A few days ago, I wrote on the subject of PDO and how it has gone downhill for the Hurricanes over these last few weeks. It basically showed that the Hurricanes have been going through a stretch of awful luck lately and that the team is better than what they have showed during this losing streak. In a full season, PDO regresses toward the mean of 1.000 for most teams, but this is obviously not a normal season and there was bound to be some fluky things happening. Take the Toronto Maple Leafs for instance, they are currently shooting at over 10% at even strength and while that will probably crash back down to Earth in a full year, it's enough to propel them into the playoffs now. Same with the Ottawa Senators, who have a team save percentage of over .930 and are in good position to make the playoffs despite losing their two best players. If not for their unreal goaltending, they probably wouldn't be in this situation. Luck is going to play a huge factor this year, which is why I'm hestiant to overreact to whatever the results are.
That being said, the Hurricanes recent skid is something that would get them into trouble even during a full-season. Every team has 8-9 game stretches where they can't buy a goal or go through a bad losing streak, but when you win only one game out of 13, that's going to put you in a hole no matter what. The Hurricanes underlying numbers from this season might show that they are a good team, but it's hard to call what we are seeing right now a "good team that's just unlucky." There has to be more to it than this.
To see how much of the Hurricanes struggles are related to terrible luck, let's talk about the two components of PDO: Even strength shooting and save percentage. Shooting luck is something that's largely variable around the entire league. There aren't many teams who can sustain high shooting percentages over a full year, which is one of the reasons why PDO is said to normalize. Save percentage, however, is another story. A team with elite goaltending is likely going to have a higher PDO while a team with replacement level goaltending will likely have a lower PDO. How sustainable goaltending is from year-to-year is up for debate but it can have a big impact on one year, especially this season.
In my previous article on PDO, you might remember that I outlined the team's injuries and showed how much their PDO shifted when it happened. The two biggest injuries on there were the ones to goaltender Cam Ward & Dan Ellis. When Cam Ward went down, I thought this team would be okay because they didn't need Ellis or Peters to stand on their heads, they just needed them to not completely suck. They were able to do that for a short time but things went south after Ellis got injured in the game against New Jersey a few weeks ago.
When the Hurricanes started their losing streak (Game 26), goaltending was not a problem. Ellis and Peters were putting up good enough numbers to keep the Hurricanes in their games and they did pretty much everything Ward was able to do for most of the year. After Ellis got hurt (Game 30), however, their numbers took a nose-dive. The team rushing Ellis back from his injury probably didn't help either since he has been just horrible since then. Ward suffered a similar injury in 2009 and it took him a month to return. I'm not sure why they thought Ellis would be any different.
Finding a suitable back-up for Ward has been a problem for as long as he has been Carolina's starter and the team thought they had that with Ellis this year. He started off the year strong and put together quality performances in seven of his first ten starts. Since then, he hasn't been able to do it once and has been lit up for three or more goals in every game. It's clear that he hasn't been himself since the injury and while his career numbers don't paint a good picture, he could be a competent back-up as soon as he heals up. Justin Peters is another story.
Peters' status as an NHL-er was unkonwn entering this year but now that we're seeing more of him I think we can come close to concluding that he isn't very good. I don't want to close the book on a goalie who has faced fewer than 1500 shots in his career, but his career numbers aren't promising.
If the line at the end of the graph wasn't obvious enough, Peters has been just awful recently and he has given the Hurricanes only three quality starts in 13 apperances this year and only one since Ellis got hurt. Again, the Hurricanes did not need Peters and Ellis to steal games for them, they just needed these two to give them average to above-average goaltending until Ward's return. They haven't been able to do that in a couple of weeks.
So yes, the Hurricanes abysmal goaltending over the last six or seven games has played a role in their bad PDO. As awful as Peters & Ellis have been, getting Ward back would likely have given them maybe one or two extra wins because their skaters have been unable to find the back of the net during even strength play, which brings us to the other factor of PDO.
This is the Hurricanes shooting percentage compared to their opponent's. The Hurricanes were riding an unsustainably high shooting percentage for a brief part of the season, most of which was due to their first line catching fire, and that's cooled down since then. My hope was that the powerplay would pick up and for their other lines to pitch in to help make up for that regression, you can see here that neither of those things happened. The Canes have been scoring on only 2-6% of the shots they've been taking, which seems like it should pick up but it's too late in the season for anyone to do anything about it. The terrible recent performance from their goaltenders has only added salt into the wound and made every game twice as excrutiating to watch for the fanbase.
I think the team's shooting percentage is something that should rebound with time, in my opinion. They've been controlling play too much at times to not get rewarded for it and their offensive numbers should look better than they do now, especially the second line. There isn't much they can do about the goaltending, though. Ellis is injured again and unless Peters has a 2012-like run, they'll probably be in a lot of games where they give up three or more goals. This isn't to put the entire blame on Peters because the team's defense has been bad all season, but it's hard to have much confidence in him at this point.
To sum things up, it's fair to say that luck and injuries have played a role in the Canes going on this recent skid. The problem itself isn't that they are unlucky, but these have just magnified the issues that the team's had all year. The defense has been bad, they've had little scoring depth, their special teams have been awful and the defense corps in general was filled with a lot of uncertanties. One of the things I feared about this season is that GM Jim Rutherford built this team's defense in a very risky fashion. If everything went to plan, the Canes would have been fine but one injury or setback could throw the entire train off the tracks and just about everything has gone wrong for this team and their flaws have been exposed in a huge way.
The Hurricanes aren't this bad, but they had a lot of issues that were going to need to be addressed in the off-season regardless of what happened. Now all we can do is wait and see what happens over these next few months.