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First-Round Preview: Special Teams

The Canes’ bring a league-best penalty kill into the playoffs, by far the strongest special teams unit in their opening series against the Bruins.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are here, and the Canes are playing the Bruins in the postseason for the third time in the last four years.

Over the next couple of days, we’ll take a look at how the Hurricanes and Bruins matchup on the ice as we get ready for a first-round series.

Today we are looking at the special teams units:

Carolina Hurricanes

Overview

It’s a bit of a mixed bag for the Hurricanes on special teams, as the Canes boast the league’s best penalty kill unit but have struggled at times on the power play.

The PK has been an unstoppable force, finishing the year with a 88 PK% after allowing just 33 power-play goals against despite being shorthanded the second-most times of any team in the NHL.

At an even 88% kill rate, the 2021-22 Hurricanes had the eighth-best mark in NHL history dating back to 1977-78. It’s also the best PK season since the New Jersey Devils set the NHL record at 89.6% back in 2011-12.

However on the power play, the Hurricanes finished the regular season with 13th-best PP in the NHL at 22%. At times, the Canes’ power play was really good. At other times, particularly late in the season, the Hurricanes power play struggled to do too much of anything.

In the month of April, the Hurricanes’ power play went just 3 for 34 for a PP% of just 9%.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

Power Play

The Hurricanes’ power play is a tough nut to crack.

There have been times where it has been good. There have been times where it’s been bad. A month-by-month breakdown of the power play:

Power Play

Month PPG PPO PP%
Month PPG PPO PP%
October 9 32 28
November 4 38 11
December 10 24 42
January 8 30 27
February 8 31 26
March 9 43 21
April 3 34 9
Power Play

The Canes’ top unit, when healthy, has been pretty consistent all year: Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov with Tony DeAngelo QBing the group.

The second unit has had some more turnover, with Jaccob Slavin mainly leading the way. Martin Necas, Nino Niederreiter, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Seth Jarvis, and recently Max Domi, have spent time playing on the second unit.

Teravainen has a team-high 31 points on the power play and 22 assists, while Aho’s 13 goals with the man advantage are a team best.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

DeAngelo has obviously been the big mover of things on the power play, as he’s come in and done a nice job of leading the first unit with his strong offensive skill set. When the Canes have been good on the power play, it has been when the puck is moving well and often through DeAngelo at the top.

The second unit hasn’t put up huge numbers, but that group has actually been a bit more consistent in terms of getting good chances over the last month or so.

The possession metrics have been pretty good for the Canes on the power play. Their Corsi For % of 86.71 is ninth in the league, and they are also ninth in percentage of shots for.

But while the possession and shots alone have been good, they haven’t quite been creating chances at that same level. The Canes rank 11th in Scoring Chances For % on the power play, and they come in at 15th in expected goals.

All that to say, the Hurricanes still have the potential to be a dangerous power play team if they can just put it together. The talent on the top unit is substantial, and they’ve had periods, like in December, where they have been deadly with the extra skater.

Whether or not the Canes can put it together on the power play in the postseason will go a long way in determining just how far Carolina can get.

Penalty Kill

When the Hurricanes go to the penalty box, which happens quite a bit, it’s more of a power kill than anything for Carolina.

The penalty kill has been unbelievable for the Hurricanes all season, stifling most power plays that go against them. At any 88% kill rate the Canes have the best PK in the league by about three full percentage points, as they’ve allowed just 33 power-play goals against in 276 times shorthanded.

The Hurricanes dominance on the penalty kill is pretty impressive. They rank first or second in the NHL in CF%, xGF% and SCF% while down a man.

It’s been the usual guys taking the load of penalty kill work for the Hurricanes. Brett Pesce, Slavin, Brady Skjei and Ian Cole lead in TOI as defensemen, while Jordan Staal, as always, leads among the forwards. Aho has been the second-busiest penalty killer among the forwards.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

The Hurricanes don’t allow anything from really anywhere on the penalty kill, and it’s been mighty impressive.

And not to be forgotten, they do say that your goaltenders are your most important penalty killers. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta have obviously been fantastic this season, and while health is a concern heading into the playoffs, that’s still a strength.

The biggest issue about the Hurricanes’ penalty kill has been the frequency in which it has been needed.

At 276 times shorthanded, the Canes are behind only the Nashville Predators. The Canes had no penalty free games in the regular season and had just six games with only one penalty.

Still, the penalty kill has been so good that it hasn’t really mattered all that much.

Boston Bruins

Overview

Special teams haven’t necessarily been a huge strength of the Bruins this season, as Boston ranks 15th in the NHL on the power play and ninth in the league on the penalty kill.

With a 21.2 PP%, this is the worst power play for the Bruins since 2015-16. The penalty kill has been stellar for the Bs, though it finished the season with just a 72 PK% during the last 10 games of the season. On the whole, Boston is at 81.3% for the season.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

Power Play

The top unit for the Bruins this year has been the “perfection line” of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron along with Taylor Hall and QB Charlie McAvoy.

That group has been good, with Pastrnak at a team-high 15 power-play goals with Bergeron (8), Marchand (7) and Hall (7) the next three on the team. Marchand’s 20 power-play assists are a team high, while McAvoy sits at 17.

But apart from that top PP group, the Bruins have just nine goals with the man advantage from PP2 all season. Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, Erik Haula are the main guys on the second group.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

The pure numbers aren’t great on the Bruins’ power play, but the metrics are really bad.

With an 84.57 CF% on the power play, Boston ranks 24th in the NHL. The Bruins’ xGF% on the man advantage is 26th in the NHL at 85.79, while they are 11th in scoring chances for and 25th in SCF%.

The power play hasn’t been a strength of Boston’s by any means. The Bruins rank pretty much middle of the league in most standard statistics, and among playoff teams they are among the worst.

Penalty Kill

The penalty kill is better for the Bruins, as they sit at ninth in the NHL in PK%.

The Bruins take a lot of penalties, the fifth-most in the NHL, and they’ve been able to kill them off pretty efficiently all season long.

Derek Forbert and Brandon Carlo have done the heavy lifting on the penalty kill this year, while Tomas Nosek, Bergeron and Marchand are the forwards who feature most.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz

They do a good job of limiting opportunities in the dangerous spots on the ice. It’s a good penalty kill unit, though not a complete shutdown group like the one coming off Carolina’s bench.

The Matchup

This is an evergreen statement, but special teams will play an interesting, important role in this first-round series.

On paper, the power play units shouldn’t expect to have a ton of success. Both penalty kills are much better than their respective power plays, so goals with the man advantage will be harder to come by and that much more important.

When you look at the matchup, it seems like it’s advantage Hurricanes when someone is in the penalty box.

The Canes’ PK is going to be the best no matter which team it’s playing, but against a so-so power play of the Bruins it should have plenty of success.

On the other end, Carolina’s power play hasn’t been entirely consistent, but it’s been mostly better than the Bruins, who have a significantly worse penalty kill than the Canes.