Carolina Hurricanes: The Impact of Improved Special Teams

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19: Carolina Hurricanes Center Sebastian Aho (20) waits to face off during a regular season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on December 19, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19: Carolina Hurricanes Center Sebastian Aho (20) waits to face off during a regular season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes on December 19, 2019 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Going 4-0-1 on their five game Western Conference road trip, the Carolina Hurricanes seem to be firing on all cylinders right now. What role has special teams played in their recent success?

Kicking off a 7,000 mile road trip with a matchup against the Edmonton Oilers back on December 10th, the Carolina Hurricanes knew they were in for a tough Western Conference swing against some elite offensive teams. Finishing the road trip off against Colorado Thursday night, they return home to Raleigh with nine of the possible ten points.

During the five game trip they faced two of the top power play teams statistically in the entire league. With Edmonton leading the way with an impress 30.3% success rate and Vancouver not far behind with a 25.1 success rate, the Hurricanes penalty kill was going to be crucial if they wanted to come away with two points each and every night.

Starting the trip in Edmonton, Alberta, the Hurricanes dominated the special teams battle in a 6-3 victory. Converting on three out four power play opportunities, Carolina took full advantage of their chances. Although Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for three assists, the Canes did a good job at shutting the dynamic duo and the rest of the Oilers down, killing off four out of Edmonton power plays.

Their momentum continued into Vancouver when the Hurricanes and Canucks were neck and neck in a 1-0 OT loss, their only loss of the trip. Getting into penalty trouble early on, the Hurricanes managed to kill off all five of Vancouver’s power play opportunities. While they didn’t convert on any of their chances, their kill kept them in early in route to a point.

The script was the same in Calgary. Killing off all five of the Flames chances, their PK was superb once again and proved to be the difference maker in the first period. While the PK did an impressive job at shutting down any chance against, Warren Foegele and his two short handed goals propelled the team to a 4-0 shutout victory, in a game where they came out extremely flat.

For the fourth game of the trip the Hurricanes were facing off against a Jets team that boast a deadly man advantage. Entering the contest, Winnipeg was fresh off a game where they converted on three of their five PP chances versus the Flyers. While the Jets found the back of the net on one of their opportunities, the Hurricanes came on top the special teams battle once again, going two for two on the power play.

In the fifth and final game of the trip the Carolina Hurricanes once again ran into a bit of penalty trouble. Having to kill off six penalties against the Colorado Avalanche, the PK had to come up clutch yet again. Although they would surrender a single PP goal, given the offensive weapons the Avs have, the kill remained a major bright spot in an outstanding road trip.

Year Long Success

Looking back on the trip, Carolina finished the five game set with an impressive six PP goals in seventeen chances, good for a 35% success rate. On the flip side, they killed off 20 of 23 on the PK, good for an 87% success rate. You’d want your team’s special team percentages to add up to 100% if they’re going to any chance at being near the top half of the standings.

With a combined percentage of 122% on the trip, plus an additional 2 SH goals in the process, it’s rather clear why the Hurricanes are returning home with nine of the possible ten points.

As it stands now, both of the team’s special teams are in the top five. Killing off 85.8% of penalties on the year, only behind San Jose who has killed of 88.3%, the penalty kill has be a highlight of the first half of the season. Only giving up 18 opponent PP goals all year long, the Hurricanes are giving themselves a chance to win every night.

To have a successful PK you’re going to need your goaltenders to be the best penalty killers. With Petr Mrazek and James Reimer standing on their heads at times, they’re both a big reason for the latest win streak.

Shutting the door early in games where they’ve gotten off to a slow start or penalty trouble in the first periods, both goalies have settled the game down, especially Reimer on the road lately, giving the forwards and defenseman a chance to get their skating legs under them.

On top of shutting down top power play units, the Canes have been creating short handed chances for themselves almost every game. Sitting atop the league with seven SH markers, with Sebastian Aho leading the lead with three short handed tallies, Carolina has been known to take advantage when opposing defenseman mishandle the puck or pinch at the offensive blue line at inopportune times.

Converting on 23.6% of their own power plays, the Hurricanes have two competing PP units right now. In what has been a sore spot for the team the past couple of seasons, only averaging a success rate of 19.13% over the past three years, offseason additions and an overall increased skill level has led to a turnaround in this important aspect of the game. Something that was the cause for a lot of missed points in the standings before how now led to the Canes being the one coming out on too in few close games.

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The key to any man advantage is puck possession. Winning 59.9% of face-offs, they’ve certainly given themselves a chance to establish pressure in the offensive zone. With young star Andrei Svechnikov leading the way with 5 power play goals, and Teuvo Teravainen leading the team with power play assists (13) and points (15) it appears as if the man advantage struggles of Hurricanes’ past are hopefully in the rearview mirror.

To make things even better for the Canes, offseason acquisition Erik Haula looks to be chomping at the bit to get back into the line up. With five PP points in 16 games, three goals and two assists, his return will create another option of the man advantage up his return.

At the same time, Jake Gardiner, who looks to be getting more and more comfortable with his new team with every game, will make the PP even more dangerous once he starts to heat up.

At the end of the day it is rather refreshing to see the Hurricanes team having success with their special teams. Far too often we’ve seen the team struggle in this aspect of the game in years past and it has been quite frustrating to stay the least. With their recent string of elite play, hopefully this is a sign that the Canes are for real and ready to compete for the Stanley Cup consistently.

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Question for CC Readers: What do you think is the main reason for the Carolina Hurricanes recent special teams success?