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Hurricanes once again NHL’s most frustrating outlier

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For what seems to be the fourth or fifth year in a row the Carolina Hurricanes entered the 2017-18 season as a popular pick to jump back into the playoff picture, finally taking that long awaited big step forward in their rebuild.

It is not hard to understand why there has been so much excitement about this team in recent seasons.

They have an outstanding young core of players. Jeff Skinner is one of the absolute best goal-scoring forwards in the league (that nobody ever talks about). Sebastian Aho looks like he has a chance to be a star. This summer they added Scott Darling, Justin Williams and Trevor van Riemsdyk to that young core.

In terms of their play they seem to pass the eye test by playing everyone close (they have already lost nine one goal games this season, including six in overtime or a shootout — they have only won three such games) and giving everyone fits.

Their analytics consistently rate them among the best in the NHL.

Defensively, they have been one of the four or five best teams in the league at suppressing shots against despite having one of the youngest blue lines in the league. They are consistently among the best possession teams in the league, finishing near the top of the league in shot attempt metrics.

But the results in the standings have not been there. At all. They have made the playoffs just once in the past 12 years, and in their most recent seasons have seemingly hit a glass ceiling that caps them in the mid-80s for points.

In 2014-15 they finished with 71 points in the standings even though they were third in the league in shots against and ninth in attempts percentage.

In 2015-16 it was 86 points despite finishing fifth and 11th respectively.

Last season? 87 points. Where they did they finish in those two shot based categories? Fifth (shots against) and sixth (shot attempts percentage).

You can probably guess what is happening in Carolina this season. Through their first 29 games the Hurricanes are allowing 29.5 shots on goal against per game, the third lowest total in the league. They are attempting more than 54 percent of the shot attempts in their games, the highest mark in the NHL.

Their current point pace for the season? It is just 84.9.

New year, same story. A promising young team that seems to be doing everything right but is destined to finish somewhere in the middle of the league, just on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

The frustrating thing about this from a Hurricanes perspective is that they should be better than this. Teams that play the way they do, limit shots the way they do, and control possession the way they do not only tend to make the playoffs, they tend to do very well once they get there.

Since the start of the 2013-14 season there have been 29 teams that have finished the regular season allowing less than 29 shots on goal per game and finishing with a shot attempts percentage higher than 51 percent.

Those 29 teams finished with an average of 100 points in the standings. Twenty-two made the playoffs. Twelve won at least one series once they got there. Six advanced to the Conference Finals. Three reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Here are the seven teams that fit that criteria over that stretch and missed the playoffs.

You might notice a common name or two.

So, basically, the Hurricanes and Kings are the two biggest statistical outliers in the league over the past five years.

But at least the Kings’ formula has proven to be successful at one point or another with a lot of playoff appearances in between — they seem destined to return this season — and two Stanley Cup titles.

But the Hurricanes. Geez. The Hurricanes. Three times playing at a level that is on par with a contender and missing the playoffs every time. It seems at least possible, if not likely, that it will happen again this season.

So what in the world is happening here?

The most common target for blame has been their inability to find any sort of stability in net. To be fair, it has been a huge problem.

Since the start of the 2013-14 season the Hurricanes have finished 18th, 28th, 29th and 26th in the league in team save percentage. So far this season they are 25th. Probably the biggest reason they do not finish lower in terms of goals against is the fact they do such a great job limiting shots against. It has not been any one goalie that has been the culprit because they have tried several different options, whether it be long-time starter Cam Ward, or any of the many recent successful backups they have tried to acquire to take over the starting job, ranging from Anton Khudobin, to Eddie Lack, to their recent attempt with Darling.

It is obviously far too early to write Darling off, but with a .902 save percentage in his first 20 appearances it is not exactly an encouraging start.

But for all of the issues they have had in goal, there is another one that seems to quietly slide under the radar: For all of their dominant possession numbers, and for all of the shots they are able to register for themselves … they don’t really score a lot, either.

So far this season the Hurricanes are 25th in the league in goals per game, and have consistently been in the bottom-10 over the aforementioned five-year stretch.

There is something to be said for the argument (recently put forward by Andrew Berkshire at the Sporting News) that as teams become more involved in analytics that stats like Corsi may not be as predictive as they once were. By now pretty much everyone in the league knows the value of keeping the puck, generating shots and preventing shots. It’s a lot harder to find an advantage there if everyone is in tune with that.

It could also be a matter of just overall talent and scoring ability.

I argued during the Stanley Cup Final that it was possible for the Pittsburgh Penguins to outperform their possession stats because their roster is made up of elite, high end talent. When you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel at the top of your lineup, not to mention Patric Hornqvist and Jake Guentzel as complementary players, you have the ability to strike fast. You don’t always need sustained pressure or a lot of shots to score. Those guys can strike at any moment and from anywhere on the ice. To a lesser extent that might also be true for a team like this year’s Winnipeg Jets, a team that doesn’t dominant territorially but has some of the top offensive players in the league.

The Hurricanes, for as good as their young talent is, especially on the blue line, do not really have that sort of talent.

Skinner is certainly on that level, and Aho could end up there, but that is pretty much it.

What they have is a lot of players that are great are driving possession but aren’t really game-breaking offensive players. Jordan Staal, their top forward in terms of ice-time, is a perfect example of this. Staal is a really good two-way player. He does a lot of things really well. He is a great defensive player, he can drive possession, he can play against other team’s top players. But he has never been a great playmaker. He has never been a player that will be a threat to score 35 or 40 goals.

Justin Williams has been a similar player for much of his career. Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask seem like they are trending in that same direction with their careers. Very good players. Players necessary for a winning team. But not players that can really break a game open offensively. That, too, is still a necessity.

All of this together makes the Hurricanes an incredibly frustrating team.

They have a lot of necessary ingredients. They seem to play the right way, and they can be pretty entertaining, too. But they seem to just always be a little bit short of being able to take that next step we keep anticipating.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Tavares gets back to scoring ways

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Players of the Night: 

Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche: Bernier made quite the save on Ryan Kesler, using his paddle to stop a backhand shot after sprawling across his crease in an attempt of desperation. He also stopped 33 pucks and won his sixth straight game in the process.

Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks: Jones made 29 out of 30 saves in the second and third periods in a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. His 35-save effort was a nice rebound after allowing three goals on six shots and getting yanked on Saturday.

John Tavares, New York Islanders: Tavares scored a shorty in regulation on an unassisted breakaway and then the game-winner in overtime to lead the Isles past the Habs in Montreal.

Highlights of the Night:

Tyler Seguin provided some matinee magic with this overtime winner in Boston. What a goal:

Bernier made this incredible paddle save on a poor Ryan Kesler:

MISC:

Scores:

Stars 3, Bruins 2 (OT)

Avalanche 3, Ducks 1

Sharks 4, Kings 1

Islanders 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Barzal, Tavares shine as Islanders edge Canadiens 5-4 in overtime

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The scary thing about Mathew Barzal is that he may just be gaining steam.

Any time the New York Islanders play these days, it turns into Barzal Watch (in the Twitter world: #BarzalWatch). Even if the Islanders had plummeted as of late with five losses in their past six games heading into Monday, many are just tuning in to see what the dynamic rookie is going to do.

Indeed, Barzal has been lights this season, with 44 points in 44 games prior to Monday and coming off the buzz of a five-point game on Saturday — the second time he’s done that this season.

But John Tavares, who had just one goal in nine games coming into Monday, stole some of that spotlight back with a shorthanded goal in regulation and then the game-winner in overtime in a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Tavares second of the game came 1:51 into over time and after Carey Price made quite the save to stop a redirected attempt by Tavares just before the latter scored the winner.

Barzal was at it again early in the first period as the Islanders jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead.

Barzal fed Anthony Beauvillier with a nice lead pass and the latter ripped home his eighth of the season just down the road from where he grew up in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, beating Carey Price with New York’s first shot of the game.

It was Barzal’s 30th assist of the season and he followed that up with his 16th goal of the year on the Islanders just over five minutes later for the two-goal advantage. Barzal finished with three points and now has 10 in his past three games.

The Canadiens entered the game 2-0-1 in their past three games but were without Phillip Danault due to a puck to the head on Saturday and Andrew Shaw, who was injured in the same game.

Despite their recent success, things looked grim early on, with Price allowing two goals on four shots.

The Hab battled back, first by forcing a turnover in New York’s zone, allowing Jakub Jerabek to quickly find a wide open Nicolas Deslauriers out front to make it 2-1.

Another defensive breakdown by the Isles led to the tying goal as Paul Byron snatched his 12th of the year on a rebound.

Barzal grabbed his third point of the night early in the second period as the Isles restored the lead with Adam Pelech‘s first of the season at 2:37. And the Islanders led by two for the second time as John Tavares scored shorthanded 1:59 later on New York’s 10th shot.

The Canadiens, down two again, needed a second comeback and they put it together beginning with Jonathan Drouin‘s marker with 34 seconds left in the second period.

Montreal completed the comeback on the power play in the third, with Max Pacioretty scoring his 14th at 13:01.

Andrew Cogliano chokes up talking about the end of his iron-man streak

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An emotional Andrew Cogliano said having his iron-man streak ended by suspension was a “tough pill to swallow.”

Speaking to Fox Sports’ Kent French prior to the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, Cogliano choked up when asked about how tough the past 24 hours had been like for him.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, I’m not going to lie,” Cogliano said, fighting back tears. “I’ve played hard and I’ve battled. I’m a professional in that I’ve played a long time and I’ve now missed a game.”

Cogliano was suspended Sunday for two games following an illegal check to the head of Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe in a 4-2 Ducks win on Saturday.

The ban ended the NHL’s fourth-longest games played streak at 830 games for Cogliano, who had never missed action in his 11-year NHL career before Monday.

Cogliano was a 134 games shy of Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played, which the Ducks forward would have reached at the start of the 2019-2020 if he remained healthy.

“First and foremost I think, I probably initiated contact too late,” Cogliano said. “I’ve been very open about that with this process, and I made a mistake at that time.

“As I think about the hit though, I watch it and I still see that my body doesn’t change through the process of it. I think my shoulders are low, my elbows are low, my knees are bent and I’m in a pretty set position. As it evolves, he tries to make a play back across my body, which ends up maybe initiating some head contact near my upper back area. That’s what I see. I think there’s no injury, he came back and played. At the end of the day from what I’ve seen, it is a situation where we closed the gap on each other a little bit.”

Despite the hit, which clearly showed Cogliano nail Kempe in the head well after the puck had left the vicinity, Cogliano was surprised about hearing he was going to have a chat with the league.

“I was told after the game from Bob [Murray] that I was going to have a hearing or have a call,” Cogliano said. “I was surprised because no one said anything after the game to me otherwise. There was no media talking about it or nothing was brought up, so I was more surprised about that. Initially, I was thinking back on it, wondering what happened and wondering if I did anything bad.

“Obviously, you never want to injure anyone on the ice. That’s a fact. I’ve played 11 years and that’s one thing that I have stood behind and I’m glad he played the rest the game. From my end, there’s zero intent to do any sort of head contact or hit a person to injure them. I think it was a situation where I admitted to initiating contact too late and I think it was something that happened that ended up being very unfortunate for me.”

Cogliano said his teammates, and at least one Ducks legend, have offered their support.

“I’m probably being too dramatic about it. I’m sorry my emotions came out for whatever reason. I have had a lot of support.” Cogliano said. “I think there has been a lot of people that have reached out and initiated that I have done something special. The more I look back on it, it’s pretty cool. I think that playing 830 games in a row, not a lot of guys can say that and I think that’s something that I will hold to my heart.

“I appreciate all the texts. [Teemu] Selanne has been a big advocate in terms of reaching out. I may be making too big a deal of it, but I think when you go through the process and think back about coming to work and playing every single game for 11 straight years, it holds some value and holds some value to a lot of the guys in the league. Like I said, this is the last way I wanted it to go out. I’m glad he wasn’t injured and I’ll take the suspension, move on and come back and help my team.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: New York Islanders at Montreal Canadiens

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PROJECTED LINES

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Anders LeeJohn Tavares – Alain Quine
Anthony BeauvillierMathew BarzalJordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle – Brock NelsonShane Prince
Jason Chimera – Tanner Fritz – Cal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyScott Mayfield
Adam PelechSebastian Aho
Thomas HickeyRyan Pulock

Starting goalie: Thomas Greiss

PREVIEW FOR ISLANDERS-CANADIENS

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Alex GalchenyukJonathan DrouinDaniel Carr
Max PaciorettyPaul ByronCharles Hudon
Artturi LehkonenTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher
Nicolas DeslauriersByron Froese – Jacob De La Rose

Karl AlznerJeff Petry
Jordie BennJakub Jerabek
Victor Mete – David Schlemko

Starting goalie: Cary Price