The Carolina Hurricanes have some adjustments to make after a promising offseason has given way to a somewhat decent, but still often frustrating start to the year. Sitting near the bottom of the perpetual “group of death” known as the Metropolitan Division, the team now has bit of an uphill battle to fight.
But the team wasn’t exactly placed on that hill without a few self-inflicted wounds. A look into the numbers shows a team that struggles to close out games that should be easily won; a team that lets opponents back in to contests instead of finishing them off. And while it may seem like a recent trend, go back further and you’ll find an even longer-running thread.
The 2017-18 Canes have won just 67% of games in which they have led after two periods. That’s good for 28th of 31 teams. The 2016-17 team was in the same spot. The year before that, they found their way up to 20th, but go back another year and they’re nestled in right back in 27th. In fact, during Bill Peters’ tenure as Canes head coach, the team has failed to breach the top-20 in win percentage when leading at either intermission each year. (The last time they did it was 2012-13 when they ranked 5th in win % when leading after two periods.)
For a team that hasn’t seen much large-scale success in almost a decade, they sure seem to have made a habit of complacency.
Conversely, the 2017-18 Hurricanes are actually stronger when coming from behind, ranking 11th and 19th in win percentage when trailing after one and two periods, respectively. And while it’s great to fight back when an opponent throws the first punch, wouldn’t it be nice to also to continue the attack when you have the upper hand?
These numbers alone suggest some mental shortcomings; perhaps an perennially young team still struggles to maintain focus when opponents push back. But where in the lineup is the job not getting done?
This season, Carolina has notched 23 goals in the first period, 18 in the second and 28 in the third. That puts them at 14th, 30th and 9th in scoring by period. On the flipside, they’ve allowed 21, 23 and 28 goals in the three periods, good for 10th, 8th and 16th in goals against per period.
Based on those numbers, the Canes’ inability to close out games after the second period has more to do with their play in that period instead of afterwards. They seem to set themselves up for failure, so even when they have a lead after two, they’ve likely given momentum to their opponent.
So when the Canes do win out, what gets them there? Insurance. A mind at ease can focus and work effectively without distraction, and the Hurricanes thrive on it. They’re ranked 27th in win percentage in one-goal games this year. Two-goal games? Second place.
To oversimplify things a bit, they need more goals (duh). But goals at key times are what make the difference at this level; for Carolina, that means scoring in the second period and creating your own insurance so defending the final push-back is less of a tightrope walk. They’ve matched opponents’ output against them in the final frame, and even hold a slight advantage in the opening period, but still struggle through second periods.
Turning the tide in the middle stanza and closing the gap between GF and GA will lead to more multi-goal leads for the Canes heading down the stretch, and could be the key to helping them learn to make the mental adjustments to finish off closer games as well.