Carolina Could Benefit From Special Teams Changes
By Tim Chiasson
The Carolina Hurricanes are dominating the NHL playoffs at 5v5, but their special teams play has left much to be desired.
Carolina’s weakness in the playoffs has been their penalty kill and power play units struggling to find success. The Hurricanes poor special teams play nearly wasted a dominating possession performance against Washington.
Tampa found out just how damaging special teams play can be in a short sample so they need to make a quick adjustment to get the required uptick in both.
Without tightening up their special teams they run the risk of weakening the value on controlling play at 5v5 over a small number of games.
You might be sitting there thinking about isolated incidents being games one and five against Washington for the penalty kill. Allowing five PP goals over two games is definitely unacceptable but that isn’t where the buck stops for the penalty kill.
They regularly give up a significant amount of chances, though game seven was a bright spot. It’s only a matter of time before the puck finds the net in bunches when you provide the other team with tonnes of chances.
It might be worth considering playing Dougie Hamilton over Brett Pesce on the penalty kill. Hamilton has both prevented and created shots at a better rate than Pesce during the playoffs. He was just slightly lesser in the regular season for prevention and miles better for creating.
Your best players have to play regardless of the game state. Their abilities don’t magically disappear.
Another consideration could be to remove Brock McGinn from the penalty kill and replace him with either Nino Niederreiter or Justin Williams. Both Niederreiter and Williams are superior in defensive play as well as offensive. They both provide a better option to move toward more success.
Moving to the power play, Niederreiter comes back in again. This time it’s a demotion from the top unit to the secondary unit.
Niederreiter is much better defensively than Jordan Staal and Jordan Staal creates a relatively equal amount of offense over the course of a season. The second unit struggles to keep control more than the first and Niederreiter has struggled to generate as well as his line one counterparts.
The lapse in guard with Staal gets fixed with little to no historical impact on the offensive side of the power play. One the first unit they already have the whole 200 foot awareness thing figured out. Staal simply provides them with a player who had similar offensive success in the regular season and has enjoyed a much better offensive post-season as far as creating offense goes.
At the very least, the Canes have to make a switch in their gameplan on the power play. During the regular season they collected the third most scoring chances for at 5v5. When they switched to the power play their shot selection regressed to average (16th). For some context they were 3rd in the regular season for shots for and are 2nd in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, the have the 11th most scoring chances for and the 2nd most TOI on the power play while sporting the 6th most at 5v5 and a SCF% of 54.26 which is good enough for second. A potential positive change for the power play could simply be not changing your shot selection based on game state.
Even if the Hurricanes decide to stay the course on special teams their strong play at 5v5 gives them a chance to win every night. If they can sustain that, which history says they can, they might be able to continue a nice playoff run.
In saying that, it’s worth considering a change on both power play and penalty kill when the changes should have little to no negative impact on results. Low risk moves with a high chance of return value are the ones that should be most invested in.
*any TOI or stat inquiries naturalstattrick.com