Luke DeCock

DeCock: By the numbers, Canes should have won – but didn’t

The numbers were good. Really good. Off-the-charts good.

However hockey’s new advanced stats say you’re supposed to play to win, that’s how the Carolina Hurricanes played Saturday night. They took a lot of shots, and not just harmless shots from the outside, but shots from dangerous places on the ice. They possessed the puck. They drew penalties. They limited the Detroit Red Wings’ chances.

By the numbers, this is how you’re supposed to play to win in the NHL.

And the Hurricanes still lost, 4-3 to Red Wings, their seventh straight loss in a PNC Arena opener, their 13th straight loss in October.

After a dismal first period Thursday, the Hurricanes finished much the same way against the Nashville Predators as they played Saturday, closing strongly but only able to score in the waning moments of a 2-1 loss.

Even when the Hurricanes play the right way, they’re not getting results. That’s a little disconcerting.

“We’re fine,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “We’ll play the same way. Tighten things up defensively.”

Hockey is in the midst of a statistical awakening as the old eyeball test gives way to new forays into mathematics and analysis. The new metrics have odd names, but researchers continue to find ways in which they correlate to success. Corsi, Fenwick, score adjusted, even strength – in all of them, the Hurricanes were terrific Saturday night. And yet they were behind in the only stat that matters in the morning.

It could merely be a small sample size. Over time, some of these shots may start to go in for the Hurricanes. Or it could be an indictment of the Hurricanes’ overall talent level. They may not have players good enough to convert the kind of chances that bring other teams success – and they certainly can’t overcome the kind of defensive breakdowns they made in the third period.

Saturday certainly leaned toward the latter. Detroit ended up scoring four goals on 19 shots. The Hurricanes needed 33 to score their first goal, scored the second on their 34th and finished with 47. And it wasn’t because Petr Mrazek played like the reincarnation of Terry Sawchuk or Cam Ward was terrible. Mrazek didn’t have to be terrific, and Ward was hung out to dry at least twice.

The Hurricanes owned the first period, outshooting Detroit 26-4 with nothing to show for it. After Jordan Staal let Henrik Zetterberg walk past him to put the Red Wings on the board in the second period, the Hurricanes answered with two quick goals to take the lead, then imploded in the third period with terrible turnovers and defensive breakdowns.

“We played well the majority of the 60 minutes,” Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk said, “but it’s not enough.”

All of the Hurricanes’ multi-million dollar forwards were outplayed by $735,000 Teemu Pulkkinen, who had three shots and scored on two of them.

Noah Hanifin, at least, continued to impress in his home debut. Hanifin got his first NHL assist by holding in a Detroit clearing attempt and firing a shot that bounced off the end boards and in front of the net, where Victor Rask batted it out of midair for the goal. Hanifin also deftly defused at least three Detroit scoring chances with individual defensive plays.

The 18-year-old rookie defenseman is going to be fun to watch no matter how long a season it turns out to be.

Not good enough to finish chances. Too many defensive mistakes. That’s not a combination that’s going to win you many games in the NHL, no matter how good your numbers are.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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