on-4 hockey, teams with a power play against the Hurricanes could only expect to get 2.67 shot attempts. And even that’s generous, because I’m drawing from all shorthanded situations, including 5-on-3 and 4-on-3, both of which are more dangerous than 5-on-4.

With 2.67 shot attempts per your standard power play, you probably wouldn’t expect the Hurricanes to give up very many goals while a man or two down. Well, fortunately there’s a stat for that as well. The ‘Canes did well in expected goals against per 60, but not nearly as well as they did in shot attempts against. The 2016-2017 shorthanded Hurricanes placed 21st out of 90 with 6.07 xGA/60. All three of the recent Hurricanes squads placed within the top 22. The 2015-2016 group led the way at 8th.

So last year while shorthanded, the Hurricanes did an absolutely all-world job of preventing opposing teams from shooting the puck toward their net while they were on the power play. They also did a pretty good job of limiting the quality of shots their goaltenders faced, but not as good as they did with suppressing quantity.

That’s great. Not only did they do those things, they also posed a serious threat to score shorthanded. They gave the other team so much to think about with the effectiveness with which they pressured the points. Not only were opposition point men going to have a really hard time creating chances, but they also had to be hyper-aware of the possibility that any mistake they made with the puck was reasonably likely to end up as a chance on the other end.

I’d hypothesize that this is something the 2012 Ilya Kovalchuk-led New Jersey penalty killing units absolutely killed the game at, but I’m too lazy to adjust my filter on Corsica.

Anyway, out of all of those 90 individual team penalty killing seasons, last year’s Canes ranked 8th in shot attempts for per 60 minutes with 16.41; and in terms of total shot attempt share (or CF%) while shorthanded, they ranked second at 16.79%, trailing only the 2014-2015 New York Rangers.

They also scored shorthanded goals very well, coming in with 8. The most by any team over the last few seasons is 11 (done 3 times), 10 (done twice), and 9 (done 7 times). However, none of those teams that scored more than eight goals shorthanded did nearly as good of a job with preventing them as last years Carolina units.

The ‘Canes held a -22 goal differential on the kill last year, which is the best of all 90 individual seasons. In second, coming in at -26, is 2014-2015’s Hurricanes. No team that isn’t the Hurricanes has come within four goals of that goal differential in three years.

All that is to say that they’re not off to such a hot start on the kill this year. I don’t know exactly what it is, but they’re 21st in CA/60, 29th in xGA/60, 20th in CF%, and 7th in goal differential (mostly because they take far fewer penalties than everyone else).

Of the guys who have gotten somewhat regular time on the kill, Josh Jooris, Derek Ryan, and Haydn Fleury seem to be the guys most responsible for the high volume of shots and quality against, while Elias Lindholm and Brett Pesce also fall on the wrong side of the team’s overall numbers.

Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Brock McGinn, Marcus Kruger, Jordan Staal, and Joakim Nordstrom are all on the side that’s outperforming the team’s overall numbers.

Whatever’s going wrong this early in the season needs to be resolved for the Hurricanes to have as good of a chance at making the playoffs as they should. We know this team has shortcomings. They’re not elite or even all that close when it comes to scoring goals on the power play or at 5-on-5, and with that in mind, they need to be elite in other areas to have what it takes to be a playoff team.

Going into the season, we thought we could count on the penalty kill as one of those points of pride and strength for the Hurricanes. The team has spent roughly 93 minutes on the power play this year with a goal differential of +7. In roughly 60 minutes on the penalty kill this season, they have a goal differential of -7. If you’ve spent 30 more minutes on the power play than you have on the penalty kill, you’ve got to do better than breakeven on special teams.

The power play has been bad, but it wasn’t expected to be good. I think most of us wold have signed up for average on the power play. The penalty kill has been bad and it was supposed to be elite. After last year, I think we all were expecting the team to at least be in the top eight or so in the league, if not top five.

We’ll see what, if anything Steve Smith comes up with to remedy these struggles, as I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this is something that will need to improve if the Hurricanes want to be playing hockey when late April rolls around.

All statistics via Corsica.hockey unless otherwise noted.