The Carolina Hurricanes are an absolute unit right now.
During their current eight-game winning streak, the Hurricanes have outscored their opponents by a margin of 29-15. That averages out to 3.6 goals-for per game to just 1.9 goals against per game.
It hasn’t been the 5-on-5 play that has carried them, though. It’s been their dominant special-teams play.
They’ve scored on 12 of their last 26 power-play chances, good for an astounding 46% conversion rate on the man advantage. They’ve only rendered three power-play goals against on 27 attempts during that time, as well. In addition to their shutdown 89% PK efficiency, they’ve scored two shorthanded goals.
In total, the Hurricanes’ specials teams have a plus-11 goal-differential over their last eight games, and 14 of their 29 goals have come from their specials teams units.
Compare that to their plus-3 goal differential at 5-on-5, and you can clearly see how the Canes have gotten their separation. You don’t have to win the 5-on-5 battle by a significant amount if your special teams are throttling opponents the way Carolina’s have.
Despite their lengthy winning streak, I wouldn’t argue that we are watching the Hurricanes play noticeably great hockey at even strength, at least not consistently. The power play has been so unbelievably good that it has done the heavy lifting for the offense. This hot streak won’t last forever, though, and there are certainly some things that can improve with the 5-on-5 play.
For now, though, you can’t complain about a winning streak that’s just one game short of tying a Carolina franchise record...
Nedeljkovic Forcing Carolina’s Hand
Remember two months ago when the Hurricanes put Alex Nedeljkovic on waivers, and no one picked him up?
After stopping 25 of 26 shots against the Detroit Red Wings (the only goal coming off of a deflection off of Sebastian Aho’s skate with nine seconds left in the game), Nedeljkovic raised his save percentage to .929 on the season and .950 over his last six starts. The Hurricanes have secured points in seven of his last eight starts, with his only regulation loss being his 25 saves on 27 shots performance in the Canes’ shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last month.
In his first three starts of the season, Ned allowed 10 goals. Over his last six starts, he’s allowed just nine goals and hasn’t allowed more than two goals in a single game.
Now, we are forced to have another goalie conversation, but this time it’s for all of the right reasons.
Petr Mrazek still hasn’t returned after his late-January thumb surgery. Still, to the surprise of pretty much everyone, that hasn’t been a big deal in the slightest. The Hurricanes are 17-5-1 since Mrazek went down, and that even includes their three-game mini-skid at the hands of the Lightning in February.
So, when Carolina’s starting goalie returns from injury, what will they do?
It’s hard to answer that question, but one thing seems obvious; neither of Nedlejkovic or James Reimer will go on waivers. That feels like a given right now because I’m not sure if this team can afford to lose either of them.
I might get push back on that assertion on Reimer, but despite him giving up some memorably soft goals to this point, his counting stats are so heavily in his favor, and he has so much experience that they wouldn’t consider running the risk of letting another team nab him. The Hurricanes are 12-3-0 when he starts this season, and over his last nine starts, he has a .922 save percentage. In his last four starts, he has a spotless record and a .936 save percentage.
There’s very little to argue with when you look at those numbers, but they get better when you look at the real vs. expected performance for both goalies.
Nedeljkovic has the third-best save percentage above expectation among 61 qualifying goalies. To this point, his save percentage is 1.7% higher than it should be when factoring in the location and danger of the shots being taken on him at 5-on-5 play. The only two goalies in hockey outperforming him are Andrei Vasilevskiy and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Reimer is actually a positive in that regard, as well. This a recent development as he’s seen his performance in net stabilize over the last couple of weeks. His save percentage is currently .4% higher than expected, which ranks 18th among the 61 qualifying goalies.
Carolina’s rookie goalie also ranks in the top-10 in goals saved above expectation. Nedeljkovic’s GSAx at all strengths is 6.17, which is good for sixth in the league behind only Fleury, Vasilevskiy, Thatcher Demko, Jake Allen, and Philipp Grubauer.
In a contract year, Ned has forced his way into not only the team’s plans for this season but their plans for the long-term. With both Mrazek and Reimer scheduled to hit the UFA market, this is a serious development for the 25-year-old. There’s no way to ignore the fact that Nedeljkovic is playing like a high-end goalie right now.
*Goalie stats from JFreshHockey.
Return of the Doug
With his shorthanded goal against Detroit, Hamilton extended his point streak to eight consecutive games (which lines up perfectly with Carolina’s eight-game winning streak) and had his second goal in as many games.
Over his last eight games, Hamilton has two goals and 10 points while averaging 23:11 of ice time.
He’s also been a very integral part of Carolina’s special-teams dominance. He hasn’t been on the ice for a power-play goal against February 24. That’s ~15:00 worth of PK ice time without a goal against, and he has one of the team’s shorties during that span.
Of course, he’s been just as influential on the power play, where he has six points over his last eight games.
It’s indisputable that Dougie didn’t look like Dougie at the outset of the season, and there’s a lot of things that could have been at play. Now, though, Hamilton is playing with the confidence and conviction that he had last season in the offensive zone, and his defensive play has continued to improve as the season has gone on.