Carolina Hurricanes Season: What Happened? Cam Ward Happened

Feb 21, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) scores a second period goal past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 21, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) scores a second period goal past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

From being a point out of a playoff position to start the year to the bottom of the Metropolitan division, something has gone wrong with the Carolina Hurricanes

Remember when the Carolina Hurricanes sat one point out of the playoffs with like three games in hand?  I know it’s hard to think of those days as the team continues its gentle slide down into the muddy bottom of the Metropolitan river.  But at one point this season the Hurricanes were competing for a playoff spot and actually winning games on a regular basis.  Now, though, the Hurricanes are losing to some of the worst teams in hockey and can’t even put the puck into empty nets.

That leaves Hurricanes’ fans to ask one question, “What happened?”  Some people blame the goaltending, some blame the offense, some blame the defense.  But no one seems to really have any concrete answers for the Hurricanes precipitous fall.  In order to get some, I decided to dive into the numbers behind Carolina’s play this season.

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Let’s See What the Fancy Stats Have to Say

This is a quick overview of the Carolina Hurricanes Corsi For and Against, and Expected Goals for and Against.  Basically what the graphs show us is that while the Canes shots and goals for

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remain the same or increase (which is good), the shots and goals against increase as well (which is bad).  Obviously, letting your opponent get more shots, and more quality, shots against the team will lead to goals.  That’s basically hockey 101.

But the number of goals that keep getting through is something else.  Just look at other teams with much worse Expected Goals per 60 for comparison.  For a refresher Expected Goals measures the quality of shots the team allows while Corsi measures the volume.  I use it as a deflection against those people that argue the quality of shots trumps quantity even though every study shows that it doesn’t.

Carolina is 19th worst in xGA60.  Not great for sure, but there is a third of the NHL teams behind them, yet the Carolina Hurricanes rank dead last in 5v5 SV% at .905.  Dead.  Last.  Let’s put that into perspective and compare the Carolina Hurricanes goaltending to another basement-dwelling team like the Buffalo Sabres.  Take a look at the two teams Expected Goals against per 60 minutes since the start of the new year:

Both teams have had their ups and downs, but overall it evens out to about the same number.  Buffalo has a 2.68 xGA60 and Carolina has a 2.82 xGA60 since the start of the new year.  Again not a huge difference between the two teams in terms of shot quality.  This span of time includes Carolina playing some of their worst hockey of the season.  Now let’s take a look at each team’s starting goaltenders during that time.

Robin Lehner posted a .924 SV% from the start of the year until now, while Cam Ward posted a .887 SV%.  Compare this to Ward’s .916 SV% up until the end of last year.  It basically took the Canes playing some of the best defensive hockey in the league(9th overall in xGA60) to get Ward up to an AVERAGE goaltender at .916 SV%.  Lehner during this time posted a .921 with a similar, if not better by the stats, performing defense in front of him (2.22 xGA60 to Carolina’s 2.33 xGA60).

It’s Time for Ward to GO

I used Buffalo as an example because Robin Lehner isn’t known as an elite goalie.  Could he be shaping up as a certified starter in the NHL?  Sure, but the things is given his uncertain status, Lehner is far outperforming Ward.  There are many other teams that fit this bill as well: Toronto, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Colorado…do you want me to list all thirty teams?

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Because that’s the answer here; every single team has a better 5v5 SV% than the Hurricanes. Even when Carolina limits the quality shots Ward sees he’s still an average goaltender. When the Canes don’t Ward is the worst in the league.  It’s time to stop kidding ourselves that it’s the team in front of Cam that is the problem.  There’s just no denying it anymore.  The sooner Ron Francis realizes that and gets another goalie in here the sooner the Carolina Hurricanes can actually start contending for a playoff spot.