I have a bit of a soft spot for the Carolina Hurricanes, mostly because they defeated the Oilers in 2006 cup finals and spared us Flames fans a summer of insufferable gloating from up north. They weren’t really able to sustain that level of performance after the championship season, although the rotten year they suffered through in 2009-10 seems to have netted them a pretty good youngster.
Carolina is battling for a playoff spot, currently sitting 9th in EC. Up front, their forward ranks reflect that relative level of competitiveness. The Hurricanes are obviously paced by Eric Staal, who has never returned to the 100 point form he showed back in 2005-06, but remains a top quality player nonetheless. Staal regularly sees good opposition, he starts more often in the defensive end of the rink and he leads the team in terms of corsi/60 (+12.90). That’s despite the fact his most regular line mates this year have been Sergei Samsonov, Chad Larose, Jussi Jokinen and Eric Cole. And people say Iginla doesn’t get any support in Calgary…
As you can see, things get pretty dicey after Staal in Carolina. Jokinen isn’t too bad, but Eric Cole isn’t the player at ES he once was and Chad Larose is no more than a third line forward on most clubs. Sergei Samsonov hasn’t been worth a damn for years.
After that, you have Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner, a couple of guys who are doing some damage versus the lesser lights so far. Ruutu has been a capable enough second-liner for awhile, but Skinner is doing the deed as an 18 year old which portends some mighty good things for the kid in the future. His results have been goosed by the percentages (PDO = 104), so his counting stats are a little exaggerated. Still, he’s treading water in terms of possession which is all one can ask of a kid in this league. Most of the time it doesn’t make sense to waste the first season of a teens ELC when he’s simply going to be kicked around, but the ‘Canes may have an exception in the 7th overall pick from last year. Bonus fact – he’s scoring 4.62 PPP/60, which is better than any regular PP forward on the Flames.
Defense and Such
Carolina has similar mix on the back-end, with a few pretty good players peppered with a lot of "meh". Joni Pitakanen is the guy who sees the most work, frequently playing 25 minutes a night in all situations. Joe Corvo has been leaned on relatively heavily this season, placing second on the team in ice time, including a minute more than Pitkanen short-handed. That’s a curious deployment of a guy who has been labeled as a "PP specialist" for most of his career, and the underlying stats reflect the fact he’s playing over his head. He has the third worst corsi/60 rate amongst blueliners on the club.
Erstwhile Flame Ian White began his CAR stint playing a lot of minutes every night with Joni Pitkanen. Things didn’t go too well for him in that role, partially because the bad bounces that began in Calgary followed him south. His PDO is still relatively rotten at 97.4 and he’s only averaging about 2 minutes of PP time a game. As a result, White only has one point (an assist) in his last 19 games (!!). His ice time has fallen to about 20 minutes per game in response to hs perceived struggles, which is probably about where Ian White should settle on most NHL teams anyways.
The rest of the crew is made up by youngster Jamie McBain (ICE TO SEE YOU), Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison (I don’t know him either). Gleason is the guy the club buries to put everyone else in a more favorable starting position and his various stats reflect it.
In net, Cam Ward is working hard to justify his great big pay check. When he was re-signed a couple of years ago, it looked like a GM rewarding a mediocre player for a string of good work in the playoffs, but the kid has steadily developed into a quality starter. His ES SV% over the last three seasons has been above average: .926, .926 and .929. For comparison sake, Kipper has been .907, .928 and .919 over the same span.
I don’t know if those rates justify Ward’s $6.3M/year deal, but at least the club is getting consistently above average performances out of the guy. His back-up this year is youngster Jutsin Peters, a guy who sports the typically unappealing stats line of NHL back-ups. With CAR scratching for the post-season, expect to see Ward guarding the crease this evening, even though the Flames are falling into the "teams who others play their lesser goalies against" territory.