Each week NHL.com goes Behind the Numbers, using underlying statistics to identify trends, areas of improvement for teams and players, and predict what could happen in upcoming games. Today, NHL.com looks at a team in each conference that is outside of a Stanley Cup Playoff spot but has underlying numbers that signal a possible late-season push.
The Hurricanes are three points behind the New York Islanders for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from Eastern Conference with 18 games to go and are dealing with a spate of injuries. Defensemen Dougie Hamilton (fractured fibula) and Brett Pesce (shoulder) are out for the remainder of the regular season, defenseman Sami Vatanen, acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 24, has been on injured reserved since Feb. 13 with a leg injury but could return next week, and goalies Petr Mrazek (concussion) and James Reimer (lower body), who were each injured on Feb. 22, could be back in 7-10 days.
Still, Carolina is third in the NHL with a plus-482 shot attempts differential (SAT), indicating that the Hurricanes outchance their opponents considerably at 5-on-5. nine of the top 10 teams in SAT last season qualified for the playoffs, including the St. Louis Blues (plus-216, ranked 10th), who went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens (plus-662, ranked fourth), were the only team in the top 10 that did not make the playoffs.
The Hurricanes have also excelled at special teams. They are 12th on the power play (21.2 percent) and fifth on the penalty kill (83.2 percent). With encouraging 5-on-5 statistics, good special teams and 18 games remaining, they are in the mix to reach the postseason again after going to the Eastern Conference Final last season.
The one area that could them back is goaltending. The Hurricanes rank 24th in 5-on-5 save percentage (91.3 percent). Mrazek, their No. 1 goalie, is 31st of 41 who've played at least 30 games with a .904 save percentage. Reimer has performed better (.914 save percentage in 25 games) but had an .885 save percentage in his five most recent appearances before being injured. One immediate change the Hurricanes could make is to block more shots. They rank next-to-last with 740 blocks and could take some pressure off their goalies by enabling them to face fewer shots.
Video: DAL@CAR: Aho beats Khudobin at the doorstep
The Wild are one point behind the Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets and Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference wild-card race with 16 games remaining. They fired coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Dean Evason on Feb. 14, but are 14-9-2 since Jan. 1. In that span, they are tied for eighth in goals per game (3.28) with the Canucks and are seventh in goals against per game (2.72). Minnesota also has the fourth-best power play (26.3 percent) in the NHL since Jan. 1, and the Wild's plus-99 SAT is seventh during that span.
Individual contributions are a big part of the Wild's recent success. The most notable contributor is forward Kevin Fiala, who has five straight multipoint games and ranks third in the NHL with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 16 games since Feb. 1. Goalie Alex Stalock has raised his game considerably, going 10-3-1 with a .926 save percentage and three shutouts in his past 14 appearances after having a .903 save percentage through his first 22 games.
The Wild's top-four defensemen have also been playing well since Jan. 1. Jared Spurgeon ranks first on the team with a plus-89 SAT, Ryan Suter is second (plus-78), Matt Dumba is fourth (plus-49) and Jonas Brodin is seventh (plus-30). These statistics are crucial for the Wild because Suter is first on the team in average time on ice per game this season (24:37), followed by Dumba (22:32), Spurgeon (22:28) and Brodin (21:28) indicating that Minnesota will likely keep up its winning ways if the top four defensemen can continue to play big minutes.
One area where the Wild could help their playoff chances is the penalty kill, which is ranked 27th (76.4 percent). Continuing to play Stalock more frequently may help this. His .861 save percentage during opposing power plays is considerably higher than Devan Dubnyk's .841. With Fiala scoring at an elite level, their top-four defensemen driving possession and Stalock holding down the No. 1 goalie job, the Wild are looking more and more promising to make a push for the playoffs.
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