The Canes find themselves in a familiar position in February. Well out of a playoff spot, but playing decent hockey for the first time all season. Sure, it’s too late to earn a shot at the playoffs. Even the most optimistic fan doesn’t expect a miracle run. The players certainly don’t, if Ron Hainsey’s quote after the All-Star break is any indication.
“We’re not going to win 32 of the last 36 or whatever, and so be it,” said Hainsey. “But what we have to continue to worry about is what we can control, and that’s playing like we’ve been playing for a couple of weeks now and building up some wins.”
And to their credit, the Canes have been playing some good hockey since the beginning of January. They haven’t won them all, and they’ve lost a few they probably could have won, but there’s been a noticeable improvement in play when comparing last month to October/November.
A Tale as Old as Time
However, there’s one aspect of Carolina’s play that needs a serious re-adjustment, and it’s one that has plagued the Hurricanes for close to a decade now: The powerplay. Hurricane fans will be familiar with this song and dance, because Carolina’s powerplay has been the direct cause of many losses over the past couple of years. In the past five years, Carolina’s powerplay has ranked in the bottom third of the league.
2009-10: 16.9%, Rank 22
2010-11: 15.9%, Rank 24
2011-12: 16.7%, Rank 20
2012-13: 14.6%, Rank 27
2013-14: 14.6%, Rank 28
The team that has had some talented players in their lineup and on the powerplay during that time frame. There’s really no reason why the Staal brothers, Ray Whitney, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Skinner, or Alex Semin shouldn’t be producing with the man-advantage. For many of those players, one would believe the extra time and space would only be beneficial. But it’s never worked out that way.
This year gave so much hope, despite the rough start to the season. Though the team wasn’t winning a lot of games, the powerplay looked to be clicking on a fairly consistent basis. In the first 10 games of the season, the Canes only had two wins, but their powerplay was 7 out of 31, good for a 22.5% rate. Since then, the team has gone 18 out of 122, clicking at a measly 14.7%.
In the first 10 games of the season, the Canes only had two wins, but their powerplay was 7 out of 31, good for a 22.5% rate. Since then, the team has gone 18 out of 122, clicking at a measly 14.7%.
Failing to Take Advantage of the Man-Advantage
Unfortunately, this lack of success on the powerplay is starting to effect the game’s end result. It didn’t really matter as much early in the season, where the powerplay was just one of the many, many failing aspects the team brought to the ice on a nightly basis. But since they have been playing better in 2015, the powerplay sticks out like a sore thumb.
Take the recent game against the Anaheim Ducks. Carolina was holding their own against the Ducks, bringing a 2-2 tie into the third period. The Canes came out of the lockerroom with ready to play, drawing two penalties on the same play just 17 seconds into the period: An interference call on Ryan Getzlaf and a hooking call on Matt Beleskey. Two full minutes of 5-on-3 time, and the Canes managed just 4 shots. Not exactly what the team was hoping for.
Luckily for the Canes, two quick goals immediately after the failed powerplays, the first by Brad Malone and the second by Jordan Staal, put Carolina firmly in the driver’s seat. When the Ducks scored to make it a one-goal game, Carolina was awarded a second 5-on-3 opportunity, this time for 1:47. Once again, the powerplay failed its duty, earning only 2 shots on goal. The Ducks tied the game shortly after that, and won the game seconds into overtime. It was hard to point at anything but the failed powerplay opportunities as the reason for the loss.
“You’ve got to continue to work on [the powerplay] and evaluate your personnel to make sure you have the right guys on it. If they are, then they have to execute better.”
“You’ve got to continue to work on [the powerplay] and evaluate your personnel to make sure you have the right guys on it. If they are, then they have to execute better,” head coach Bill Peters said. “Obviously that’s the difference in the game, right?”
The Canes didn’t perform much better in the next game against Arizona. A 1-1 game early in the first could have been blown wide open with some powerplay success. The Canes were awarded a double minor for high-sticking, and had 8 minutes of powerplay time total throughout the game. They managed only 4 shots on goal with the man-advantage, none of which got by Arizona’s goaltender, Mike Smith.
Special Teams Success and Failure
Special teams have generally been an issue with Carolina over the years. However, credit where credit is due. Peters, Steve Smith and Rod Brindamour have done an excellent job of improving Carolina’s penalty kill. An aspect of the game that was ranked 28th in the league only two years ago, Carolina’s penalty kill is currently ranked #2 in the league, clicking in at over 87%.
If the penalty kill can make such a drastic change in success rate under this new coaching regime, it gives hope that the powerplay could do the same. The tools are all there. Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Alex Semin have all had instances of great production on the powerplay in their career. Justin Faulk has taken great strides in improving his offensive game this year. If Peters and the coaching staff can work on the powerplay for the remainder of the season, and have that success and confidence carry over into next year, the Hurricanes’ special teams could have a bright future.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.