As the Hurricanes have realized this season, it’s very difficult to be a successful team without successful special teams.
It’s no coincidence then that they've earned points in 18 of their last 26 games dating back to January 19 at Toronto at the same time that they've had better showings on both the power play and penalty kill.
Coach Paul Maurice says that he always likes the percentages of both units to add up to at least 100. While the combined rates for the season as a whole fall just short at 96.8 percent, they add up to 102.8 percent since that meeting with the Maple Leafs - a game that holds significance because the Canes used it to end a season-high five-game losing streak and thus begin the process of climbing back in to the playoff picture.
Since that contest, the percentages for the power play (20.7 percent) and penalty kill (82.8 percent) would rank 10th and 13th in the league, respectively, if they had been maintained for the entire season. Given the struggles that each of those aspects of Carolina’s game went through at varying points this season, those numbers represent significant improvement.
“It’s been much better in the last two months overall,” said Maurice. “Our power play has won us games and our penalty kill has won us games. I think we’re settling into roles on it now that guys are comfortable with.”
The figure for the penalty kill would actually be higher if not for a recent lapse that has seen the Hurricanes allow five power play goals in the last two games – the most of any two-game stretch this season. Although those games were against formidable opponents with top-10 power plays, it’s up to the Canes now to make sure that’s just a blip in the radar rather than a reversing of an undoubtedly upward trend.
“A lot of your penalty kill is just positioning and some breaks, and the theme of what we’re trying to do is still there,” said Maurice. “It’s just a little sharpness maybe. We certainly haven’t changed what we’re trying to do with it.”
When a group is struggling on special teams, they will often dedicate entire practices to righting the ship. That being said, it’s notable that the recent run of success has come at a time when the Canes haven’t been practicing much at all given the late stage of the season and the tightly-grouped games that have characterized much of their recent schedule.
“I think there’s an energy factor to it, and confidence can’t be understated,” Maurice said. “We’ve done quite a bit of video on it, but our schedule just hasn’t allowed us to have practice time on it.”
With back-to-back games starting at home Friday against the New York Islanders, the trend of light practices continued today with a limited session that saw only a handful of lower-minute players take the ice.
With the win yesterday, Maurice said he expected no lineup changes for tomorrow’s game.