It’s really never a good policy to assess a team purely on statistics. You can get away with this in baseball where Sabermetrics are a thing. Hockey is different because one needs to balance out the math with what folks call ‘the intangibles’ — a made-up term that just means ‘opinions formed on the basis of an anecdote.’
When it comes to the tumultuous season the Carolina Hurricanes have been having these intangibles sometimes have to give way to sweet lady algebra because the statistics can paint a pretty clear picture of what’s going on.
With their issues in overtime recently, a quick look over the stats sheet will show a glaring hole in the Hurricanes’ overall game-plan execution. None is lit up brighter than their inability to score in the first period.
When Carolina scores first, they have won seven times — including twice in overtime. With a .778 wins percentage when scoring first, one can see why they have success in this scenario. In fact, Carolina has never lost after securing the lead at the end of the first. Six times they’ve won then and are .857 in that column.
As logic would dictate, Carolina is a hot mess when trailing after the first with nine losses and a .214 win percentage. They’ve won three times when trailing after one which shockingly puts them sixth in the league in that column. This isn’t anything to be proud of simply because they shouldn’t have to try and come away with a win in that situation. They shouldn’t even be in that situation when being fully aware of their .778 and zero losses when leading after one.
Overtime is frightening as well with a pair of overtime losses in the last five games. In fact they’ve dropped seven road games in overtime and four at home. Six of those overtime losses come when they’ve been outshot. Four losses come when they’ve trailed after two, and only once have they won in overtime when going into the third with the lead.
The solution to this comes from breaking down the December 3 win over the Washington Capitals. First and foremost, they came out of the gates like a boss, scoring first and denying any answer the rest of the period. Three goals in the second — two of them at even strength — and continuing to deny goals was what sealed the deal there. Furthermore, Carolina went three-for-eight on even strength scoring chances while outshooting Washington 32-27.
Here’s a fun fact: Carolina is .692 when outshooting an opponent– second best in the NHL.
Carolina has only 13 goals-for in the first period which is second worst in the league — only better than the tragic Buffalo Sabres. Yet they’ve given up 26 goals in both the first and second periods. Look at that then look at the 38 goals-for in the second, and you see that Carolina has become a team of desperate scrambles.
Controlling the action being crucial to cranking out wins is not new information in the NHL. In fact, it is learned right after how many periods are in a game. To win, a team must be dominant more often than they are reactionary. For a squad who has made a name for themselves as the ‘Cardiac Canes’ due to late-game heroics, it doesn’t take a mathematics degree to see this persona isn’t working.
Numbers don’t lie, and it’s hard to believe head coach Kirk Muller hasn’t seen what we see. This isn’t String Theory — it’s pretty obvious. The trick now is to get players to apply the math to real life on the ice.