Is Carolina’s first line prone to regress?

Take a look at the league leaders in even strength point production and you'll see a few familiar faces as Carolina's first line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty are in the top-30 in even strength points per 60 minutes. Staal leads the pack with an insane 4.08 even strength points per 60 minutes, a rate that puts him higher than the likes of Sidney Crosby, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Getzlaf and Steven Stamkos. Anyone who follows hockey knows that this line has been fantastic for the Hurricanes this season but I don't think people have any idea of just how good they've been. 

In addition to their ridiculous even strength scoring rates, Staal has been held without a point in only five games this season and has seven multi-point games. His current scoring pace would give him 97 points in a full-82 game season while Semin & Tlusty's scoring rates would give them 78 and 66 points respectively. The three have different skillsets but they compliment each other well. Both Staal and Semin have been terrific at winning battles along the boards and it has helped free up space for Tlusty, which has let to him having 10 goals and 17 points in 21 games. Meanwhile, Semin has shined as a great play-maker and Staal has been doing most of the bull-work down low to score from the dirty areas. They've been quite a lethal combination ever since Kirk Muller put them on the same line and they've contributed to 43% of Carolina's goals this year.

What are the chances of them continuing to produce at this level, though? A quick look at their underlying numbers doesn't paint an optimistic picture for them because all three are barely winning the shot battle at even strength and have on-ice shooting percentage north of 14%, which is normally a sign that they have gotten quite lucky this season and will probably cool down soon. For reference, there have been only two players since 2007-08 to maintain an EV on-ice shooting percentage of over 14%. One of them was Daniel Sedin and the other was Darryl Boyce, so one of the best scorers in the league and a player who is never on-ice for a lot of shots on goal in a year. Other players who have posted high on-ice shooting percentage in recent seasons include Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Jordan Eberle, Paul Statsny, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgenii Malkin and Alex Tanguay. Basically guys who are elite scorers/play-makers or those who got to play on a line with them.

It's possible that the Canes first line can continue to post a high shooting percentage in a 48-game season, but the ability to maintain a shooting percentage above 14% for a long period of time is very rare and given what we know about Staal and Semin, both have been able to elevate the shooting percentage of their linemates but they aren't in Crosby/Sedin/Stamkos territory. In other words, there's a good chance that they end up having great offensive seasons, but Staal probably will not continue to produce four points for every 60 minutes he plays. I know that he has a 100-point season under his belt, but expecting that kind of production from him (and almost any player) is unreasonable.

How much will this line taper off is a good question because while their point-production might drop off, some fans may not even notice it because of how ridiculous they are performing right now. Remember, this is a line that's producing a almost every game and that probably isn't sustainable. Their not-so-great underlying numbers going by shot totals suggest that they could be in for some major regression, but their scoring chance numbers are a little more optimistic, especially Tlusty's.
 

Player 5v5 SCF 5v5 SCA SC +/- SC% EV CF/15 EV CA/15 Diff
Eric Staal 96 93 3 0.508 4.46 4.32 0.14
Alexander Semin 103 91 12 0.531 4.79 4.23 0.56
Jiri Tlusty 81 63 18 0.563 4.23 3.29 0.94

This line is getting outshot on a lot of nights, but they have been doing a great job of winning the scoring chance battle despite that. However, the only thing this protects is their high plus-minus because the amount of chances they are producing per 15 minutes is kind of low for the type of minutes they are getting. Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner have actually been producing more offense with less ice-time but haven't received the same amount of shooting luck, so these three are still prone to suffer some regression with their goal regression. The only exception being Alexander Semin, who is the only member of this line to not have a shooting percentage above 10%. He might actually be on the verge of scoring more goals with how low his personal shooting percentage is.

Keep in mind that this is all even strength production and Carolina's powerplay hasn't received much luck at all this season. You could say that they aren't creating any of their luck because of how bad it has looked at times this year, but there is some reasons to be optimistic here. Yes, the Canes powerplay is in the bottom-five in terms of success rate, but they are 16th in 5v4 shots per 60 minutes. That isn't great, but it certainly isn't "worst in the NHL" bad either. On the flipside, opposing goalies have stopped .912 of the 5v4 shots they face when Carolina is on the powerplay, which shows that they could be due for some bounces to go their way here. Staal, Semin and Tlusty have combined for five PPGs and their shooting percentages on the powerplay aren't ridiculously high either, so it's possible that they could make up for things on the powerplay if their even strength production takes a fall.

Luck is a tough thing to grasp in hockey becuase people always seem to come up with reasons as to why high percentages won't regress back to the mean. I do think that anything can happen in a shortened year, but it's been proven in recent history that not many teams have been able to shoot at over 14% at even strength when a certain player is on the ice. It doesn't matter how good this player is or how they "constantly shoot from scoring areas" because historical evidence has shown that high shooting percentages eventually come down at some point in time. Staal, Semin and Tlusty are not immune to this, so it's unlikely that they will continue to produce at this level for the rest of the year.

That doesn't mean that they won't continue to play good hockey, though. Like I said earlier, they are producing at a very ridiculous rate now, especially Staal, and while they will probably cool a little, these three can still perform well offensively without the aid of a ridiculous even strength shooting percentage. Just not at a 95-100 point pace.

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