Week 10 of the Nerdy 30: Reincarnation and Hibernation

Legends of Hockey

Legends of Hockey

After a really sad week off the ice, hockey decided to go bonkers in order to be fun again. Now, all hasn’t been coming up roses because the devaluation of the Ruble could affect Russia’s KHL, let alone the country itself, in the the worst way imaginable. Russian Machine’s Fedor Fedin wrote an awesome piece describing what could happen long term. Also, Dallas Eakins got fired after just 14 months worth of hockey coaching in Edmonton. Who knows how good of a Eakins is, but at the end of the day, if you base your coaching performance methodology off of Gabriel Desjardin’s piece like I do, there is no team that has under-acheived so poorly over those fourteen months than Edmonton.

On those notes, teams like Columbus have risen from the dead and could get back on the playoff race thanks to a seven game winning streak. While the Blue Jackets and other teams are bouncing back from slow starts, others are tapering off in the worst way. Let’s dive into four of those types of teams in the latest Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 72 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Edmonton (Pace: 50 pts, LW: 28)
  • 28. Columbus (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 29)
  • 27. Carolina (Pace: 52 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Arizona (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Colorado (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 25)

Wait, aren’t the Sabres supposed to be terrible? What is going on here?! Their puck posession is still the worst at a historic rate. Since their 10-4-0 stretch that started on November 15th, Buffalo only has a +2 goal differential while having 38.5% of the shot attempts go in favor of them. If anything, only the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Blackhawks have a higher on-ice shooting percentage and PDO than Buffalo during that time span.

On an individual basis, the kids are playing and they are alright. The Zemgus Girgensons experience is blossoming and his fellow Latvians don’t need to vote him into the All-Star game to get my attention. Also, Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen are getting quality top-four minutes that will benefit them in the long run. When watching the Sabres live against the Caps on November 22nd, I had to be reminded just how huge Ristolainen is (6’4″, 219 pounds!). Add Tyler Myers into the mix (barring being traded) and you have three towering players on the blue line for the next decade or so; something, surely, no Sabres fan has ever seen in their lifetime.

Unsung heroes on the winning streak have been the checking second line of Brian Flynn, Brian Gionta and Torrey Mitchell who have been driving possession really well. For Gionta, this has been a very pleasant surprise given how has been declining over the last three years.

One thing that could be driving the Sabres’ luck has been their emphasis of driving in front of the net. I don’t think it should be something that we can definitively conclude that having above average point blank shots can result in being a successful NHL team over 82 games, but having players with strong net-front presence like Matt Moulson are beneficial. One thing to watch for long term is Buffalo’s lack of talent on the left-hand side of the ice. Having Chris Stewart play at an ECHL level certainly affects the numbers, but clearly, Buffalo’s better players are on the right wing (Tyler Ennis, Gionta and a resurgent Drew Stafford) and at right-handed defense (Myers, Ristolainen, Meszaros).

  • 24. New Jersey (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 22)
  • 23. Florida (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 23)
  • 22. Philadelphia (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 24)
  • 21. Dallas (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 21)
  • 20. Calgary (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 17)
  • 19. Ottawa (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 18)
  • 18. Vancouver (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 12)
  • 17. Montreal (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 20)

After seeming like the Devils were going to prove all the ageist hockey pundits wrong in October, they have gone on a 5-12-4 tailspin since November 2nd. Simply put, this team doesn’t suppress shots anymore. After leading the NHL for four straight years (!!!!) in close-score unblocked shot attempts against per 60 minutes at even strength, New Jersey now sits at 18th with 41.1 of those events going against them. Losing defenseman like Anton Volchenkov doesn’t help, and after observing the data, the same can also be said about losing Ryan Carter and Mark Fayne. That totals to three of New Jersey’s five top defenders that played over 600 minutes last year.

Their defensive woes also continue on the penalty kill, where the Devils sit at 77.1% (26th in the NHL). Even Cory Schneider, who seems to be the team’s lone security blanket and has still saved 92.9% of all even strength shots, is not having a great season with only having 51.9% of his starts hit quality level. On the penalty kill, that save percentage dwindles to 87.1%; putting him amongst the bottom third in the league.

Up front, Jagr finally looks to be slowing down with only 5 goals and shooting at a 7.7% clip. In fact, only Adam Henrique and Mike Camalleri have been able to score more than a goal for every four games for the Devils. It’s not like New Jersey has never had issues scoring and shooting recently, but everything else is getting worse as well.

  • 16. Boston (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 16)
  • 15. Washington (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 14)
  • 14. Toronto (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 19)
  • 13. Anaheim (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 11)
  • 12. Winnipeg (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 10)
  • 11. San Jose (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 15)
  • 10. Los Angeles (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 9)

Another team that is seriously falling apart is Boston. Since November 12th, they have gone 5-7-3 and like New Jersey, their penalty kill has been a disaster. Zdeno Chara is back and Zach Trotman has been another good young contributor despite easy deployments along with Seth Griffith. However, there’s a sense that unless their core group of players (specifically Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson along with Chara and David Krejci when they come back healthy) gets significantly better, the Bruins might not make the playoffs.

Tuuka Rask is bouncing back and now is having an above-average season but the forwards are shooting at a league-average clip, so PDO is not an issue anymore. One thing that can be pointed is that Boston is struggling to score from the scoring chance areas despite still throwing the puck there at an elite level. When Chara comes back, more shots should come from the point, but this is what happens when a defenseman is by far the team’s best and most consistent offensive player, especially one that turns 38 in March. Long term, Torey Krug is arguably their most important long term piece, but the majority of the best forwards on this team are now in their late-20s and the Reilly Smith-types don’t look like they can hit 70-100 points any time in their careers. Add the cap situation they’re in (how’s that Krejci contract Chiarelli? Have you been missing Jim Benning’s words of wisdom?) and this team is in deep trouble long term.

  • 9. New York Rangers (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 13)
  • 8. Detroit (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 5)
  • 7. Minnesota (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 6)
  • 6. New York Islanders (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 7)
  • 5. Tampa Bay (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 2)
  • 4. St. Louis (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 8)
  • 3. Pittsburgh (Pace: 120 pts, LW: 4)
  • 2. Nashville (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 3)
  • 1. Chicago (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 1)

It took a while, but the New York Rangers are back in the Stanley Cup contender conversation. Since November 19th, they have gone 8-3-0, but their win loss record might look fake if they keep up their even strength play. Since that date, only Columbus, Toronto and Buffalo has had worse puck possession and the Blueshirts’ on-ice shooting percentage is at an absurd 12.2%. Overall, that shooting percentage is now the highest percentage in the league and as mentioned with Tampa a few weeks ago, no team has made it beyond the second round that is not named Pittsburgh with a 9% or higher even strength shooting percentage.

Even weirder, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been a disaster this year, yet an aging Dan Boyle is their team’s best defenseman, followed by…Matt Hunwick? It might be shocking, but if you look at his career numbers, Colorado might have screwed him over. If there’s one thing to get excited about, it could be that J.T. Miller might have actually figured it out. However, the ultimate definition that proves how bad the Rangers are analytically is that their top line might be the worst in the league. Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Derrick Brassard (sans Mumps) and Martin St. Louis all have all been very poor in relative shot attempt percentage and head coach Alain Vigenault has lately put Miller and Mats Zuccarello on the top line of late while St. Louis, and Stepan are in the second line. Talk about a weird hockey team that could be interesting, both good and bad, once the shooting percentage numbers chill out.

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