by PuckStopsHere on 12/11/09 at 12:47 PM ET
A quick look at the standings shows that the Carolina Hurricanes have been the worst team in the league, by a significant margin, so far this season. They have a 7-23 record (with five regulation tie points). This leaves them in last place in the league by an eight point margin. This is a team that made a semi-final appearance last season. How did the Hurricanes fall so far so fast?
The Hurricanes have had no offensive stars so far this season. Ray Whitney leads the team in scoring with 20 points. This is the third lowest total for a top scorer on his team (Phoenix and St Louis have 19 point top scorers). Carolina has the lowest goals per game total in the league. They have dropped over half a goal per game from last season. Three players have shouldered a large portion of this drop. Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov and Rod Brind’Amour have all had significant drops in their offensive output.
Staal had a 40 goal season and kept up an almost point per game pace last year. This season, he has been limited to only 13 points. A big reason for his decline is the ten games he missed due to injury. Due to injury and bad luck, Staal has not scored a goal since October 21st. Sergei Samsonov and Rod Brind’Amour are in decline (perhaps due to age). Brind’Amour has only scored eight points so far and at age 39 is no longer able to play a big role with the team. He has had the worst +/- rating in the league for a while and Carolina recently made him a healthy scratch for a game. Samsonov is 31 years old 9so may have productive time left), but has only scored 10 points so far. Brind’Amour and Samsonov were good for 51 and 48 points respectively last year, so this represents a significant drop. Thus far, nobody has stepped in to significantly fill their roles.
The defence also has lacked any significant star performers. Joe Corvo is leading the Hurricanes defence in ice time and points. The other significant performers on defence are Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason. Pitkanen has missed nine games to various injuries and has not been able to play as well as he did last year. Like the forwards, there are no defenceman who have stepped forward to make a significant contribution this season.
The Hurricanes have the worst goals against in the NHL. They have allowed 3.53 goals per game. This is an increase by more than 0.8 goals per game from last season. The biggest reason for this has been goaltending. Cam Ward has not played well. He has a .899 saves percentage and a 2.97 GAA. During Ward’s injury, the Hurricanes signed Manny Legace, who has not been any better. He has posted a .898 saves percentage and a 3.08 GAA. Supposed backup Michael Leighton has played himself out of the NHL with a .848 saves percentage and a 4.29 GAA. Last year, the Hurricanes had solid goaltending with Ward playing well and Leighton playing much better than he has so far.
The 2009/10 Carolina Hurricanes allow 1.23 more goals per game than they score. In 2008/09, they scored 0.18 more goals per game than they allowed. This is a swing of over 1.3 goals per game in one season. This swing is due in a large part to significant players declining or facing injury (Staal, Ward, Pitkanen as well as Erik Cole and Scott Walker have lost significant time to injury - with significant declines to Samsonov, Brind’Amour and Leighton). While these players’ contributions have declined, absolutely nobody has stepped up to fill their roles. Likely the key injuries are over and it is a matter of time before we see players like Staal and Ward performing at their historical levels. This turnaround may have begun with Carolina having won two of their last three games.
It is unlikely that Carolina will do very well this season. They have had a terrible start and they lack any players who are exceeding their expectations, while they have several players who are under-performing expectations. The ray of hope is that several of their key players’ under-performance is tied to injury and they will likely be healthier in the remainder of the season.
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