Carolina Hurricanes’ Powerplay Could Be Key to Successful Season

Needless to say, the Carolina Hurricanes did not have the start to the season that they were hoping for. The only team in the league to go winless in the month of October, the Hurricanes appeared to be heading straight for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. However, the team’s play in November has put a temporarily halt at the look to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. After starting the season 0-6-2, the Carolina Hurricanes have put together a point streak in November (5-0-1) that has the team slowly, but surely, moving up in the standings.

Bill Peters and Building an Identity

Much of the credit has to be given to rookie head coach, Bill Peters. Even in the midst of the long losing streak, Peters never gave up on the gameplan. He spent many postgame interviews discussing how the team is building an identity, and how, in establishing that identity, growing pains were to be expected. Peters even went as far as to bench Alex Semin because he didn’t “play the game properly.” Jeff Skinner received a demotion to the 4th line shortly after for similar reasons.

As the year moved from October to November, something seemed to click. Suddenly, the players were skating harder, fighting for the puck, and the team began to finish games in the win column. With a win against Calgary on Monday night, the Hurricanes are just slightly below .500, but the team is trending upward. After the game, Carolina goaltender Cam Ward summed up his team’s success of late to Raleigh’s News and Observer.

“We’re playing with a lot more consistency and a lot more pace,” said Ward, who had 22 saves in winning his fifth in a row. “That’s a compliment to the coaching staff, but the players have to go out there and execute, and we’ve been doing that.”

Monday’s game also brought a new wrinkle in Peters’ gameplan. It’s easy to shuffle lines and criticize players in losses, but it is a much more difficult task to do in victories. With Carolina holding a 3-1 lead early in the third period, Peters decided he did not like the effort put forth by some of the players and called a quickly snuff out any chance of Calgary gaining momentum.

“He felt like a lot of guys were watching and not playing the game,” Zach Boychuk said. “It’s nice having a lead but you have to keep your foot on the gas pedal.”

Shortly after the timeout, Tim Gleason added a 4th goal for the Hurricanes, effectively ending the game and allowing the team to earn 11 out of a possible 12 points in the month of November. Carolina’s turnaround has not only been noticed by fans of the organization, but they have also begun to draw attention on the national scale as well

The Powerplay is the Key

If there is one flaw in Carolina’s successful play of late, it is the powerplay. It should come as no surprise to those that have followed the team. Carolina has had a historically poor powerplay. The last five years, their ranking league-wide has been 28th, 27th, 20th, 24th, and 22nd. For whatever reason, the organization has had shockingly poor powerplay units, despite having talented players on the roster. The likes of Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin and Joni Pitkanen should not have performed so poorly with the man-advantage.

Shortly after hiring Peters, the powerplay was addressed by the coach. More specifically, Eric Staal’s performance on the powerplay last year was the target of Peters’ ire.

Since the last time Carolina made the playoffs, back in the 08-09 season, Staals’ powerplay goals have steadily decreased, going from 13 in 09-10, to 12, 7, 3, and finally, the “unacceptable” 1 goal last year.

This year, the powerplay has produced at 20%, good enough for 16th in the league. However, that number is a bit misleading. The team has scored 10 powerplay goals on 50 attempts, but the powerplay goals they’ve scored have rarely come as the result of a well-executed powerplay. Instead, the goals have been the result of individual efforts or poor play from the opposing goaltender.

Take the recent home-and-home against the Columbus Blue Jackets, for example. In the first game, Carolina went 0 for 5 with the man-advantage, with 13 shots over the five powerplay opportunities. Though the first few attempts looked decent, by the 4th and 5th opportunity, Carolina spent more time chasing the puck than creating scoring chances. In the second game, Carolina was once again held scoreless on the powerplay, until an opportunity presented itself in overtime.

After spending most of the powerplay retrieving the puck out of their own zone, Carolina was fortunate enough to catch Columbus on a line change. Eric Staal quickly fired the puck to Elias Lindholm, who played the two-on-one perfectly and beat Curtis McElhinney for the game-winning powerplay goal, allowing Carolina to finish the night 1-for-7 on the powerplay.

Though the question is never how the goals are scored, only how many, Carolina’s “success” on the powerplay has had very little to do with establishing possession in the zone and quickly moving the puck to create scoring chances. Lindholm’s goal could have just as easily been scored at even-strength, having very little to do with the extra man on the ice.

The same applied in Carolina’s victory on Monday night. Though Justin Faulk’s goal was on the powerplay, it came as a result of an individual effort by Faulk and a poor goal allowed by Calgary goaltender Jonas Hiller. Carolina finished the night 1 for 3 with the man-advantage, but for all intents and purposes, they were held scoreless on the powerplay once again.

In the end, if Carolina can find their game on the powerplay, this hot streak in November may turn into something more. An 0-6-2 start will be difficult to overcome, but if the Hurricanes are able to successfully convert some of the many powerplay opportunities they are awarded into goals on a consistent basis, it bodes well for the remaining 68 games in the season.