Week 13 of the Nerdy 30: Playing 500

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Washington Capitals

Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t mean to brag, but as a Capitals fan, I don’t know if I can think of a more fitting title for this week’s Nerdy 30 than that. Through all the torture and turmoil being a Washington DC sports fan has been over the years, there hasn’t been one athlete that has brought me more joy than Alex Ovechkin. Last weekend couldn’t have been a more fitting way to see the greatest local athlete of my lifetime become the 43rd member of the 500-goal club. First, with two goals, including an end-to-end bulldozing net drive to the net with the visiting New York Rangers before Rangers fans stopped reacting to the ridiculous save Nate Schmidt and Braden Holtby made together the night before to get to number 499. Next, after countless shots that threatened another mortal goaltender’s livelihood, Ovechkin, from his should-be-trademarked “Ovi-spot” along the left half wall wristed a bullet to send the Verizon Center faithful into delirium. It was as if they forgot a playoff football game was going on a county and tons of unnecessary traffic away.

Afterwards, you can’t help but turn 10 years old watching the sheer joy and celebration for a 30-year old loving the game he has played since he grew up more than any human being. I can’t stress it enough that Alex Ovechkin has made a sport fun in an area that has no business loving it because outsiders believe we’re just south of the Mason-Dixon line and too busy getting brainwashed by ESPN 980. Now with Barry Trotz’s tactics and a general manager that will get what he wants, this team is back from the doldrums of Dale Hunter and Adam Oates era. This team should have been rebuilt, with a top five pick hoping to be another unsure franchise savior sometime last year. Instead, all it took was a head coach and calm heads all around to make this team fun again. It can’t be stated enough how difficult that is to pull off in the salary cap era of the NHL.

Now, they’re playing 500. They’re the thrower in the game just closing their eyes and hoping a catch is made. In this case, they’re 18 little children that just so happen to be 20-36 year olds messing around and laughing like crazy when they score goals like they didn’t mean to do that, or they discovered a new booger, insect or animal, or they made the latest dance craze, only to be topped by one of their teammates minutes later. Hey, it’s been over 17 years since I have had recess, so I don’t know what these whipper snappers do nowadays.

Anywho, I am waxing too much poetic. Let’s talk about numbers now in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 70 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Columbus (Pace: 65 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Calgary (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. Edmonton (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Colorado (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Anaheim (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Vancouver (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 21)

Now that we are done singing the praises of something joyful, let’s talk about sheer idiocy. The Vancouver Canucks, who should have been rebuilding two years ago, are still in the chase for a playoff spot because the Pacific Division is an eternal embarrassment to society. However, General Manager Jim Benning and his infinite wisdom thinks it’s best for the team to trade away Chris Higgins: owner of three points in 25 games, but a 94.9 PDO and owner of the fifth most individual shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength. For a hockey team sitting in 27th in even strength shot generation, that matters. Yes, Higgins is a career -0.6% relative puck possession player and he’s a -5.3% this season, but he is also been on the ice with the worst set of line mates based on time on ice. If Benning can get something positive, like a high end draft pick or a guaranteed goal scorer within the top nine or a top four defenseman for any team in the NHL, the Canucks will be fine. Otherwise, they will have to get used to having their two teenagers, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann continue to be among the team’s best answers in generating offense, along with past-their-prime guys Radim Vrbata and Daniel Sedin.

Along with that, Alex Edler is the only defencemen in the 50th percentile or better in individual shot generation. If it wasn’t for an 8th best power play and a still incredible 7th best penalty kill, the Canucks might be one of the worst teams in the NHL. Yes, Vancouver has had to get rid of plenty of dead cap over the years to make this team successful in the long term, but it goes to show how this team has gone from the Stanley Cup finalists they were in 2011.

  • 23. Ottawa (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 22)
  • 22. Arizona (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 23)
  • 21. New Jersey (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 20)
  • 20. Philadelphia (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 24)
  • 19. Toronto (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 15)
  • 18. Pittsburgh (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 17)
  • 17. San Jose (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 19)
  • 16. Carolina (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 18)

Another team that is just not as good as they really are on paper is the Ottawa Senators. Even though their puck possession has improved a smidget, their PDO lucky charms are running out as Ottawa hasn’t played a game where they hit 100% since December 27th. Since then, they haven’t won a single game in regulation and have gone 3-6-1 in their last ten games.

It’s not a secret that Ottawa’s defense is Erik Karlsson and a bunch of career AHLers, witch Cody Ceci becoming the Devante Smith-Pelly of defensemen; wishing eternally for a breakthrough season only to never see it materialize. Along with that, it’s not a secret that Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond, no matter how good they are, were going to experience some form of regression after a brilliant end to the 2014-15 season.

What couldn’t regress for Ottawa to succeed in 2016 is the production of their best forwards. Even with four of them expected to return to 20 goals, that may not be enough for the Senators to return to the playoffs. The secret is more than out that Mike Hoffman is Ottawa’s best forward, Mark Stone is regressing to the mean after posting an even strength shooting percentage above 16%. Whether it is through injury or age, Milan Michalek looks like a shell of himself and Alex Chiasson has been a complete disaster. One sign of shining light has been the development of Shane Prince. The 23-year old has been putting up 15.69 individual shot attempts and 2.01 points per 60 minutes at even strength despite averaging just over 10 minutes of time on ice in that situation. Removing him from a line with Chris Neil and Zach Smith can do him and the Senators a world of good as Dave Cameron will have to make do with a wonky roster that didn’t get better in the offseason.

  • 15. New York Islanders (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 10)
  • 14. Minnesota (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 9)
  • 13. Boston (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 14)
  • 12. Winnipeg (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 11)
  • 11. St. Louis (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 12)
  • 10. Detroit (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 13)
  • 9. New York Rangers (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 16)

Is there ever been a more impatient team in the NHL than the St. Louis Blues? First, there were rumors that Ken Hitchcock, the best thing to happen to the franchise in a decade, was going to get fired. Next, Kevin Shattenkirk seemed to be out the door do to some undetailed trade. Now, it’s Robby Fabbri’s turn to be involved in trade rumors, with Jonathan Drouin coming the other way.

So let me get this straight, you want to trade away the best defensemen on the team and the partner settling down rookie Colton Parayko the most and one of your better individual shot generators just to become a better offensive team? While being 11th in even strength shot generation, the Blues only sit 25th in that category while on the power play. Also, St. Louis’ puck luck on offense has been poor at even strength, with only Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera being the only regulars up front to have an on-ice shooting percentage above 8%. Having Schwartz and Patrik Berglund return to the lineup from long term injuries should help St. Louis. But GM Doug Armstrong has to focus on adding talent, not trading off or subtracting them, if they ever want to still stay in touch with the best teams in the Central Division

  • 8. Nashville (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 8)
  • 7. Tampa Bay (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 6)
  • 6. Florida (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 5)
  • 5. Chicago (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 7)
  • 4. Montreal (Pace: 93 pts, LW : 4)
  • 3. Dallas (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 2)
  • 2. Washington (Pace: 131 pts, LW: 3)
  • 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 1)

As much as I love this hockey team and it is now officially the best team I have ever seen since 2009-10, I am scared like nobody’s business. You want the ride to continue forever, but with Washington sitting at a 102.4 PDO, surely we are due for a losing streak or two. It seemed like it at first when Trotz’s boys were seeing their puck possession plummet despite going 11-2-1 in December. Some would argue that was due to the injuries of John Carlson and Brooks Orpik that saw their shot suppression turn into a leaky faucet. Really, it was due to, once again, not having our forward lines maximized as Evgeni Kuznetsov, for all his alien-like skillset, is still not a top tier possession player and was cancelling out the puck possession of rest of his linemates on the second line. But then, Trotz decided to mix the forward lines, especially after the injury to Jay Beagle. Marcus Johansson moved to third line center and improved the team’s two worst forwards in Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. Together, they are putting up 52.6% puck possession. When apart, Chimera only has 47.3% of the shot attempts go in his favor, while Wilson’s is an abysmal 44.8%. The sample size might be small, but the offense that was created has been incredible and it allowed Washington to let new signing Mike Richards bide his time to getting fit and joining the team.

I still don’t know if Washington can win the Cup this year. Tampa Bay should make the playoffs and could either face us in a seven game death match or face Montreal in a killing spree of a Eastern Conference semifinal assuming Carey Price gets back to being healthy and doing Carey Price things. Afterwards, Washington could play Tampa, Montreal or the molten lava hot Florida Panthers in the Conference finals. All three of them with an absolute possibility of matching fire with fire in terms of overall talent and analytics with Washington and eliminate us before we even make the Stanley Cup Finals. Even if we make the Finals, Los Angeles could show us a thing or two what puck possession is really like. Artemi Panarin could make newborn babies dream that they too can play in the NHL right now and become the newest image of our nightmares next to Jaroslav Halak. Lastly, how much Tylie Benguin things will be executed against us before we start to actually get sick of the two of them?

The point is, Washington can absolutely lose in the first round of the playoffs. Or they can win the Stanley Cup, and there is some in between outcomes too. With over 100 plus shot attempts that occur in a hockey game, roughly four to six of them go in the back of the net. No matter the execution, you’re talking slightly better than Powerball odds to shoot a puck into the back of the net in today’s NHL. Weird stuff will always happen. Complaining about “bad” officiating will always happen. That’s hockey for you. Boy do I love it, and boy do I want to throw up thinking about all of these three paragraphs right now.

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