Today’s NHL predictions matchup features two Metropolitan Division foes. The Columbus Blue Jackets travel to North Carolina to take on a Carolina Hurricanes team that last game looked more like a gentle offshore breeze instead of a Hurricane. Even though Columbus is near the bottom of the standings, this is a game that could be sneakily difficult for Carolina if they are not mentally prepared.
Columbus comes to town riding a two-game win streak. This includes their most recent victory against the New Jersey Devils. Overall, things have been a little rocky for the Blue Jackets as Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine have been underperforming. However, they are in somewhat of a rebuilding phase and have a lot to look forward to with younger players like Adam Fantilli.
Carolina meanwhile will look to bounce back after one of the most embarrassing performances this year. Maybe even in NHL history. They lost 8-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning at home and it was one for the ages. Carolina dominated the first period, leading in shots eight to one and leading on the scoresheet one to zero. It looked like a game Carolina would control. And then the second period started, the Hurricanes took multiple penalties back-to-back-to-back and couldn’t stop the lethal Tampa power play. From there, it went from bad to worse. They ended up letting in eight goals on 14 shots allowed. And no I did not make this up. Inconsistency has been the name of the game for Carolina this year but the first step to finding rhythm starts with Columbus. Here are three keys to Carolina’s victory.
NHL Predictions: Carolina vs. Columbus
Three Keys to Victory for the Carolina Hurricanes
Make a Save
Almost like a broken record here, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to focus on limiting chances defensively. If you allow less shots, then statistically you should allow less goals, right? Well sometimes.
Since the team focuses on a heavy forecheck with a high shot generation offensively mixed with a man on man defensive zone coverage and aggressively limiting shots, teams that can transition quickly and get off high danger quick shots can find a way to crack this shell. Over the last few years especially, Carolina has gotten solid goaltending from each of Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta and Pyotr Kochetkov that helps fill that gap when teams break through Carolina’s defence. This year, however, not so much.
Statistically, Carolina leads the league in shots against per game played with 25.2 and second in total shots against. Their 55.26 expected goals against ranks in the top five while their high danger shots against of 60 has them in the top ten. So systemically, they are doing what they have always done it seems.
But here is where the difference lies. They are in the bottom three in the league in PDO at 96.47%. PDO measures their shooting percentage plus save percentage. Their shooting percentage on shots on goal of 9.98% isn’t terrible but their save percentage on shots on goal is a league worst 86.49%. They are also bottom five in goals against above expected.
This paints the picture that we clearly saw in the Tampa game. Carolina can, and does, limit chances and shots. But the shots they allow have a high rate of turning into goals. And while everything is not on the goalies, they aren’t really reigning with fire this year either. Raanta sits at the bottom of the league with a .854 SV%. Kochetkov isn’t far behind with a .875 SV%. Even Andersen, who unfortunately is out for an indefinite amount of time, has a .894 SV%. So no goalie is over .900 and this doesn’t help Carolina’s fortunes. While the team has been reportedly searching for another goaltender, they have to figure out how to stop the puck against Columbus or Hurricanes fans are going to leave another game frustrated.
Match Special Teams Closer to 5v5 Play
At this point, special teams seems like the constant moving target for the Hurricanes. Especially this season. At one point the penalty kill looks great. Then it’s terrible. The power play looks improved, then it gives up multiple shorthanded goals. Much like their season as a whole, special teams have been anything but consistent.
Statistically, the Hurricanes power play isn’t too bad at 22.2%. But against Tampa, they only managed one power play goal compared to six chances. Tampa scored four on five chances. So yeah, they got one, but this was a game that another one or two could have turned things around. And when you need a boost to momentum, failing to convert on the power play can have the opposite effect. Even though it seems improved, the power play still has frequent moments of looking out of sync and sloppy. Columbus boasts one of the top penalty kills at 88.5%. Carolina has to find some success on the power play to break through.
On the other side, the penalty kill is in the bottom ten in the league at 74.6%. So, it statistically is not great, but it’s not really even the straight statistics behind that are killing Carolina. It’s the fact that they will absolutely dominate games five on five and then lose due to poor penalty killing. They grind and grind at 5v5, take a penalty, allow a goal (or three), and then end up trying to dig out of the hole. Columbus sits near the bottom in power play percentage with 10.5% but Carolina cannot lose focus here.
Both the power play and penalty kill can be killers to a game. While it’s probably not best for long term results to rely solely on your special teams, they are very important. This will be key for Carolina against Columbus.
Winning hockey games produces fun. Or does having fun produce winning? Maybe it’s a chicken or the egg type thing. But I would argue that having fun leads to results. NHL players are here because they love the game and have an exceptional talent allowing them to do it for a living. And a really good living relatively speaking.
When players are having fun, things seem natural. The plays happen without thinking and the puck seems to find the back of the net. But when frustrated or apathetic, it’s the opposite. Guys start trying too hard to make things happen versus letting the play flow. We all know the term “gripping the stick to tight.” But that’s exactly what happens. Shots are missed, opposing players go unmarked, and bounces seem to just go the other way. Hockey is just as much mental as it is physical.
Carolina has seemed to have had lots of fun playing the last few years. And I don’t even mean the marketing campaigns or the “Storm Surge.” What I mean is the team seemed to enjoy playing under Rod Brind’Amour and engaging in his system. It requires a lot of hard work, but the players thrived off it. But for some reason, this season the fun seems to be less than usual. The Tampa game was obviously an outlier on how bad it was, but listening to Captain Jordan Staal‘s post-game interview, he almost seemed somewhat apathetic. And maybe he had some shell shock. Or just simply was lost for words.
“We had the game in our hands after the first. I thought we played really well. And then special teams kind of let us down.”
— Bally Sports: Canes (@CanesOnBally) November 25, 2023
There are times where the fun shows such as when the first line puts together some impressive passing plays. But the team needs to find that consistently. Don’t overthink things. Play their game and the results should follow. Yes, it’s their job but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it. Especially if that produces results. Friday night was a rotten egg. Forget it, flush it and move on. With a fresh mind and a new day, Carolina needs to get back to enjoying hockey.
With Columbus en route to a three-game winning streak and Carolina looking to regroup after the Tampa Bay debacle, this should be an interesting one to watch. Neither team has done much too consistently and making a prediction for this one can be really tricky. Taking an optimistic approach to the Hurricanes, expect them to come out firing but don’t expect Columbus to go down without a fight.
Prediction: Carolina wins 3-2
Main Photo Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports