Inside Carolina’s Special Teams

When I look at the Hurricanes’ scoring chance numbers that I have been tracking since the beginning of the season, there is a lot of emphasis placed on even strength play. This is because most of the game is played at five-on-five and it is generally better to use even strength data as a way to find out a player’s talent level. With that being said, special teams are very important, too and Carolina had a lot of trouble on both the powerplay and penalty kill this season. Their powerplay was not nearly as bad as their 19th ranking suggests, as they were getting shots on net with the man advantage but their PK gave up a lot of shots and chances.

There were a lot of different players used on both special teams units this year, so finding out who was the most and least effective will give us a better idea of what holes the Hurricanes have to fill next season. The PK appears to have quite a few holes judging by how many shots they surrender on a nightly basis.

Other than going by goal and points, one effective way to find out who is the most effective on special teams is to look at how many scoring chances the team surrenders when a certain player is on the ice. After the jump, we will look at those numbers from the Hurricanes last season.

First we are going to talk about the powerplay, which was only 16.7% effective on the year but they seemed to be getting the job done when it came to getting shots on net. They ranked 12th in the NHL in that category and the general rule of thumb with the powerplay is that if a team is getting at least two shot ATTEMPTS  per two minutes on the powerplay then they are doing their job. It’s not a bad rule, but I do have some issues with it. The first of which being that a lot of defensemen take shots from the point on the powerplay which end up being blocked or not even reaching the net. I’m sure that skews a lot of team’s shot metrics on the powerplay.

I know that the general idea is that you want to have possession in the offensive zone long enough to get a shot away, but what good is it if it’s only a harmless wrister with no traffic in front? It’s easier to possession the puck and gain the zone with the man advantage, so going by shots alone can be a bit deciving, in my opinion. This is why I will be looking at the scoring chance numbers I tabulated instead to judge powerplay performance.

For the Hurricanes, they were able to get at least one scoring chance (1.12 scf/60 to be exact) on the powerplay per 2 minutes this season. I feel like that isn’t a lot but I am not sure how it compares to other teams. Keeping the team average in mind, let’s take a look at how the Canes powerplay mainstays performed.

Forwards

Player PP TOI PP SCF PP SCF/2 mins
Alexei Ponikarovsky 66.48 55 1.655
Jerome Samson 19.77 15 1.517
Jussi Jokinen 202.88 128 1.262
Tim Brent 120.03 74 1.233
Drayson Bowman 32.87 20 1.217
Eric Staal 275.02 166 1.207
Jeff Skinner 199.17 110 1.105
Jiri Tlusty 65.63 35 1.067
Zac Dalpe 15.13 8 1.058
Chad LaRose 126.9 66 1.040
Patrick Dwyer 17.35 8 0.922
Tuomo Ruutu 169.52 74 0.873
Anthony Stewart 27.97 10 0.715
Brandon Sutter 32.67 9 0.551
Zach Boychuk 12.95 3 0.463

PP TOI = powerplay time on ice, PP SCF = powerplay scoring chances for, PP SCF/2 min. = powerplay scoring chance for per two minutes

This is everyone who spent more than 10 minutes on the powerplay for the Hurricanes this season and there’s definitely a few surprising names on this list, especially towards the top. Who would have thought that Alexei Ponikarovsky was the team’s most consistent powerplay performer in terms of creating chances? He’s always been a pretty underrated player and a solid possession-driver at even strength but he’s also a solid guy to have on the powerplay, or at least he was during his time in Carolina. It’s a shame that he isn’t able to score as much as he used to.

It also appears that some of the Charlotte call-ups were effective on the powerplay as Jerome Samson and Drayson Bowman were creating a pretty high rate of chances relative to the team average. Samson was actually one of the team’s most efficient powerplay performers but that’s with an extremely small sample size.

Another name that might surprise people on here is Tim Brent, or at least it is to those who don’t watch the Hurricanes. Brent was moved to the first powerplay unit in the middle of the year and even worked the point for a little bit. He did a pretty damn good job in that position as he was one of the team’s best powerplay performers.

I think Jussi Jokinen might be one of the most underrated players on the team, to be honest. He was one of the Hurricanes’ best players at even strength going by scoring chances and he was the third best player on the team in that category, as well. The penalty kill stats also have some good things to say about him.

One powerplay regular who wasn’t performing that well was Tuomo Ruutu. He was producing less than one scoring chance per every two minutes he was on the ice. Ruutu was one of the team’s better players at even strength but he struggled playing with the man advantage for whatever reason. It’s strange because he was one of the team’s heavy-hitters on the powerplay not too long ago. 

Defensemen

Player PP TOI PP SCF PP SCF/2 mins
Joni Pitkanen 104.92 64 1.220
Justin Faulk 190.5 115 1.207
Tomas Kaberle 106.43 60 1.128
Jaroslav Spacek 74.07 41 1.107
Jay Harrison 95.73 52 1.086
Jamie McBain 182.75 94 1.029
Derek Joslin 24.92 9 0.722
Tim Gleason 24.22 8 0.661

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the team’s main offensive defensemen near the top of the list and it really shouldn’t surprise anyone to see that Joni Pitkanen had the highest chance rate among defensemen. The team definitely missed him during the three months he was injured but his void was filled nicely by Justin Faulk, who performed at about the same rate with more ice time. The powerplay was one area where Faulk really shined this year and it was impressive to see him outperform some of the team’s older players like Jamie McBain.

Speaking of filling voids, Tomas Kaberle actually did his job when it came to creating chances on the powerplay. He just had to be protected at even strength and couldn’t be much of a use otherwise. What made the trade to Montrael even better is that Jaroslav Spacek was just as effective as Kaberle with the man advantage. Not having a three year deal is nice, too.

Jamie McBain was tied for the team defense’s lead in powerplay goals with 5, but he wasn’t that effective at creating chances on a consistent basis. Jay Harrison also had this problem when he was being used with the man advantage.

Moving onto the penalty kill, they were actually much less effective there at preventing both shots and goals. They were in the bottom-half in shots prevented and their PK was only 80.5% effective, good for 22nd in the league. Going by scoring chances, they look a little better as they allowed approximately 1.07 scoring chance per 60 minutes on the penalty kill which is less than the amount of chances they were producing on the powerplay. It is usually a good sign when your powerplay is creating more chances than your PK is surrendering, which was the case for the Hurricanes. Who were the top PK performers for Carolina? Let’s find out.

Forwards

Player SH TOI SH SCA SCA 2mins
Jussi Jokinen 100.52 46 0.915
Brandon Sutter 181.48 85 0.937
Patrick Dwyer 144.22 70 0.971
Eric Staal 113.27 57 1.006
Jeff Skinner 14.88 8 1.075
Tim Brent 42.68 23 1.078
Jiri Tlusty 77.18 42 1.088
Chad LaRose 47.02 35 1.489

The penalty kill numbers also speak highly of Jussi Jokinen and he could be a steal for $3 mil. per year if he can continue to play this well and put up more points in the process. The rest of the list shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. Although, I didn’t know that Dwyer & Sutter surrendered such few chances on the penalty kill despite playing so many minutes there. It really shows how good these two are defensively, especially Dwyer.

Staal was not good at penalty killing in 2010-11 but he definitely improved his play there in this most recent season. He isn’t a stud defensively but he was still solid on the PK when it came to preventing chances. Chad LaRose, on the other hand, wasn’t very good at killing penalties and hasn’t been for the last few years.

Jiri Tlusty was also one of the team’s weaker penalty killers but his numbers aren’t terrible overall. Maybe all of that time on in the bottom-six last season helped his defensive game a lot because he fared much better on the PK than I expected him to. I do find it odd that he spent more time on the PK than the powerplay, though but he was probably fighting for ice time with other players in the latter.

Andreas Nodl isn’t listed here because he spent less than ten minutes killing penalties. Why one of the team’s better defensive forwards isn’t being used on the PK is a mystery to me.

Defensemen

Player SH TOI SH SCA SCA 2mins
Jaroslav Spacek 28.3 3 0.212
Justin Faulk 114.52 39 0.681
Derek Joslin 21.73 8 0.736
Joni Pitkanen 48.13 19 0.790
Jamie McBain 49.8 24 0.964
Jay Harrison 115.23 59 1.024
Bryan Allen 195.1 105 1.076
Tim Gleason 199.68 117 1.172

Justin Faulk wasn’t only great on the powerplay, he was the team’s best penalty killing defenseman. Yes, he played on the second unit but to surrender only 14 scoring chances while playing over 100 minutes is pretty unbelievable. His play at even strength could use some polishing but it appears that Faulk has special teams play completely figured out.

At the bottom of the list we have Allen & Gleason, who also played the most minutes on the penalty kill. They were leaned on more than any other player, so this isn’t terribly surprising but I was disappointed to see that Gleason gave up more chances relative to his ice time than any other defenseman.

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