"Progress" is a word that you will hear pundits say when referring to the Hurricanes for the rest of the year. A horrible start buried them from playoff contention and ever since Kirk Muller took over, the main thing we are looking for is effort and progress when it comes to the team's future. The effort has been there on most nights but progress was coming at a slow pace during both December and January. Last month, however, we saw the Canes on-ice performance take a few bigger steps forward. They went 6-1-4, have slowly climbed their way out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference and look like a better team. They also did not lose a game by more than a goal for the entire month. The question is, do the underlying numbers show that Carolina is improving?
Sort of. Their overall corsi tied and scoring chance percentage have made minimal improvements from the last month and they are still underwater in both categories. This is mostly because their possession metrics were so poor for the first few months but during February, their EV scoring chance percentage was 49.4%. That's actually a lot better than their performances in other months but still mediocre. Their corsi tied percentage, however, was a much stronger 51.7% during the 11 games they played in February. Considering that they were without Tuomo Ruutu for most of those games, that's very impressive.
So yes, Carolina is making progress and played some very good hockey this past month. I don't think that they are a good team yet but they are a hell of a lot better than they were in October and November. Muller has been able to get the most out of a lot of players on this team but I still think the Canes are missing a few pieces if they want to be a contending team next year. After the jump, we'll take a look at which players were controlling the scoring chances for Carolina.
There's a pretty big gap between Jiri Tlusty and the next best forward (I included Joslin as a forward because he played on the fourth line for the entire month) and that's probably because the players who are underwater in scoring chances are either tough minute players (Nodl-Sutter-Dwyer) or fourth line plugs (Brent, Stewart). Anyone who is above the team average of .478 is either controlling 50% of the scoring chances or getting buried. It's an interesting division but it makes sense when you think about the way that Muller is utilizing his best forwards.
Muller has been giving Skinner, Jokinen, Bowman, etc. a lot more offensive zone starts than Maurice did and you can see that the results are paying off when you look at how many chances the top six is generating compared to the depth players. The defensive play of Brandon Sutter's line allows him to do this and hopefully it results in some more scoring. We saw Staal's line catch fire in February and that's a result of Muller's strategy paying off and some bounces finally going the captain's way. Will this have the same effect on Jokinen, Skinner & possibly Bowman? The numbers are working in their favor right now, so I think we could see an offensive outburst from them.
Despite having only two goals, Skinner actually had a great month and the chances were going heavily in Carolina's favor when he was on the ice. Same goes for Jokinen only on a lesser scale. The reason for Skinner not scoring enough despite driving play in the right direction is mostly due to bad luck. Skinner had 35 shots on goal, was clearly getting plenty of opportunities at even stength but the pucks just weren't going in for him. He was shooting at only 5.7% for the month and the Hurricanes were shooting at 4.8% when he was on the ice. If Skinner keeps playing like this then there is no way that percentage will stay this low. The same thing happened to Staal in November.
Speaking of bad luck, Drayson Bowman could really use a goal right now because the guy is doing everything right except score. He's earned top-six minutes and is generating chances but they have either gone off the post, have missed the net or he was robbed by the goalie. You can say this is him showing lack of finish but he's shown great offensive proweress and should see his luck turn around if he keeps getting consistent ice-time.
The team's third liners saw modest improvements with the exception of Patrick Dwyer, who is still surrendering the fewest amount of chances relative to ice-time. Nodl has been playing better ever since being moved to the third line and his overall scoring chance percentage remains in the pits because of how poor of a start he got off to. He has been much better than the numbers suggest. The same goes for Sutter, who did have a few rough games but he has played well in his role.
Derek Joslin's time as a forward might be coming to an end soon because he didn't do much in the way of creating offense and was really only active in the physical game. Although, the same can be said for Anthony Stewart and Tim Brent who are still dead last in scoring chance percentage. Stewart improved a bit from last month but anytime a player has an even strength scoring chance percentage below 40%, that's a bad sign. The saving grace for Brent has been his excellent work on the powerplay.
All but one Carolina defenseman is performing above the team average in scoring chances, which is great news. The bad news is that the one who is below the team average is Tim Gleason, who is easily their most depended on blue-liner. Gleason had a very rough month as he was on ice for only 30 Carolina scoring chances compared to 61 of the opponents. Not exactly the way you want to play after signing a four-year contract but I am hoping he picks it up. You will also see that his defense partner, Bryan Allen, didn't play that well in February either. These two are usually attached at the hip on defense so it's not surprising to see Allen's play go down with Gleason's but Allen is still surrendering fewer scoring chacnes than any other defenseman.
The "Faulk for Calder" bandwagon is starting to heat up more and the one thing that's keeping me from saying that he should be a finalist is that his play in his own zone is still developing. He is reguarly on-ice for 5-6 of the opponent's scoring chances per game and while his defensive play is improving, it still needs quite a bit of work. Other than that, Faulk was outstanding. He's been playing more minutes than he ever has all season long and he's been producing offensively, too. His partner, Jay Harrison, quietly improved from last month and has been much more sound defensively.
Jamie McBain was the team's most improved defenseman in February and that's not too surprising when you watch him play. He's finding out the right time to pinch and is getting caught in his own zone a lot less. He still makes very questionable decisions with the puck and his defensive play is still developing but Muller has been able to mitigate that by using him in more offensive situations. The result? McBain having three goals and six points in February.
Jaro Spacek is our only defenseman with a scoring chance rate above 50%, which is probably because he is also the most protected. I can't say that he isn't playing his role because he's been good on some nights, but when he gets exposed to an unfavorable matchup, bad things happen. Still, he's been just about what you'd expect from a third pairing defenseman and not much else.
February was definitely a great month for Carolina and hopefully in March they can work on getting that scoring chance pecentage rate over 50%. No matter where they finish in the standings, it's great to see this team playing better and competing every night. The effort is there, but the talent could definitely use an upgrade.