25 Games

There are still a few months left to go in the season, but we are at that point in the season where we can start getting a gauge on how good each team is and how they stand in comparison to everyone else. For the Hurricanes, they have gotten off to a rocky start this year with 10-10-5 record and currently post a brutal -17 goal differential. However, they are in decent shape compared to the rest of the Metropolitan Division despite their mediocre start. They are only one point behind the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals for second place in the division and still have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs if they can sustain this. 

The Canes are in a position where their season can go in either direction because a decent run or winning streak can put them right in the thick of playoff contention. On the other hand, a bad losing streak can easily put them into lottery territory, especially with how weak the Metropolitan Division is right now. This is where looking at the underlying numbers can come in handy, as they should give us an idea of how the rest of Carolina's season can go. Are the Hurricanes on the verge of a winning streak or are they prone to regress even further?

Unfortunately, the numbers don't have a lot of positive things to say about how the Hurricanes have been playing this year. I've mentioned countless times that they have been a bad possession team and it's very tough to make the playoffs if you spent most games playing in your own zone. Some teams are able to get passed it if they have elite goaltending or amazing goal-scorers, but the Hurricanes have neither right now, so it might be a tough road ahead if things don't improve. Here's what their ability to control possession looks like through 25 games:

Carolina has controlled under 50% of the shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring chances for a good chunk of the season and they are well below that mark in all three categories right now. The only one where they have been somewhat decent in is shot attempts and that has really declined over the past 7-8 games or so. The most concerning thing about this graph is how little of the scoring chances Carolina has been able to control this year. I've mentioned a few times that the Canes have done a decent job of preventing scoring chances, but they struggle to create any of their own and as a result, they have controlled only 45-47% of the 5v5 scoring chances this year. Most coaching staffs will put more of a focus on scoring chances rather than shots or possession when it comes to analytics, but if you look at the graph, it's pretty easy to see the correlation between all three categories with how much the lines follow each other. Carolina's ability to control possession and shots might be a little better than chances, but the pattern for all three has stayed relatively the same.

The most frustrating thing about the way the Hurricanes have played this year is that they were a strong possession team for most of last year and their season fell down the drain because of terrible shooting luck, injuries, special teams and goaltending. Why has their five-on-five play fallen off so much in such a short period of time? There has been somewhat of a roster turnover from last year but most of the core pieces are still intact, so it's tough to figure out why the Hurricanes have regressed so much from last season, at least in terms of their ability to drive the play. A game-by-game look at their numbers does reveal some interesting things, though.

The Hurricanes have won the possession battle in only six games this year. That is pretty bad, but they were actually playing most of their opponents close for a good prtion of the year. They only started getting dominated at even strength on a regular basis over the last six games, the win over Ottawa being the exception. Prior to that, they were only outshot by 10 in only two games and were barely losing the possession battle. What happened six games ago? That was when someone named Alexander Semin got injured and he was Carolina's best territorial player. He also logs a ton of minutes, so it's easy to see why the Hurricanes even strength play went down the toilet after he got hurt.

With that said, there is still a lot of room for improvement, as the Hurricanes were getting outshot even with him in the lineup and the team's forward depth is still very poor. Losing an elite player like Semin and a goal-scorer of Jeff Skinner's caliber is tough to make up for, but this team always seems to have trouble making adjustments whenever any sort of significant injury happens and the lack of depth is a big reason for that. They had the same problems last season when Pitkanen, Skinner, Semin & Faulk all missed time with injuries.

The Hurricanes also have had the burden of playing some tough teams right out of the gate and it was really tough on them the last couple of weeks. The only teams they have won the possession battle against were Philadelphia (x2), Toronto, the Islanders, Anaheim & Ottawa. In other words, teams who have also been poor at controlling even strength play and they'll see more of these teams within the next month with games against Nashville, Toronto, Columbus, Edmonton and Calgary on the horizon. The Hurricanes getting outplayed by stronger teams is very concerning because it shows that this club is behind where they should be right now, but the fact that they've gotten out of the first 25 games with a record of 10-10-5 while playing against a lot of potential playoff teams isn't the worst thing in the world.

The next month is going to be pretty important for the Hurricanes because they are going to be playing against some teams who they should be able to at least break even against. If they can't do that and the losses begin to pile up, then it's probably time to panic. On the other hand, if they can make it to 2014 with a winning record and/or improve their even strength play, the Canes should remain in decent shape, depending on how the rest of the Metropolitan Division shakes out.

25 Games

The Hurricanes 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders last Saturday marked game number 25 for Kirk Muller as the Hurricanes new coach. Why is that important? Because Paul Maurice was fired after game 25 (4-3 loss to Ottawa in late Nov.) and we can now reasonably compare what the two have done as the Canes bench boss. The consensus among fans is that the team is playing better under Muller and that he should be the coach of the future. The question is, just how much better are the Canes playing under Muller than Maurice. Studies show that teams who fire coaches mid-season will improve by only one win for the rest of the year. Is Muller an exception? Find out after the jump.

Carolina had a record of 8-13-4 and had earned 20 points in the standings when Maurice was fired. Under Muller, the Canes are 9-11-5 which is only one win better than what they were with Maurice as coach. They have also been involved in fourteen one-goal games under Muller and have lost all but four of them, two of which were via the shootout so you could make the argument that Muller’s gotten some bad luck in his first 25 games. While that might be true, you also have to make the same case for Maurice since his record in one goal games was 3-8 with two losses coming in the shootout and four in overtime. Also, the Canes haven’t exactly been outplaying their opponents under Muller anymore than they were when Maurice was here.

Fenclose Corsi close Chance% ES Sv% ES Shooting%
Maurice 0.482 0.485 0.482 0.91 7.0%
Muller first 25 games
0.479 0.484 0.493 0.917 7.1%

Fenclose = Fenwick% when the game is close, Corsi close = Corsi% when the team is close, Chance% = even strength scoring chance%, ES Sv% = Canes even strength save percentage, ES Shooting% = even strength shooting percentage

There are two things that have improved under Muller; the team’s scoring chance rate and their save percentage. Their scoring chances improving by .10 is great news but their underlying numbers haven’t changed that much. Cam Ward standing on his head for all of January probably helped us win a couple more games than we should have, too. I like Muller and agree with most of his decisions but a mid-season coaching change isn’t going to completely right the ship. It’s going to take some time for players to adjust to his system perfectly and probably a few roster changes along with that. Muller has also been without the services of Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Skinner during his first 25 games as coach and those are two big names but adding those two into the lineup isn’t going to automatically make us a winning team again.

Muller’s doing the right things by giving younger players like Faulk, Samson, Dalpe and Bowman more ice-time and playing matchups wisely, because that’s what a team in rebuilding mode needs to do but Muller can’t control how much talent he has on the team. The fact of the matter is that the team’s overall talent level is pretty low compared to teams who are going to the playoffs and Muller can only make do with what he has. We’ve seen plenty of good things, though.

Staal is looking like his usual-self (although he was abysmally unlucky during November), Justin Faulk is playing leaps and bounds above what we expected from him, Brandon Sutter has been emerging as one of the top defensive forwards in the league and we’ve seen some great play out of the call-ups from Charlotte like Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson. I think it is safe to say that Muller is getting plenty of results out of this roster but there’s only so much that we can expect from them at the moment. Next year, when we have some new players and the younger guys have a year of experience under their belts, I hope we can see some bigger improvements in the team’s underlying numbers and I think we will.