There are a lot of things about hockey that are inordinately hard to describe to others once you understand them yourself. One of those ideas is the plus/minus statistic. While it’s disturbingly tough to explain, it’s an absolutely vital stat to properly assess or analyze any player.
To unfairly simplify it, a plus/minus is calculated based on goals for and against whenever a player is on the ice. Should his team score while he’s on the ice, he gets a plus-one. Should his team get scored on, he gets a minus-one. Over the long run, if a skater has more goals-for during his shifts, he is ‘skating in the plus’. Conversely, if there are more goals-against during his shifts, he is ‘skating in the minus.’ It’s all basically one big story problem.
While Carolina Hurricanes fans have loudly and publicly groused about the team’s awful power play and the increasingly soap opera-esqe goaltending situation — plus/minus is not something that is being brought up a whole lot. This is confusing, since it’s quite a telling statistic and possibly the key to Carolina’s lukewarm performance in December.
Carolina currently has only nine players skating in the plus, and none of them more than a plus-six. Also surprising is that other than Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal, none of them are on the top two lines. Even more disturbing is that captain Eric Staal – though surging lately — is languishing at a minus-nine.
Alexander Semin, the big-time supposed savior of the second line? Minus-seven. Despite sitting close to the top of the team leaders in goals, Jiri Tlusty remains at minus-four. Speaking of Skinner, the team’s goals leader (12)? Only a plus-one.
What’s really weird about this is that Carolina isn’t really giving up a whole lot of goals against. Other than their four-on-four and empty net columns, the Hurricanes are close to the middle of the heap when it comes to goals- against. A 2.72 team GAA isn’t horrible. It’s not great, but it’s no reason to head for the hills.
However, it’s plus/minus and not just minus. The Hurricanes are averaging merely 2.28 goals for per game, having only lit the lamp 82 times in in 36 games. In every scoring column, they’re near the bottom of the league. Furthermore, they have nine one-goal wins and eight overtime wins.
Solving this plus/minus situation is key to clearing up the deficiency in the scoring and wins column. Yes, the Hurricanes need to give up fewer goals — that’s obvious. However, they need to start putting a ton more up on the board. While one-goal wins count the same as three-goal wins, it does nothing for morale and how an opponent plays them.
When a team is only putting up an average of 2.28 per game — who is really going to worry about that? Nobody, thats who. Start throwing up more three- and four-goal games, and you’ll get more conservative opponents. Nobody wants to play reactionary hockey. It’s easier to score goals when not defending from an assault.
There’s no reason for a top line to have two skaters in the minus at all. Top-line production is a ‘duh’ moment for any team, with third-line depth possibly being a close second. Carolina has third line production with Tlusty and Riley Nash throwing it down. With that new third line, Tlusty will catch up in a hurry. The more important half — top-line production– is where things are.
Giving up more goals than they score, is no way for a top line to go through life. The power play may have to go on the back burner for a bit while the Hurricanes focus on general goal scoring.