It was only a month ago when the Hurricanes were in the driver's seat in the Southeast Division and basically all they needed to do was gain points in a little under 60% of their games to make it in. Since that point, the Canes have gone 3-11-1 and are now in the running for a top-five pick rather than a playoff spot. This free fall was something that even I didn't see coming because, as I have often reiterated here, the Hurricanes have been one of the better teams in the NHL at controlling puck-possession this season. This is usually what leads to success in the NHL, but not all the time. Goaltending, shooting luck and injuries are going to keep some good teams out of the playoffs this year because there are fewer games to make up for lost ground. The Hurricanes have been hit especially hard by the injury bug this year, but they've also seen a lot of other things go wrong for them as of late. This is evidenced by taking a look at their PDO over the season.
For those who don't know what PDO is, it's the sum of a team's even strength shooting and save percentages and shows how lucky or unlucky a team has gotten. A PDO over 1.000 shows that a team has gotten very fortunate while a team with a PDO under 1.00 shows that they may have gotten a few bounces that have gone against them. Carolina's PDO has stayed stagnant for most of the year, but recently it has taken a nose dive. Looking at it over five-game segments shows this team's fall from grace pretty well.
The Hurricanes PDO has been on a spiral downward over the last 15 games or so and it will probably be enough to knock them out of the playoffs. In a normal year, they could have been fine but there is less time to make up for lost ground with only 48 games. What they are going through now is nothing that other teams haven't experienced before. Both the Sharks and Kings went through spells of tough luck last season but were able to pull through and make the playoffs. Would the Hurricanes be able to do the same thing in a full year? Based on their underlying numbers, I would say they have a decent shot but there have been some things going on that have made an impact on their PDO. Injuries are probably the biggest.
The Canes have gone through 37 players this year and many of the players they've lost have been those of high impact. This list is not limited to Cam Ward, Joni Pitkanen, Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Tim Gleason. If you line up the Canes PDO to where each of these players got hurt, it reveals why they have struggled so much in certain parts of the season.
The Hurricanes PDO has taken a few bounces over the season and you can see that most of the downturns have come after injuries. The first one came around game 13-14 when Jeff Skinner, Tim Brent, Jamie McBain, Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen were all hurt, forcing the Canes to call-up a few AHL-ers to fill in for them. That obviously led to some bad games and some losses along with it. Once they got healthy, the team began to see more bounces go in their favor. Even after Cam Ward sprained is MCL in game 21, the Canes were still not experiencing much bad luck because the first line was scoring on over 15% of the shots they took while Ellis/Peters were doing enough to hold the fort down…and then Justin Faulk got hurt and Ellis went down the next game.
The Hurricanes were forced to start a third-string goaltender in front of a defense that was missing their best player. Simple logic should tell you that did not turn out well and the Canes PDO continued to sink along with the team's save percentage. Ellis' return on Tuesday night against Washington could have helped, but he has been very bad in all three of his starts and it's led to the Canes PDO continue to slide. Whether it's due to him being rushed back from his injury or simple regression is up for debate, but it's part of the reason why Carolina's season has continued to trend downward. Add in the top line experiencing some expected regression, Jordan Staal & Jeff Skinner not being able to buy a goal and the third and fourth lines not scoring at all and you have yourself a losing streak.
So while PDO has played a role in Carolina's demise, it's been more than just bad puck luck that's doomed them. Injuries, a lack of scoring depth and not getting enough from the replacement players has also played a role. The team being "fragile" is also an issue since they tend to unravel whenever something bad happens, but that's something I have no idea how to fix other than by winning. Confidence usually follows results and nothing is going the Hurricanes way right now so I'm not sure what they can do about it this year other than stay the course and hope some bounces start to go their way. I'm not convinced that this team is as bad as their recent record, but in a shortened year, this kind of a slump is a killer and it happened to the Canes at the worst possible time.
As for what happens the rest of the year, I think it could go either way. The Canes are still one of the better teams in the league at even strength and the goals will come if they continue to control puck-possession, but they are likely stuck with Peters and an injured Ellis for the rest of the season and that will impact how many games they win depending on how Peters plays. It's frustrating because this team should be a lot better than where they stand now but strange things tend to happen in a shortened year.