The Hurricanes started off their pivotal five-game road trip with wins in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, and they now look to continue their winning ways Friday at Madison Square Garden, followed by visits to New Jersey and Ottawa.
This week’s Category 5 looks at Carolina’s success when scoring two goals, the team’s home attendance, goalie Curtis McElhinney’s big season, one player’s Cy Young bid, and how the Hurricanes’ kids are carrying the team’s scoring.
Category 1: As I first mentioned ahead of Carolina’s home game last Friday against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Hurricanes have a phenomenal record when they manage to score at least two goals.
Take this for what it’s worth, but in all 16 of his career NHL appearances, Lagace has allowed at least two goals.
Hurricanes are 24-4-4 this season when scoring two goals or more.
— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) February 1, 2019
The Hurricanes kept it rolling that night, beating Vegas 5-2, and have won two of three since (4-3 loss to Calgary, 4-0 win at Pittsburgh, 6-5 overtime win in Buffalo last night) to improve to 27-5-4 when scoring twice. That’s among the best in the NHL, though it’s not necessarily an indicator of success.
The Coyotes’ “when scoring two” record was similar to Carolina’s until they went 0-3-1 in their last four games, dropping their record in such instances to 23-8-5.
The Lighting, the NHL’s top team, unsurprisingly have the league’s best record when scoring twice, going 37-5-3.
It’s another indicator that the Hurricanes are poised for a big road trip. Games against the Penguins and Sabres were against teams that, on average, allow more than three goals a game. The same is true of the team’s next four opponents: the Rangers, Devils, Senators and Oilers are all in the bottom seven in the NHL in team goals-against average.
Category 2: Hurricanes vice president of marketing Mike Forman sent out some good attendance news on Saturday.
— Mike Forman (@MForman5) February 2, 2019
The team knew Sunday’s game against Calgary would snap that streak — the Super Bowl Sunday matinee drew only 12,621 — so they might as well pump their tires a little until the run was snapped.
And, of course, someone felt the need to bash the fact that the Hurricanes are doing well at the gate.
Weird flex, but OK.
Why not flex 100% capacity for X number of games.
— Justin (@primetimey) February 3, 2019
Never mind that this tweeter is, according to their profile, from Winnipeg, where Bell MTS Place seats a maximum of 15,321, or that they are seemingly a Dallas fan and the Stars haven’t put together more than two straight sellouts this year.
Such is life for Forman and the Hurricanes, who face the ever-moving attendance goalposts from critics. Carolina’s attendance still isn’t anywhere near as good as it once was, but at nearly 14,000 a night it is on the rise. Attendance at PNC Arena bottomed out in 2016-17 (11,776) after peaking in the mid-17,000s.
There’s certainly still work to be done, but since the team drew an average of 17,560 in 2012-13 and fell to its low two seasons ago, it has climbed two straight years. Last season, Carolina drew 13,321, and this year it’s up to 13,973.
If the team stays in playoff contention, it can expect to eclipse a 14,000 average. It also helps that seven of the team’s remaining 14 home games are on Friday and Saturday, and another is on a Sunday, and that midweek games include a few teams that usually draw well: the Rangers, Penguins and Capitals.
Category 3: Twenty games played seems to be the current threshold for which goalies can be included in any statistical discussion, so with Curtis McElhinney playing his 20th game Thursday in Buffalo it seems like a good time to see how he stacks up.
Goalies, ultimately, get judged on wins, and few have been as good at winning as McElhinney this season. Here’s the very short list of goalies this season with 20 games played and twice as many wins as losses (regulation and OT/shootout combined):
David Rittich, Calgary: 20-4-4
Louis Dominique, Tampa Bay: 17-4-0
Juuse Saros, Nashville: 14-6-1
McElhinney is just off that pace at 13-6-1.
But the thing separating McElhinney from the others is, simply, the team that plays in front of them. The Lightning, Flames and Predators are currently first, second and fifth in points, respectively, this season, while Carolina is 15th.
McElhinney ranks 13th in save percentage among goalies with 20 appearances with a .915, and his 2.50 goals-against average is tied for 10th. In both of those categories, the goaltenders ahead of him are on teams currently holding a playoff spot.
The Hurricanes won’t be able to ride McElhinney down the stretch — his 35-year-old body, specifically a degenerative knee, is unlikely to hold up if he starts, say, 22 of the final 28 games. But if Carolina can continue to get 1.35 points in the standings per McElhinney start and an even split from Petr Mrazek (25 points in 25 games this season), a playoff berth doesn’t hinge on overplaying McElhinney.
If the tandem were to split the final 28 games and perform as they have, that would mean Mrazek banks 14 points and McElhinney rounds up to 19 (from 18.9). If you swing three more starts to McElhinney (17 for him, 11 for Mrazek), the Hurricanes project out to 94 points. So if McElhinney continues to win (and his knee holds up) or if Mrazek can outperform his season numbers (since the calendar flipped to 2019, he’s actually 5-3-1, so 1.22 points per start), that sounds like a path to the playoffs.
Category 4: Jordan Martinook has a career-high 12 goals — a lot for him, especially through just 54 games, but it’s not a total showing up at the top of any goal-scoring lists.
Unless you’re looking for this year’s Cy Young winner.
The Cy Young Award, of course, is given annually to the best MLB pitchers in both the American and National leagues. The fictitious NHL Cy Young Award goes to the player with the most impressive goals-to-assists ratio — mimicking a pitcher’s record.
Martinook currently has 12 goals and — after his first two-assist game with the Hurricanes on Thursday in Buffalo — five assists, a solid 12-5 “record” that puts him among the 12 players who currently have at least 12 goals but fewer than 10 assists.
The Cy Young frontrunner right now is Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson, who has 22 goals and just eight assists on the year. Other contenders are Columbus’ Josh Anderson (18-9), Edmonton’s Alex Chiasson (17-9), Boston’s Jake DeBrusk (14-5), and recently traded (from New Jersey to Nashville) Brian Boyle and Tampa Bay rookie Mathieu Joseph (13-6).
And then there’s Winnipeg sniper Patrik Laine, who has 25 goals and 10 assists. Are 10 assists too many to be considered for the hockey Cy Young? The last MLB Cy Young-winning pitchers to have double-digit losses were Roy Halladay (Philadelphia, 21-10) and Felix Hernandez (Seattle, 13-12), both in 2010. After that, you have to go all the way back to 1996 for the 10-loss pitcher who won the award last, when Pat Hentgen won it with the Blue Jays in 1996.
My past five “winners” for the NHL version of the award are:
2017-18: Michael Grabner, Arizona/New Jersey, 27-9
2016-17: Andrew Ladd, Islanders, 23-8
2015-16: Zack Smith, Ottawa, 25-11
2014-15: Brandon Pirri, Florida, 22-2 (!!)
2013-14: Rick Nash, Rangers, 26-13
So are Laine’s 10 assists (which project out to about 15 on the season) too many to be considered for this make-believe honor? And could Martinook sneak into consideration is he stays on pace and finishes with 18 goals with 7-8 assists? Stay tuned.
Category 5: According to Hockey-Reference.com — arguably the greatest website in existence — the Hurricanes are currently tied for the league’s third-youngest roster at 26.5 with the Sabres. Columbus is the youngest at 26.3, followed by Winnipeg at 26.4. Minnesota (29.6), Detroit (29.4) and Los Angeles (29.2) are the oldest.
The good news for Carolina, beyond being young and on the rise, is that all but 21 of their 157 goals this season have been scored by players who are currently 26 or younger — just 13.4 percent. Buffalo is at 32 of 154 (20.8 percent), while Winnipeg (59 of 187; 31.6 percent) and Columbus (72 of 173; 41.6 percent) get a lot of their goals from veteran players.
Carolina’s gotten goals from just four players this season who are currently older than 26: Justin Williams (37), 13 goals; Jordan Staal (30), five goals; Trevor van Riemsdyk (27), two goals; and Calvin de Haan (27), one goal. But it’s the young guys who are doing the most of the work.