Now that all the general managers have done their work at the trade deadline and the internet rumors have quieted down for, at least, another two months, we can all focus on the hockey being played on the ice. Things are really heating up for the final playoff seeds in both conferences as Boston won three straight games against definite playoff or on-the-bubble teams while Winnipeg’s injuries and this goal might come back to haunt them. Los Angeles and Ottawa are on the outside looking in while Philadelphia looks to, well, continue to do Philadelphia things.
One thing to look at as the playoff seeds are solidifying is whether the wild card teams, thanks to the way the playoff matchups are formatted, tank to avoid playing in certain divisions. For example, if you’re Minnesota and you are sitting at seventh place in the Western Conference, would you rather stay pat and play Nashville in round one and another Central Division team in round two, or would you want to drop down to the eighth seed and play a wonky Anaheim and then either Vancouver or Calgary in round two.
Same goes with Washington. Would you rather play against the criminally overrated Montreal team in the first round and hope to shake off the demons of 2010, or do you want to play the New York Rangers or Islanders and shake off the demons from 2012-2013 and the late 1980s respectively. You’re right, the playoffs are a terrible invention.
In the meantime, another faltering team is out in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.
30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 53 points, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton (Pace: 58 pts, LW: 29)
28. Arizona (Pace: 61 pts, LW: 28)
27. Colorado (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 20)
26. Toronto (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 26)
25. Columbus (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 27)
24. New Jersey (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 25)
It has been a long time coming, but it was only a matter of time until the Avalanche got scratched from the rankings. Even if you can make the case that losing to Los Angeles was a sign that Colorado had too big of a deficit to overcome and make the playoffs, losing Semyon Varlamov to a groin injury is even worse, even if it is just day-to-day. Just ask Capitals fans. This was another addition to an already brutal injury list with Erik Johnson and Nathan MacKinnon both on injured reserve.
Now all the focus has to be on finding some way to build a better foundation under MacKinnon, Varlamov, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene. They will have an additional $6 million in cap space when the decaying Daniel Briere and Jan Hejda become unrestricted free agents and promoting the likes of Joey Hishon and either Duncan Siemens or Chris Bigras should be a good way of saving money and potentially getting long term, like for like replacements. That being said, it is not a good sign that Hishon is Colorado’s best forward prospect and will be 24 years old and only on pace to be a 10 goal, 25-30 point getter based on cumulative NHL translations.
More goal scoring and shot generation has to come to Denver because Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla are not getting any younger and there is plenty of pessimism on whether or not two-way forward Ryan O’Reilly will stay with the Avalanche beyond 2016. If they can believe a little bit more in analytics that doesn’t involve pulling the goaltender earlier, this team may finally begin to develop correctly in a tough central division.
23. Philadelphia (Pace: 83 pts, LW: 25)
22. Carolina (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 23)
21. Ottawa (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 22)
20. Dallas (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 21)
- 19. Calgary (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 19)
- 18. Florida (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 18)
- 17. Vancouver (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 16)
- 16. Montreal (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 17)
Everyone on NBC Sports made a big deal about the decision to start Craig Anderson instead of the red hot Andrew Hammond costing Ottawa a crucial two points against the Boston Bruins. What was missing was the fact that Ottawa smashed Boston to pieces in the shot attempt category 49.2-32.6 when adjusted during even strength. Also, Anderson DID win a game (against another team chasing for a playoff spot in Calgary, no less) in the middle of that 8-1-1 stretch since the day they were eliminated from the Nerdy 30 rankings.
There have been many things that have caused the Senators to finally get a push into the playoffs, and it’s not just Hammond’s goaltending. For one, their puck possession has dramatically improved, even without the lack of trade deadline acquisitions and the production of Clarke MacArthur due to concussion like symptoms. Second, their offense has generated shots at a top-ten level during their 10-game stretch and it’s resulted in eight players averaging two points per 60 minutes at even strength. Lastly, no longer is head coach Dave Cameron trotting out 36-year old human traffic cones Chris Phillips and Jared Cowen and the likes of puck possession wizard Patrick Wiercoch are in their place along the blueline along with Marc Methot, who has fully recovered from major back problems this season.
Not all of this is going to last, though, because their PDO was a whopping 103.2; good for third highest in the NHL. It has been completely fueled by Hammond’s outstanding goaltending and the team-wide save percentage of 94.7% in their last ten games is the fourth highest in the league. Their shot suppression at that time has not been great (56.2 total shot attempts against per 60 minutes: 21st in the NHL since February 18th), but plenty of that has to due with score effects more than anything else (51.9 total shot attempts against per 60 minutes: 17th in the NHL). So we don’t know if Ottawa can be able to catch up with Boston for the final slot in the playoffs because just as much as Craig Anderson has been better than people think he is, Andrew Hammond can’t be as historically good as he is either.
- 15. San Jose (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 15)
- 14. Anaheim (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 14)
- 13. Minnesota (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 12)
- 12. Boston (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 13)
- 11. Winnipeg (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 10)
- 10. Washington (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 11)
- 9. New York Rangers (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 9)
You know their overrated. The Anaheim Ducks only have a +13 goal differential (12th in the NHL) and their score adjusted shot attempt percentage only favors them at 50.7% (17th in the NHL). Yet, they are still in the running for a President’s Trophy and they could be even better. Amazingly, their PDO is barely above 100 and their goaltending is below league average in both even strength and at the penalty kill. The Ducks also possess a power play shooting percentage that barely misses the bottom-ten despite shooting at a top ten rate.
So what type of team is this, especially after the trade deadline in which they swapped Ben Lovejoy for Simon “Yarp” Despres and Devante Smith-Pelly for Jiri Sekac along with acquiring James Wisniewski and Tomas Fleischmann. Welp, within a small four-game sample, the Ducks were the fourth best possession team in the NHL, even if their four games were against Pittsburgh and three mediocre possession teams in Montreal, Vancouver and Arizona.
During that span, Anaheim used a second line of Ryan Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Fleischmann as a true shutdown line while Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Kyle Palmieri try to overpower opponents with quality zone starts. The bottom six, on the other hand seemed very sheltered, which should say something when Andrew Cogliano is involved in that. Utilizing their forwards will be the most important thing for the Ducks to sort out by the time April and May comes around.
- 8. Los Angeles (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 8)
- 7. Detroit (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 7)
- 6. St. Louis (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 6)
- 5. Nashville (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. New York Islanders (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 2)
- 3. Tampa Bay (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 4)
- 2. Pittsburgh (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 3)
- 1. Chicago (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 1)
After some potential turmoil from their usual regular season injury bug, Pittsburgh is back by going 6-1-1 since February 21st. Acquiring the likes of Daniel Winnik has been an added bonus for not so much his own production, but also eliminating the aging Craig Adams from the lineup. On the last year of his deal, only the recently traded Zach Sill and Brandon Sutter had were worse in relative puck possession than Adams. Having a torrid Evgeni Malkin plus a gradually better defense and a much better PDO in the last month has certainly helped as well.
While the Penguins’ PDO has been 100.8 this season, it is not at a level or traveled at a level where you can say the team is completely relying on puck luck. If we continue to see a dramatic increase, that may be a different story. It will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh can get away with deploying a miserably sheltered third line of Winnik, Sutter and Nick Spalling while putting out two power scoring lines. I mean, it’s not like we’ve haven’t seen this episode before since Jordan Staal got traded.
While replacing Despres with Lovejoy was the most controversial trade at the deadline, maybe giving playing time to Derrick Pouliot while Olli Maata is on the shelf until next season could be the fix they need to improve their chances of making it into June. Also, it is uncertain how injured Christian Ehrhoff is and both him and Paul Martin will be UFAs this summer. Giving such a good puck mover playoff reps now will be critical to Pittsburgh’s success in the long term.