Rarely is it ever a good idea to evaluate any NHL team purely on statistics. There’s just too many things that happen on and off the ice that can influence stats. A fair balance between quantification and qualification is a good policy for anyone needing to rank a team outside of Fantasy Hockey.
However, in taking a look at the Carolina Hurricanes‘ stat sheets for the season so far, it raises some interesting questions in some unexpected areas. Sometimes, pouring over statistics can steer a fan, or even coach, into a productive direction.
While watching film, it’s easy to say the Hurricanes’ defense is having issues. Yet when taking a look at the defensive stat sheets, Carolina is 11th in the league in Total Hits (Hts) with 133. They’re also 14th in the league on Blocked Shots (BkS) with 78. Sitting right around the league average in these two categories would bring hope, right? There’s more.
Carolina’s total Takeaways (TkA) is 16, good for 14th in the league. Giveaways (GvA) rank them 23rd with eight. This means they’re breaking up passes more than theirs are broken up. Remember where we said stats would fail you sometimes? There’s no real quantifier for when these TkA and GvA occurred. Watching film you’d see that many of the GvA came in crucial moments in the attacking and neutral zone, preventing the offense from getting proper penetration. TkA often occur at random moments and have yet to prevent monster breakaway goals on Cam Ward.
Defense is nice, however, there’s nothing on the scoreboard for it, right? Offense is where things get very real in a hurry.
Carolina is averaging 2.17 Goals Per Game (G/G) and 2.83 Goals Against Per Game (GA/G). This begins to tie things together when taking the defensive stats into context. The Hurricanes sit at 20th in the league in GA/G, and their next three opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, and New York Islanders combine for a GA/G of 2.43. This is promising with the 2.17 G/G Carolina is putting up.
It gets fun when you see that when Trailing After 1st Period (TR1%), Chicago has not won yet. Carolina is .250 TR1%. Yet, Chicago has allowed four goals in the first period this season, while Carolina has allowed just three. Strike hard, strike first against Chicago (which they’re not used to), and the upset is entirely possible. A win over Chicago can give the confidence boost going into the Toronto and New York games, where this statistic is less promising.
Statistics also can show where some players are excelling, and where some are acting as dead weight.
Justin Faulk is the clear Average Time On Ice per Game (TOI/G) and Average Shifts Per Game (Sft/G) leader, with 25:05 and 29.5, respectively. However, he has a pedestrian two TkA and is 4th on the team in Missed Shots (MsS) with six, having yet to record a goal. Coupled with his three GvA and the fact that he’s skating at a minus-three, Faulk needs to be on a new defensive pairing, have less TOI/G, and find where his groove has gone along with how to get it back.
Faceoffs are a huge area of concern on a team level, as they are 28th in the league on Faceoff Percentage (FO%) with 44.1 percent. However, Eric and Jordan Staal have taken a combined 243 faceoffs and have won 105 of them. Jordan actually takes 31.7 percent of the team’s faceoffs. This is a very promising area, as it’s clear where the clutch performance in pressure situations will come from.
Finally, there is the curious case of Nathan Gerbe and Jeff Skinner. Gerbe and Skinner lead the team with a combined 12 pts. Gerbe also leads the team in Shots Taken (S) with 25. It’s inconceivable that Gerbe would only be skating at a +/-0, and averaging 18:15 TOI/G (Skinner is at a plus-four, incidentally). Head coach Kirk Muller would do well to play Gerbe more often and in more situations. He and Skinner are the core of the team’s offense and should lead the forwards until the Staal brothers and Alexander Semin wake their sticks up.
Statistics can be a good time. Sometimes its a lot of fun to take a good hard look at the numbers as a break from the subjectivity of overall performance. It’s clear the Hurricanes have mostly the numbers to perform and need only to transfer these numbers into on-ice situations that will be more advantageous to the team.