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Do the Hurricanes Score More When It Doesn’t Matter?

We take a look at how the Canes under Bill Peters have fared offensively in the thick of the season versus in meaningless games.

Jamie Kellner

For as long as Bill Peters has been at the helm, the Carolina Hurricanes have struggled to score goals. Since he took over in 2014, the Hurricanes have mostly finished within the bottom ten teams in the league in scoring, with a high water mark of 20th in the 2016-17 season. Barring a sustained onslaught of scoring through April 7, the team will finish about 20th once again this season, showing essentially zero improvement over last season.

The past few Hurricanes seasons have concluded in a similar fashion. The team hangs around, just close enough to garner some playoff hope, then unfailingly chokes it away down the stretch into March.

When the team is all but eliminated, it feels like the scoring awakens and we get things like Jeff Skinner’s incredible scoring tear at of the end of the 2016-17 season. It seems as though the Hurricanes team of March and April, which usually has little or nothing to play for, scores a lot more than the team that still carries postseason hopes earlier in the season.

So is there any truth to this? Do these Bill Peters teams really score more when all hope is lost? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Goal Scoring Statistics

Season Oct.- Feb. GF/GP Mar. - April GF/GP Oct.- Feb. GA/GP Mar. - April GA/GP
Season Oct.- Feb. GF/GP Mar. - April GF/GP Oct.- Feb. GA/GP Mar. - April GA/GP
2014-15 2.22 2.14 2.57 2.95
2015-16 2.42 2.28 2.66 2.83
2016-17 2.48 2.87 2.83 2.78
2017-18 2.6 3.43* 3.02 3.64*
*Statistics through March 29th

Looking at the data, there’s definitely been a kernel truth to the feeling of the Hurricanes scoring more in meaningless games, but it isn’t a clear line. I think you can disregard the 2014-15 season statistics, as that team was never even close after losing every game in October. They would finish dead last in the division.

The 2015-16 season centered around losing centerpiece Eric Staal at the trade deadline as well as a big offensive catalyst in Kris Versteeg. And with Justin Faulk injured in March, that team was seriously devoid of NHL level scoring threat down the stretch. (Chris Terry scored three goals after February and even Jay McClement had two, just to prove the point.)

The 2016-17 season was the first time in Peters’ tenure that a Hurricanes team actually had a reasonable chance to secure a postseason berth. As they floundered as March approached, Rin Francis was again a seller at the deadline. Yet despite losses on the roster, the Canes played at a higher level offensively.

They increased their subpar 2.48 GF/GP to a 2.87. I suspect that much of this can be attributed to the Skinner streak, as well as the rookie Sebastian Aho finally coming into his own. But nonetheless, that Canes team was effectively outside of the playoff picture and performed better offensively than when they were in the hunt.

The 2017-18 season has been as confusing as it has been tragic. The team actually hung in there for a few months between November and March. Interestingly, the Canes GF/GP was at a reasonable 2.73 going into the month of February. By month’s end it was down to 2.60, indicating that the team led by Peters lacked much offensive moxie in the most pivotal month of their season.

Francis was characteristically quiet at the trade deadline, and the team quickly fell out of contention, an unfortunate turn of events that seemed to have been the final nail in the coffin for his job. Since the team has been largely out of playoff contention, they’ve actually been a much more dangerous offensive group. They’ve improved on their GF/GP drastically, now posting a 3.43 since the beginning of March. For reference, the lethal Tampa Bay Lightning offense has led the league this season with a similar 3.50 GF/GP since October.

But the Canes’ offense this March doesn’t tell the whole story. They’ve also allowed significantly more goals against when compared to the standard they set through February 28th. This Hurricanes team has been exciting, but ultimately they’ve played sloppy hockey down the stretch. I’m sure you didn’t need to see these numbers to deduce that.

This season marks Bill Peters’ fourth as the Hurricanes bench boss, and with rumors circulating about his opportunity to take an exit from the organization at the season’s end, now is the time to evaluate his effectiveness as a coach.

The last two seasons we’ve seen Hurricanes teams operate at anemic offensive levels in important stretches and flourish in their meaningless games in March. We can talk about the subpar offensive lineup he’s been provided with until we’re blue in the face, but a coach’s job is to get the most out of his roster, and Peters hasn’t been doing that when it counts.