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Michael Carcone’s offensive statistics are eye-popping. Entering a game against the San José Sharks on Friday, he was tied for 13th in the NHL in goals with 14; a total that led all Coyotes through 28 games.
He has more goals than Alex DeBrincat, Brady Tkachuk, Nate MacKinnon, Jack Eichel, Brayden Point, Brad Marchand, Leon Draisaitl, Connor Bedard, Connor McDavid and many other big names.
More impressively, he led the NHL in goals at 5-on-5 (12) despite ranking 477th in the NHL in 5-on-5 ice time at 297 minutes and 52 seconds.
The latter statistic is the one that catches the casual eye. Among Coyotes who have played at least 10 games, Carcone ranks 19th in average ice time per game, and 11th among Coyotes forwards at 11 minutes, two seconds per game.
So what gives? How is a guy who is producing at that clip still languishing near the bottom rung when it comes to time on ice?
There’s a few explanations.
“It’s weird to say but the fact we have centers hurt (Jack McBain, Barrett Hayton and Travis Boyd have all be out of the lineup) makes the rotation tougher,” coach André Tourigny said. “If you look at our ice times early in the season for our third and fourth line, they were higher than lately.
“[When you have those injuries], what you do is you play, a little bit more, your first line and that hurts the ice time of your third or fourth line. I think having [Jack McBain] back [on Friday] will help us. Hopefully, we will have [Nick Schmaltz] in, but let’s say we have one more body. That will help to spread out the ice time better.”
The second explanation is the most obvious one. Carcone is shooting 35 percent, scoring on 14 of his 40 shots. That is second in the NHL to Detroit’s Robby Fabbri, who is shooting 39.1 percent.
Last season, Vancouver’s Andrei Kuzmenko led the NHL in shooting percentage at 27.3. The next closest player shot 21.7 percent, with eight players shooting 20 percent or better. The highest shooting percentage for a single season in NHL history was set by Los Angeles’ Charlie Simmer in 1980-81 at 32.75 percent. He had 56 goals on just 171 shots.
While NHL shooting averages have been on the rise in recent seasons, it is still highly unlikely that a player will top 20 percent for a season. Carcone is due for a regression. He and Tourigny both acknowledged this.
“The guys have been giving me a hard time about the shooting percentage so they’re having a little fun with it,” Carcone said.
Tourigny was more to the point.
“How much money do you want to bet with me that he won’t sustain that?” the coach said. “I’ll take everything you’ve got.
“I’m not wishing him any bad luck. What I want is for him to have twice more opportunities so even if his shooting percentage drops, that’s fine, he will maintain his production. It’s just about him keeping getting better and being a complete player. I’m not knocking on him at all. I like Carcs. He’s doing a lot of good things, but in order for him to go from where he is to the next step — the 15, 16, 17 minutes of ice time — there’s a little bit of things to clean up.”
The easiest way for Carcone to earn more ice time is to be more consistent in his 5-on-5 play.
“In my conversations with Bear, that was the big thing going into this season is, ‘Can you do it every night?'” Carcone said. “And you know what? I struggled. I’m still finding my way. That’s been my focus.
“For me, it’s just about recognition or pace in the D-zone. If I get caught low and I’m [filling the role of] a centerman, I’ve got to have a little more pace and make sure I’m picking up my guy or just making the right decisions coming out of the zone. I was throwing pucks away to the middle. You don’t think they make a big deal, but honestly, they do. Maybe people watching don’t notice it, but on our team with the way we want to play, it’s big.”
Carcone cited a recent example where a casual backhand flip of the puck into the middle of the ice on a breakout led to a turnover and eventually, Buffalo’s first goal in a 5-2 Sabres win on Monday. When Carcone makes a mistake like that, he’s going to hear about it.
“Obviously, Bear’s got to be hard on me sometimes, too, but I know it comes from a good place and he generally cares,” he said. “I love him as a person. He’s been great to me. It’s been a good relationship so far in trying to sort it out and figure things out.”
Tourigny stressed what a willing and diligent student Carcone has been in his first season playing on a one-way contract.
“He works at his game, slowly but surely,” Tourigny said. “He knows what he has to do to improve his ice time and he makes the effort. I really like his attitude.”
That’s no surprise for a guy who toiled seven seasons in the American Hockey League, hoping to earn a permanent role that he finally secured when GM Bill Armstrong signed him to a two-year, one-way, $1.55 million contract last summer.
While he has garnered some national attention this season for his efficient production, Carcone isn’t doing much basking in his recent limelight.
“I’ve been a producer in my career,” he said. “I know I can score goals. That’s who I have been, but sometimes I try a little too hard and I get caught so you’ve got to tune out the noise and focus on what you can control and again, that’s just working on my 5-on-5 game.”
Tourigny will reward Carcone’s recent efforts with a look on the power play on Friday against the Sharks. It’s a role Carcone has wanted, but he doesn’t mind flying under the radar as he works toward earning a bigger slice of the pie.
“There’s guys that other teams may focus on and maybe they’re not worried about me,” he said. “You get on the ice with [Clayton Keller] or Schmaltzy or Matias [Maccelli] or [Jason] Zucker or [Alex] Kerfoot, those are all guys that have had 40 points-plus and 20 goals and you’re a guy that’s just coming up.
“They don’t know who you are. No one knows what I’ve done so maybe I can try to find some space, contribute, and take advantage of it.”
Top photo of Michael Carcone via Getty Images
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