The roller coaster ride that is the Carolina Hurricanes 2013 season has gone down yet another slope as the team has lost their last four game and are really starting to feel the heat of the Winnipeg Jets and the rest of the Eastern Conference. After their most recent showing against the Florida Panthers where they lost 4-1 and gave up 44 shots on goal, I asked the question of whether the Hurricanes were a bad team or a good team that is going through a rough patch. When you've played only 25-30 games, it opens the door for some crazy things to happen, but I think we've had enough games to say that the Hurricanes have been a decent team at even strength this year.
Even through the losing streak, the Hurricanes have been owning at least 50% of the shots and scoring chances. They aren't exactly dominating teams, though so their goal-rate has declined a little and will probably continue to throughout the rest of the season. They've been shooting at only 3.6% at even strength the last four games but have been getting stellar goaltending from Peters & Ellis, so their goal percentage has remained fine. I'd expect some regression to occur in both ways since they aren't going to stay that unlucky with shooting the puck and it's unlikely that Ellis/Peters can maintain a .930+ save percentage.
This begs the question, though. How good are the Hurricanes? Is this a playoff team or a squad that is just going to finish outside of the playoffs? Compared to teams who are also in the race, the Canes appear to be good enough to make it in but that's not taking their terrible special teams into account.
Carolina's powerplay and penalty kill's success rates are in the bottom of the league and their PK is one of the worst in the NHL at suppressing shots. Their PK was playing well before the last four games, where their luck eventually ran out and now find themselves in the bottom-five again. Their powerplay is a bit of a different story because while it looks bad by the eye-test, Behind the Net suggests that they are getting unlucky while playing 5-on-4. They are a top-ten team at generating shots there, but just not finding the back of the net for whatever reason. Similar to what the Montreal Canadiens went through last year before they fired Jacques Martin.
Even as a numbers guy, I have to raise my eyebrows at the data here because the powerplay really has not looked good all season. While they are generating shots, they aren't getting many good chances and can barely contain the zone for more than 30 seconds. The data suggests that the Canes should remain patient here and wait for the goals to come but with only 19 games remaining left in the season, there isn't much time for them to just wait it out.
Then you have to factor in Justin Faulk's injury, which will sideline him for the next 2-4 weeks. Faulk may not be Carolina's best defenseman at controlling territorial play, but he logs a ton of minutes against other team's first lines. The fact that he is able to break even & drive the play in those situations is huge and I'm not sure if the team has another blue-liner who can replace him. Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, Jamie McBain, Joe Corvo and Jay Harrison are capable of playing big minutes but none of them have been as good as Faulk when thrown into a shutdown role.
My mind says that it isn't time to panic because the Hurricanes have been a good team for most of this year, but the skeptic in me is very worried about how the next few weeks will go. They have some big games coming up against Winnipeg and the Faulk injury along with the poor special teams has me less optimistic than usual. People often underrated how big losing a defenseman can be, so these next 5-8 games could be very tough if the rest of the defense corps can't pick up the slack. It isn't time to panic just yet but we could be getting close pending how the next several games go.