The Anatomy of a Streak

Following a hockey team can be a grueling task at times since there are many twists and turns that come with the territory. At the beginning of the season, you always tell yourself that every team is going to experience good and bad stretches (unless you're the Chicago Blackhawks) and it's best to stay rational through it all. Yet, whenever a winning or losing streak of 3-5 games occurs, the vibe among the fanbase is nothing but joy or panic. There is either a lot of praise about confidence and leadership whenever things are going right and when they don't, it's nothing but finger-pointing at certain players and assumptions about what is wrong with said team. We saw plenty of this in Carolina last season with the team's struggles but similar things have resurfaced this season, too. 

The final results look good for the Hurricanes, as they currently sit atop of the Southeast Division with a seven point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning but the road to get here has been a little uneven to stay the least. The Canes started off the year dropping their first two games, giving a lot of fans a very pessimistic outlook until they swept a back-to-back series against the Buffalo Sabres. Following that, Carolina suffered a tough loss against Boston followed by a win over Ottawa and a road trip where they went 4-1-1. There was a lot of talk about how the team was coming together then and how they were on the verge of possibly doing something special this year.

Then the wave of injuries happened. The Hurricanes save five different players go on IR (three of whom being defensemen) and the team would then drop four of their next five games with the four losses coming in ugly fashion. Injuries are tough to deal with but every team goes through them and the Canes lack of depth was showing, which led to a lot of soothsayers coming out of the woodwork. The team suddenly had character issues and "no drive to win" because of four bad games. They would then go on a four game winning streak after a few players returned off the IR and now all is well again.  What will happen in the next five games remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see the stories that emerge if the Canes go on another skid or continue their winning ways.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how bad or good a stretch of five games is, it's a very small portion of what is a long season. Yes, it's a shortened season and every game means more with there being no inter-conference play, but everyone has to remember not completely overreact to what happens in a small sample size. If the Canes go on a Chicago-like run or a Columbus-like fall, then we can start freaking out but until either of those happens, let's keep a cool head about things.

It's pretty interesting to see how much fans emotions have swung back in forth in the last week based on the Hurricanes play because the team's underlying numbers have been somewhat constant these past nine or ten games, only with completely different results.

Record ESGF ESGA Chance% EV Sh% EVSV%
 1-4-0 8 15 47.8% 6.3% 0.8846
 4-0-0 16 6 48.2% 17.8% 0.9469

Carolina's ability to control the scoring chances at even strength has only been slightly better during this brief winning streak than it was during their rough patch. The difference was that more pucks were going in for them at even strength and their goaltenders went from playing from below replacement to an elite level. As fun as it has been to watch this team the last four games, it's doubtful that they will continue to get this lucky in terms of both shooting and save percentage. In fact, you can even make the argument that it's a little concerning that they've been on the losing end of the scoring chance battle even with a reasonably healthy lineup but this is only four games and the Canes held a big lead in all of them, so score effects definitely played a role there.

When looking at the big picture, the Hurricanes appear to be in decent shape even if they've been playing a little over their heads in their last four games.

Carolina is still on the right side of things, but the percentages might catch up to them soon and their scoring rate will decline if they continue to be only a 50-51% team at even strength. I'm not sure what will happen to the team once they begin to score less, but I'm sure the narratives that will be drawn out of it will be fun. The thing to remember here is that good and bad stretches happen over the course of the season even when a team is playing well, and the Canes have done that for most of the year. If they can continue to at least stay above 50% during even strength play, then I don't think there will be much to panic about in Raleigh unless a long losing streak happens, and I mean a long one. Not a rough patch lasting 4-5 games because there have been plenty of teams who have weathered through those in the past.