Carolina Hurricanes: Great Penalty Kill, Shame About the Power Play

ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 7: Clark Bishop #64 of the Carolina Hurricanes runs into John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks during the game on December 7, 2018 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - DECEMBER 7: Clark Bishop #64 of the Carolina Hurricanes runs into John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks during the game on December 7, 2018 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Carolina Hurricanes are a odd bunch. They have such talented scorers, yet cannot buy a power play goal most games. How can the team’s penalty kill be so good, when the power play is so bad?

They say that the key to winning hockey games is solid goaltending, a sturdy defence, winning the race to three, and special teams. This Carolina Hurricanes team has, under rookie coach Rod Brind’Amour, continued to have an excellent defense, and has added solid goaltending to the mix thanks to waiver claim Curtis McElhinney and free agent signing Petr Mrazek. In games where the Canes score three goals or more, the team has an astonishing 11-0-2 record.

But what doesn’t this team have? Good special teams. At least, not yet.

The Penalty Kill

The Carolina Hurricanes’ penalty kill wasn’t very good last season. Under Coach Rod, it has improved considerably but has yet to reach the dizzying heights of previous seasons. Last season, the PK was only 24th in the league, posting a 77.49% success rate. In 2016/17 the PK ranked 6th with an 84.16% PK, after finishing 6th in 2015/16 with a slightly better 84.32% PK. We have some work to do, but the PK is now trending upwards, thanks in part to its excellent recent performance.

So far this season, the Canes’ PK is sitting at a respectable 79.07% success rate – good for 17th in the league, and just 0.37% away from being a top-15 PK. Notable teams below the Canes are the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Bill Peters’ Calgary Flames – all of whom you would reasonably expect to feature ahead of the Canes, considering the personnel the Carolina Hurricanes send out on the PK. The Canes do not have a Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Nicklas Backstrom or Elias Lindholm (too soon?) – we send out Jordan Staal, Brock McGinn, Warren Foegele and Jordan Martinook. Yet, that group gets the job done.

One reason for that unassuming collection of forwards killing penalties so well is the defensive pairings on the ice with them. RBA utilises the team’s depth on defense brilliantly, giving Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Calvin de Haan and Justin Faulk plenty of PK time, Trevor van Riemsdyk a spattering of PK time, and generally saving Dougie Hamilton for the PP. It could be argued that less Faulk, more Hamilton could help the PK even more, but Faulk has been one of the most consistent Canes D-men this season, behind perhaps only Jaccob Slavin. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The last four games show just what a good job the collective group is doing on the PK. The PK has gone 13/14 over the last four games, all against Pacific Division teams, which includes shutting out 8/8 Anaheim Ducks powerplays and 4/4 Los Angeles Kings powerplays. The PK is hitting its stride just at the right time and RBA and the PK unit should be praised for their hard work, particularly over those recent weeks. It’s beginning to pay off and keep the team in with a chance of winning games.

Why doesn’t the power play work?

That’s a tough question. To the casual observer, a powerplay featuring the likes of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Micheal Ferland, Justin Williams and Andrei Svechnikov shouldn’t have any issues with getting the job done. Alas, the Canes’ powerplay has struggled all season long, currently sitting at a disappointing 23rd overall and converting on just 15.79% of chances. To be a top-15 powerplay, the Canes would need to convert on 19.52% of chances – so you can see that this team is not even close to being a threat with the extra man.

Previous seasons show that this isn’t a rare occurrence. The Canes finished 22nd overall on the PP last season (18.41%), 21st in 2016/17 (17.75%) and 24th in 2015/16 (16.81%). If the Canes continue to fail to convert their power plays, this will be a new low point for a key area of the game. It is very hard to win in the modern NHL without having at least an average power play.

Why is the power play so bad this season, compared even with previous seasons? The personnel on D hasn’t changed overly, with Hamilton coming in for Hanifin, and Faulk seeing the majority of PP time from the point. In terms of the forward group, the team lost Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm in the summer, who scored 25 power play goals between them over the previous three seasons. Not a huge contribution admittedly, but those goals have not been replaced. Instead, the first power play unit has seen Justin Williams and Jordan Staal receive additional time – and they’ve not been able to score. At all:

The 2015/16 season saw Justin Faulk score 12 times with the man advantage, the last time a Canes player went into double figures on the PP. There has been relatively little change in personnel since then – but perhaps that is what is wrong. The same players have been given extensive ice time for three plus years, and the power play continues to falter.

So perhaps this issue isn’t Coach Rod’s fault – who knew?

What should Rod Brind’Amour do?

The power play needs drastic alteration. A change in personnel is necessary to give the team even a cat in hell’s chance of having an average power play. With a fully-healthy team, a top unit of Svechnikov-Aho-Teravainen-Ferland-Faulk is now a MUST. The second unit needs to welcome back Victor Rask, and can give time to the likes of Warren Foegele, Justin Williams and others. Perhaps a return to having two D would help make the two units less predictable – and RBA could change those units up, moving Teuvo to PP2 and bringing in Pesce to PP1 to help disguise the inevitable Faulk-bombs from the point. The reason Faulk scores less than years before is that teams simply know that’s the plan – move the puck around until he can shoot. It’s very easy to defend against, and it’s part of the reason the PP is mired in abject misery.

The penalty kill will miss Jordan Staal while he’s out, but it is performing well at the moment. If the group continues to shut down opponents as it has done in recent weeks, the Canes will continue to climb the rankings and could hit the PK top 10 by the trade deadline. The only thing RBA need do for the PK is pray for Staal to recover safely from his concussion, as fast as mother nature and luck will allow.

So there we have it. Make those changes to the power play, and these Carolina Hurricanes will really start to build some momentum.

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Question for CC readers:

What would YOU do to fix the power play?