Offense wasn't supposed to be a problem for the Hurricanes this year. They arguably the most productive first line in the NHL last season and have enough offensive talent on the roster to outscore some of their other problems. Even when the team was going through a scoring rut in October/November, most said that the offense would sort itself out and it's better for the Canes to focus more on defense. Low and behold, it's now January and the Hurricanes are still among one of the worst teams in the league in terms of goal-scoring.
They've scored only 109 goals on the year, which is good for 24th in the league, rank 23th in the league in goals per game and their stats at even strength aren't much better. During five-on-five situations, only four teams have scored fewer goals and they are one of eight teams with fewer than two goals per 60 minutes. In other words, they've been bad at finishing plays off and it's been tough to figure out what the problem is.
There are still some who believe that the issue will sort itself out because the Hurricanes have one of the lowest shooting percentages in the league. They are converting on a little over 8% of the shots they take and under 7% during five-on-five situations. Regression tells us that they won't stay that unlucky for the entire season and the shooting percentages of players like Eric Staal & Alex Semin should bounce back to their career average. We've already seen a few players start to get hot (Jeff Skinner & Jordan Staal) but that hasn't been enough. Part of that problem is that the Hurricanes haven't been taking a lot of shots or owning the possession battle for most of the year.
When I analyzed the Canes problems after the five-game losing streak, I said that they had roughly 5-6 forwards who were driving possession and not much depth to speak of. Most of those who were driving possession were going through cold streaks and those at the bottom of the roster weren't doing enough to make up for it. Over the last couple of weeks, the Canes have been getting more shots on goal and winning the possession battle in more games. It hasn't been enough to rejuvenate the offense, though.
Things have been looking up (they topped five goals against Montreal & Toronto), but they still rank very low in most offensive categories and haven't been able to score much. Jeff Skinner's 24 goals make up over 21% of the team's total and they haven't gotten much out of their stars or the bottom of their lineup until recently. The common solution I've seen for this is that the Canes need to take "better shots" and "go to the net" more. Both of which are hard to accomplish when you're a team that spends more time chasing the puck than with it in the offensive zone, which has been the case for the Hurricanes for the majority of the year.
That said, the Canes do have some players who seem to take shots from everywhere and have low shooting percentages as a result. Patrick Dwyer and Nathan Gerbe being two who come to mind. I'm not sure if it's a team-wide problem, though. Eric Staal regularly takes shots from close range and has a career low shooting percentage. Semin has regularly shot from long distances has converted at a much higher rate than he has this year. Hell, Jeff Skinner has been finding the back of the net an obscene rate despite taking a lot of "bad shots."
I still maintain that the root of the Hurricanes problems was that they were poor territorial play rather than them "taking bad shots" or firing blanks at the net. It's hard to score and create chances when you can't sustain any zone time and that was an issue for the Canes from November to December. However, now that we've seen this improve over the last couple of weeks, let's take a look at which players have been creating more chances, who has been unlucky and who needs to pick it up.
As you all know, I have been tracking scoring chances for Hurricanes game for three years now and while I haven't been keeping track of the on-ice data, I have each player's individual chances logged. We can use this to compare it with their shot totals to see just how "lucky" each player on the Hurricanes has been this year. We can also see which ones are really firing blanks and who needs to start producing more chances.
Everyone on the Hurricanes should be envious of Jeff Skinner right now because he is blowing away the entire team. He shoots the puck more than anyone else, creates a boat load of chances and is finishing at a supremely high rate now. Some of this is good puck luck, as Skinner has never been a 16-17% shooter in his career, but he is doing a lot of good things by constantly getting the puck on net whenever he has a chance. He was someone who was criticized for taking a lot of "bad shots" last season, but those seemed to have disappeared now that he has the ball rolling in his favor. Skinner will probably cool down eventually but he has always been a talented goal-scorer and will still continue to post good numbers as long as he keeps getting the puck on net at the rate he is now.
Skinner is on such a roll right now that he is in a different league from the rest of the club. He has 94 scoring chances on the season and the next closest player is Nathan Gerbe, who has 69. Considering that Skinner missed about a month of action, what he is doing right now is pretty incredible and it's nice that he is seeing more of a reward for his great play than he did last year.
Someone who should also begin to see more of a reward for his efforts is Alexander Semin, who is the only one close to touching Skinner's numbers. He has only six goals on the season, but there is no doubt that he has had his opportunities. His career numbers suggest that he is better than a 6% shooter and the pucks should begin to go in for him as long as he keeps it up. He is als one of the few players on the team with a scoring chance conversion rate below 10%, which is ridiculous for a player of his caliber. Semin does fire a lot of blanks, but he also creates a high number of chances and should have more than six goals at this point.
The other player converting on less than 10% of his chances is Eric Staal, who is also having a down year when it comes to goal-scoring. He's shooting the puck only a little less than Semin and is also has a shooting percentage around his career low. Staal isn't creating as many chances, which is a little odd because he normally shoots closer to the net, but I would also expect his goal-scoring to rebound.
The second line has some room for improvement, despite being the team's best territorial line by a wide margin. Gerbe is getting the puck on net a lot but he is settling for a lot of low percentage shots. His shooting percentage actually isn't far off from his career average (6.9%) so he isn't really getting terribly unlucky. He has never been a great finisher and what we're seeing from him is in line with his career expectations. The same can be said for Patrick Dwyer, who is a career 7% shooter and isn't creating that many chances relative to how often he shoots the puck.
Jordan Staal has also seen a shooting percentage renaissance this season, but still has only 10 goals because he isn't shooting the puck as much as he could have. I realize he plays with two linemates that love to fire the puck at the net, but he could easily have a lot more shots than he does right now with how many rebounds Dwyer & Gerbe produce. Jordan is a career 12.5.% shooter, so he is suffering from some bad puck luck, but there's definitely more than he can do to help his cause.
As for the rest of the lineup, they have a bit of way to go and this goes back to what I said about depth being the problem. Tlusty's 9.25% shooting percentage is a predictable regression from last year, but him having only six goals relates to him not shooting or creating as many chances as he should be. He was getting a lot of ice time earlier in the year, too so it's not like he didn't have an opportunity to make an impact. Tlusty's niche last year was finding soft spots in the defense and being in perfect position to finish plays off. The finishing part was going to come down this year, but he has struggled to create offense on his own and will have to earn a spot in the top-six back.
Tuomo Ruutu has also been very bad from an offensive standpoint, registering fewer than four chances every sixty minutes he is on the ice. Yes, the 7.02% shooting percentage is the product of poor puck luck, but Ruutu would likely have only 6-7 goals on the year even if he shot at his career average. He isn't getting many shots on net and not doing much else to drive the play. That's kind of a problem with how important of a role he was slated to have this year.
Elias Lindholm was another guy who was supposed to have more of an important role this year and injuries have set him back pretty badly. He missed most of the pre-season, got hurt five games into the year and constantly had to be demoted to the fourth line to "work his way back into the lineup." The injuries were out of his control, but he wasn't exactly making much of an offensive impact when he was in the lineup. He was getting mauled territorially for most of October/November and wasn't getting many shots on goal, despite finishing at a high rate. He has picked it up since December, but his seven shots over the last two games is only four fewer than he had all season. Lindholm is a pass-first type player, but he definitely needs to do more.
Bowman, Nash, Dvorak, Malhotra are also not producing many chances in limited ice time and the latter two are partially exempted from criticism because they are usually buried in the defensive zone at the beginning of their shifts. Nash, however, has gotten much softer assignments and doesn't have much offense to show for it. He one of the few players who goes to the net but he has only 10 points in 36 games and isn't registering many chances at all. Nash can finish plays off but he hasn't been very good at keeping the puck in the offensive zone and setting up opportunities for himself. That has held him back quite a bit.
In the end, we're left with a similar conclusion to what I had last week. Most of Carolina's big guns are stuck in shooting percentage ruts and there isn't much they can do about it other than continuing to get chances on goal. Meanwhile, the depth players need to do a lot more to provide some support for them. We saw guys like Manny Malhotra, Brett Sutter and Zach Boychuk step up during the win streak. Can Tlusty & Nash do this once they draw back into the lineup? Speaking of which, maybe the team was a little hasty with sending Boychuk back to Charlotte? He was adding a lot more to the third/fourth line compared to the rest of the roster. One would hope that Nash, Tlusty, Ruutu, Bowman, etc. can be just as effective because they are capable of playing depth roles and giving the Canes more than what they've done so far.