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Carolina Hurricanes Powerplay Struggles Part One: The Stats

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What’s going on with Carolina’s powerplay? Let’s start with a look at the statistics.

October 24, 2017. Carolina Hurricanes vs Tampa Bay Lightning, PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC. Copyright � 2017 Jamie Kellner. All Rights Reserved.
October 24, 2017. Carolina Hurricanes vs Tampa Bay Lightning, PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC.
Jamie Kellner

Part one of a three-part piece on the shortcomings of Carolina’s disappointing powerplay. **All stats accurate as of Wednesday, November 15.**

Amid the Hurricanes’ recent run of powerplay ineptitude, the word “personnel”, or players being used and placed into specific roles on the man advantage, has become a hot-button topic.

Bill Peters threw that word out there following Carolina’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday, saying he and his coaching staff would make personnel changes to the league’s 30th-ranked powerplay, which was fresh off a 0-3 night as the home team let a 3-1 third-period lead slip away from them.

Four games into the post-”personnel change” era, the Hurricanes look to continue on their quest of making the powerplay a more dangerous, or even palatable, part of their game on a nightly basis. Here, we are going to look at some examples of why this team has struggled on the powerplay, what worked when they have scored, and what they may need to do in order to be better on the powerplay.

Keep in mind, these are my opinions. I am not pretending to be a powerplay wizard and I am most certainly not qualified to run an NHL powerplay or be in the position of Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina’s head man when it comes to coaching the man advantage.

Also, note that I am watching and using statistics from 5-on-4 powerplays. 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 powerplays have been excluded from this as the sample sizes (1:28 of 5-on-3 and zero 4-on-3 opportunities) aren’t large enough to warrant them being discussed in this piece. When I refer to the powerplay, I am referring solely to 5-on-4 situations.

With that out of the way, let’s start by looking at the two powerplay units.


Unit One

The first powerplay unit has been the far more troubling unit so far this season for the Hurricanes.

Through the first 16 games of the regular season, the unit has been comprised of Elias Lindholm, Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Faulk.

To the surprise of many, this unit was left untouched after Saturday’s game and ended up scoring, off the stick of Teravainen, against the Stars on Monday.

This unit has been on the ice for three powerplay goals: two from Teravainen and one from Lindholm.

Now, I said a moment ago that Teravainen scored a powerplay goal on Monday, which would indicate that this unit has scored just twice in the 15 games prior. Both of these goals came in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers, the 29th ranked penalty killing team in the league, on October 17 (5-3 W). So, outside of the Dallas and Edmonton games, the team’s top powerplay unit (by title and usage) has zero goals this season.

Watching this unit play isn’t for the faint of heart, though I will show you some gifs and still images later on. The statistics do, however, paint an accurate picture.

Of all the players on this unit (~46:00 PP TOI), Teravainen is the only one with an individual expected goals for of more than one. The other four players, including Justin Faulk, who had scored 23 powerplay goals in the three seasons prior (ixGF/60 of .64 this season vs. 1.37 in previous three combined), have under one individual expected goal for on the powerplay this season.

  • Teravainen - 1.31
  • Aho - 0.7
  • Staal - 0.66
  • Faulk - 0.53
  • Lindholm - 0.39

Additionally, this group has an expected goals for in the mid-to-high 3’s, averaging out near 3.75. In other words, the three goals this unit has scored thus far is deserved. They have not been robbed by hot goalies or bad bounces, they have just been unable to produce high-quality scoring chances both individually and as a unit.

Their expected goal share is also alarming, ranging 71%-75% between the five players, meaning their play suggests that they should be scoring roughly three powerplay goals for every shorthanded goal they allow based not only on the opportunities they are generating but also the opportunities they are giving up to opposing penalty killers.

Perhaps the most surprising part of all of this is how far they have fallen from last season. In 2016-17, this very same group of players made up Carolina’s most dangerous powerplay unit. At their current pace, this unit would have season-long expected goals for of ~14.35 if they played the same minutes that they did last year. They had ~23.2 expected goals for last season, indicating a nine-goal (38%) drop off this season.

It starts to make sense that they aren’t scoring as much, not only when you factor in their play, but also that four of the five players are shooting the puck less. Below is a list of each player with their 2016-17 individual shot attempts per 60 minutes at 5on4 (left) compared to this season (right).

  • Faulk - 35.73 vs. 28.9
  • Teravainen - 26.87 vs. 22.08
  • Aho - 21.14 vs. 23.53
  • Staal - 13.17 vs. 7.78
  • Lindholm - 12.61 vs. 6.47

Aho is the only player shooting more frequently, but the difference is negligible and he has just one goal this season, which came at even strength. As a group on a per 60 scale, they are shooting nearly 20% less than they were last season. Individually, Faulk is down 19%, Staal is down 40%, and Lindholm’s lack of aggressiveness when it comes to shooting is now becoming a real issue as he is down 49%.

Instead of being the dominant group, they are now far less dangerous than the second unit. This would be a very welcome change if it meant they were playing at the same level as they were a season ago, meanwhile the second unit got to the point where they were outperforming them. Unfortunately, the second unit has had very similar results to last season, in which they struggled.


Unit Two

This is the unit that got a makeover ahead of Saturday’s game.

Through 15 games, the second group was comprised of Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Justin Williams, Derek Ryan and Noah Hanifin.

Two new players were added, meaning two players got taken off the powerplay. Jaccob Slavin took Noah Hanifin’s spot on the point and Brock McGinn slotted in as the net-front presence, thus taking Victor Rask out of the equation and turning Derek Ryan into the lone centerman.

Though Hanifin and Rask are not currently on a powerplay unit, I will still be looking at the numbers the second unit produced over the first 16 games, 15 of which featured Hanifin and Rask.

Justin Williams and Jeff Skinner have been the best offensive contributors both on this unit and on the entire team in 5on4 situations.

As you could guess, Skinner has been the goal scorer and Williams has been distributer. Skinner is first among Carolina skaters in individual expected goals for on the powerplay at 1.78, which is neck-and-neck with his two powerplay goals this season. Williams, whose four powerplay points leads the team, also ranks first in expected on-ice goals for at 4.93, which is .07 higher than Skinner’s second-place number.

Derek Ryan is the middle ground of sorts, at least statistically. He’s right behind Williams and Skinner in expected goals for and second only to Skinner in individual expected goals for, but how much does that have to do with being so closely tied to last year’s sixth-best goal scorer?

Noah Hanifin was a shocking removal from the powerplay. He leads all Hurricanes defensemen in points per 60 in all situations and on the powerplay, his individual powerplay corsi for/60 trailed only Skinner on the second powerplay unit, and you could see some real offensive confidence building in his game dating back to the Arizona game nearly two weeks ago.

Joining Hanifin on the bench during the powerplay is Victor Rask, whose dismissal from the unit is wholly deserved. He has just one point on the powerplay this season (an assist on opening), the lowest expected goals for and individual expected goals for, and he is somehow underperforming his unimpressive 2016-17 numbers that were made somewhat attractive due to his hot run mid-season run with Skinner.

Brock McGinn and Jaccob Slavin have played just one game on that unit, so there isn’t much to evaluate, but McGinn’s job is simple: get to the front of the net and make it difficult for a goalie to see Skinner’s shots. Slavin will be replacing Hanifin as a powerplay quarterback, and while I’m skeptical that it will be any sort of improvement, he has the vision and hands to do an admirable job, though I don’t think he has the creativity of a guy like Hanifin.

The numbers tell part of the story, but the on-ice performances tell even more. Part two will take a look at what is actually happening on the ice, and that will be out tomorrow.

All stats from Corsica.hockey.