Are Carolina Hurricanes' Special Teams Due for an Improvement?

Mark JonesSenior Analyst IDecember 23, 2013

RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 20: Philipp Grubauer #31 of the Washington Capitals stops a shot by Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes during their NHL game at PNC Arena on December 20, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes' inefficiencies so far in the 2013-14 NHL season can be largely blamed on their special teams, which have proven abysmal across the board.

However, advanced statistics indicate that under-the-radar improvements in both the power play and penalty kill could soon yield tangible results.

RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 01: Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during their NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on December 1, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Gregg Forwerck
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

At the moment, the Hurricanes' special teams picture looks bleaker than Raleigh's holiday weather.

The power play ranks 27th in the NHL with a 12.5 percent conversion rate and is just 4-for-38 (10.5 percent) in the last dozen games.

The penalty kill, meanwhile, ranks 23rd with a 79.5 percent kill rate and has been torched for four goals (on seven appearances) in the last five periods.

Add the two numbers together, and Carolina's overall special teams rating stands at 92.0 percent, third worst in North America. That informal statistic places the 'Canes ahead of only the Islanders (88.6) and Panthers (84.1) and behind even the Sabres (92.8).

Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh, conversely, tops the NHL with a 114.0 rating. The Penguins will face the Hurricanes Friday, once Carolina concludes its meeting with Columbus (101.5, 12th) Monday night.

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 21:  Tom Pyatt #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning shoots the puck on net against Goalie Justin Peters #35 and Manny Malhotra #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on December 21, 2013 in Tampa
Scott Audette/Getty Images

Yet the 'Canes are actually playing much better in non-five-on-five situations than the surface rankings suggest.

According to Extra Skater data, Carolina has a minus-74.8 shot attempt (a.k.a. Corsi) differential per 60 minutes on the penalty kill. That relatively strong play spots them third in the NHL, behind only Philadelphia (minus-66.2) and New Jersey (minus-73.2) and ahead of Pittsburgh (minus-96.4) and league-leading Chicago (minus-87.2), among many others.

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 14:  Tuomo Ruutu #15 of the Carolina Hurricanes attempts to set up for a shot on goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes during the thrid period of the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on December 14, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Hurricanes power play is also marginally better when viewed with an advanced stats lens, as well. Carolina's plus-82.2 power-play shot-attempt differential per 60 minutes ranks 23rd, several ticks higher than their on-paper position.

Add those two numbers together, and the 'Canes are not only in the positive range—plus-7.4—but also in the upper half of the NHL.

Compare the team's performance in special teams shot-attempt differential to every other franchise in the chart below:

Special Teams Shot-Attempt Differential by NHL Team
TeamPower Play Diff.Penalty Kill Diff.Total Diff.
Vancouver Canucks+104.4-76.5+27.9
Boston Bruins+96.1-75.2+20.9
Philadelphia Flyers+84.5-66.2+18.3
San Jose Sharks+109.8-92.1+17.7
New York Rangers+91.3-74.8+16.5
Winnipeg Jets+90.8-76.0+14.8
Los Angeles Kings+91.8-79.4+12.4
Montreal Canadiens+88.1-76.9+11.2
Ottawa Senators+87.0-77.5+9.5
Columbus Blue Jackets+91.7-82.7+9.0
St. Louis Blues+87.4-79.0+8.4
Chicago Blackhawks+94.9-87.2+7.7
Carolina Hurricanes+82.2-74.8+7.4
Minnesota Wild+82.9-75.6+7.3
Detroit Red Wings+90.5-86.0+4.5
Pittsburgh Penguins+99.3-96.4+2.9
Phoenix Coyotes+90.8-94.7-3.9
New York Islanders+85.7-89.8-4.1
Anaheim Ducks+87.6-92.2-4.6
Calgary Flames+77.2-83.5-6.3
Washington Capitals+92.0-99.0-7.0
New Jersey Devils+60.9-73.2-12.3
Florida Panthers+68.5-82.6-14.1
Colorado Avalanche+83.2-98.3-15.1
Toronto Maple Leafs+86.0-102.7-16.7
Nashville Predators+71.2-88.8-17.6
Dallas Stars+84.4-102.3-17.9
Tampa Bay Lightning+70.8-98.5-27.7
Edmonton Oilers+78.3-107.9-29.6
Buffalo Sabres+72.2-103.1-30.9
ExtraSkater.com

What does such a lack of correspondence between Carolina's special teams efficiency and productivity mean?

  • The 'Canes must work on their finishing abilities under pressure.
  • The 'Canes might be due for better luck in the coming weeks or months.

It's hardly a secret that the current squad has fallen far from their old "Cardiac 'Canes" moniker; if their stark impotence to convert chances into goals on the power play doesn't prove that, their 2-8 overtime/shootout record certainly does.

Nonetheless, a much-needed friendlier stretch of bounces might also be awaiting the club—the concept known as regression to the mean is often the best catalyst for a slump-reversing winning streak. 

The Hurricanes' special teams are primed to become an even more prominent storyline as the winter wears on.

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.