Special teams are something that can give clubs a big boost and for the Hurricanes it's been the exact opposite. Both their power play and penalty kill are ranked in the bottom-third of the league and their Special Team Index (PP% + PK%) is the third worst in the NHL. For reference, most teams strive to have a STI of at least 100 and the Hurricanes are obviously well below that point and most of it stems from their awful power play. Only the Florida Panthers are ranked worse than the Hurricanes in terms of power play percentage and it seems to be getting worse as the year goes along. Not only are they not scoring on the power play, but they are also giving up shorthanded chances by the numbers and have allowed five goals with the man advantage in the last seven games.
It might be too late in the season for it to make a difference but when things are this bad, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Figuring out where the Hurricanes power play problems stem from is a tall order because there are so many things wrong with it. On paper, this shouldn't be the second worst in the NHL and head coach Kirk Muller was known for working wonders with the Montreal Canadiens power play when he was an assistant coach there. Despite that, the Hurricanes can't get anything going when they have the man advantage and it hasn't seen much of an improvement even after the addition of John-Michael Liles.
A couple of months ago, I looked at some of the things that might be troubling the Hurricanes power play and most of their problems stemmed from bad execution (slow puck movement, bad passing, etc.) and some questionable personnel decisions (Eric Staal at the point with Gerbe in front of the net). Since then, the power play has gotten worse and after the jump, we'll look one of the factors driving this. That being their neutral zone play and how they enter the offensive zone.
In the end, I think the Hurricanes power play struggles come down to execution because the team's passing always seems so off and one mishandled pass or bobbled puck is usually enough to throw everything out of rhythm. After that, the Hurricanes struggled to get any plays set up and spend the rest of the power play either chasing pucks down or passing the puck around the perimeter without getting many shots through. Part of the problem here is their entries.
This is something I looked into in the previous post on the power play and I determined that while entries weren't a huge problem, there was room for improvement. It's been shown that teams generate more shots off controlled entries than they do by dumping the puck in and you'd expect teams to carry it in more often on the power play because there's more open ice. That and giving up possession of the puck at the blue line seems like wasting time when you're working against the clock. I'm sure some teams are better at winning puck battles and forcing turnovers down low, but the Hurricanes haven't been great at this at even strength so it seems like a bad idea to try this on the power play.
Despite that, we've seen a return to dump-and-chase on the power play over the last 20 games or so.
The Hurricanes are still dumping the puck in more times than not, but there's been a big shift in their strategy as the season has gone on. They were largely a dump-and-chase team with the man advantage for a stretch of about 10-games and then shifted to more of a puck-possession style of play around 31. Now, they've been dumping the puck in more and the results have gotten worse. It's not a coincidence that they were creating more shots around the time when they started carrying the puck in more on the power play.
Stats taken from Extra Skater
Carolina saw an enormous spike in the number of shots they were creating for every two minutes on the power play and it happened around the time they started carrying the puck into the zone more often, as opposed to dumping it in. They were also creating less than one shot per 2 minutes on the man advantage when they were carrying the puck in about 30% of the time. Some might cite poor work ethic as the reason for the Hurricanes struggles with dump-and-chase, but it wouldn't surprise me if other teams had similar results. Again, unless you're a team that excels at forcing turnovers on the forecheck, surrendering possession at the blue line on the power play seems kind of pointless, especially with all of the open ice.
It seems extremely pointless for the Hurricanes to do this on the power play because their players seem better equipped to gain the blue line with speed and set up plays from there instead of chasing pucks down in the offensive zone. It's been pretty obvious all year and their power play numbers aren't much different from what they've posted at even strength.
I can't imagine other team's numbers looking that different from the Hurricanes (at least in terms of them creating more shots off dump-ins), but it does make you wonder why the Canes were trying to play dump-and-chase on the power play for so long when it wasn't working. They're still carrying the puck in more times than not (57.1% Carry-ins on the year), but the fact that they are reverting back to dump-and-chase worries me because that's when the power play was at its worst. I'd also like to know where the Hurricanes power play ranks in terms of carry-ins because while 57.1% would be an excellent ratio at even strength, I think most teams try to carry it in more on the power play for reasons listed above.
Something I pointed out in my earlier breakdown of the power play was that the team's defense resorted to dumping the puck in a lot more than the forwards and it's something that has continued over the last couple of months.
Ryan Murphy is the only defenseman on the team carrying the puck in more than 50% of the time and while it hasn't resulted in much for him, it might be something the team should keep trying because having Liles & Sekera dump the puck in hasn't exactly been resulting in much either. Speaking of which, this is one area where Liles has been a big disappointment. He has been great at even strength, but he hasn't done much on the power play or helped out with the team's entries at all. I'm not sure how much of it relates to the system (defensemen getting the puck deep might be part of Muller's plan), but he hasn't been better than Faulk in this area and his results are even worse.
As for the forwards, most of them are doing a pretty good job of gaining the line with control and creating offense once they gain the line and the ones who aren't either don't have many entries (Nash & Tlusty) or aren't on the team anymore (Ruutu), so I'm not sure what else to say about them. Lindholm's are very encouraging, but he also doesn't have many entries and could regress as the year ends. Shifting the focus in the neutral zone from Eric Staal & the defense to someone like Alexander Semin could help, though. Not that Staal is the problem with the PP, but the Canes are producing more shots off entries by Semin and he has the skillset to take over a power play if needed.
With all that said, entries are only part of the problem and I'll have a couple more breakdowns coming over the next couple of days.