Week 15 & 16 of the Nerdy 30: Jet Lagged and Carey’s Price is Right

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Jonathan Kozub/NHL via Getty Images

We have finally made it to the All Star Break and as a result, the next power rankings post won’t come up until February 8th. This isn’t to say that I’ll be on vacation but instead this is more so that another week’s worth of games can come in to make change in where teams finish more interesting.

I will say that All Star games will continue to be All Star Games, but good for the NHL to decide on the 11th hour to make this into a four-team 3-on-3 single elimination tournament with each team being represented by a division. If for anything else, I think the divisional pride will be much stronger than any conference pride that came out and you have a format that forces teams to try hard.

As for the whole season, I think it’s been great. Sure, my Capitals continue to be bananas as I weight for the other shoe of disappointment and eternal misery to fall in May, but the whole league has been evenly matched from the word go. Not a single team that has been a complete national embarrassment except for the mess that the should-be-fired John Davidson made in Columbus and, honestly, there hasn’t been a ton of stupid management this season. Maybe that is because Toronto and Edmonton are not duking it out for last place in the NHL without tanking, but even at the top, it has been really hard to determine who’s going to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

There has never been a perfect example of how the season has been going like this week’s edition of the Nerdy 30. Colorado somehow is back in the playoff picture and have had their “strikethrough” font removed. However, Vancouver and Winnipeg are now off the list in their place. It’s been a whacky season so far and I definitely wouldn’t write off (no pun intended) bringing a previously eliminated team back on to the rankings. More fun times ahead and enjoy the All-Star break.

  • 30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 72 points, Last Week: 29)
  • 29. Columbus (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 30)
  • 28. Calgary (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 27)
  • 27. Edmonton (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 26)
  • 26. Vancouver (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 23)
  • 25. Toronto (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 24)

I think now is looking like the time for the Vancouver Canucks to start rebuilding. With Ryan Miller at a 40.6% quality start percentage and the Sedin twins and Jannik Hansen being the only skaters to average over a point every two games, the cupboard is essentially bare. Even if Hansen hits the 40-point mark, it will be due to a fortunately high 17.9% shooting percentage clip (11.2% career shooting percentage) that will be really difficult to reproduce in future seasons, especially as he enters his 30s next season.

As for the young players, up front should be solid, but not spectacular for the future with Bo Horvat, Jared McCann, Brock Boeser and Jake Virtanen in the fold. Even with all that talent, team needs are beginning to glare at alarming rates at other ends of the rink. Is Jakob Markstrom finally beginning to live up to his prospect hype and take the reigns from Ryan Miller in goal? If not, do we really need to see Richard Backman continue to do Richard Backman things? Otherwise, drafting and developing defensemen will be critical for the Canucks’ future.

So far, Alex Edler has been the only Canuck to play over 200 games as a defensemen that was drafted by them, but Edler was drafted in 2004. Ben Hutton might have a shot at being an NHL regular, but outside of him and Edler, Kevin Connauton has been the last Canucks defenseman to be drafted and play even 100 games. Yes, a good deal of these problems were the result of the previous regime lead by Mike Gillis, but Jim Benning arrived with a proven drafting track record in Buffalo and Boston. It’s time for him to show what he’s made of.

  • 24. Winnipeg (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 15)
  • 23. Anaheim (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 25)
  • 22. Colorado (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 28)
  • 21. Ottawa (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 20)

Oh Jets! You guys still don’t know how to get out of the penalty box (only Columbus has spent more time on ice on the penalty kill) and you’re goaltending has been so horrendous when shorthanded that it is cancelling out any positives from your play at even strength. You could have as many as seven 20-goal scorers and eight 40-point getters with Blake Wheeler possibly averaging a point per game, but all that’s going down the toilet with another season of bad discipline.

To make things worse, the team’s even strength shooting percentage has dwindled to go along with their 14-20-2 record since November 4th. Along with that, Alexander Burmistrov has had an awful time since his return to Winnipeg; generating 45.5% puck possession while he’s on the ice. Even though he has been in lines with not ideal teammates, almost everyone of them has made Burmistrov. That is not good, as that indicates that the 24-year old has been mainly a passenger and not being the seventh offensive-first forward Winnipeg expects out of him.

This hasn’t been a good year for Winnipeg, even if they are able to survive the Central Division and make it into the playoffs. Much more was expected out of this team and now they are expected to get close to the salary cap by the end of the season. Considering that Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Michael Hutchinson and Jacob Trouba are due for extensions after their rookie deals expire, that might mean that the Jets front office will have to trade or fail to bring back Andrew Ladd or Dustin Byfuglien. Considering that the better end of the team’s offensive talent is 28 and older, it could be best to see if they can save some money or pass it on to their younger and just-as-talented players.

As for those Avs. Oh boy! They still are dead last in the NHL in puck possession and have a goaltender (and their most important player) that was in court for sexual assault charges from over a year ago, and yet are in the driver’s seat for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Nathan Mackinnon and Tyson Barrie are back to their normal selves after having plenty of bad puck luck last season. To his credit, Carl Soderberg has been a positive contributor on the offensive side of things as well.

I still don’t know what to make of this team long term. Even with Colorado going 9-4-0 since January 2nd, only seven of those games resulted in them scoring 3 goals or more. That stretch even included a four game run of consecutive 2-1 wins. The Avalanche keep are still maintaining their namesake in giving up shot attempts and high quality chances more than anyone in the NHL. So Semyon Varlamov and Co. are doing a significantly better job at having great games and are returning to their normal form, or we can continue the always-annoying narratives that they have great character and have never say die attitudes.

Lastly, keep an eye on Matt Duchene’s shooting percentage. Despite being on pace for a career high 36 goals, his 15.5% shooting percentage is also 2.3% higher than his career average. According to sportingcharts.com, his average shooting distance this season is 25.6 feet. This is much further away than the 24.27 foot average distance in 2014-15 and the 23.03 feet he shot from in 2013-14. Considering that he is also in his seventh season in the NHL, we begin to start drawing the line as to where the standard of a player’s shot quality is.

  • 20. Arizona (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 21)
  • 19. New Jersey (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 22)
  • 18. Philadelphia (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 19)
  • 17. Minnesota (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 18)
  • 16. Pittsburgh (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 16)
  • 15. Boston (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 9)

Along with Colorado, Arizona and New Jersey are two teams with poor puck possession that are chasing with playoff positions. To his credit, Louis Domingue has taken the reigns as Arizona’s starting goaltender really well since Mike Smith went down with a lower-body injury on December 11th. The 23-year old now has a quality start percentage of 71.4% and has saved 94.6% of his shots faced at even strength.

Despite all that, Arizona could be starting to experience some regression. Despite shooting a fourth best 8.2% at even strength, that number has been gradually getting worse since the beginning of December and their save percentage at even strength is still the fourth worst in the NHL. Both Shane Doan and Anthony Duclair are shooting well over 18% this season, so their current rates will surely dwindle. While the Coyotes continue to rely on Oliver Ekman Larsson and a bunch of tweener second line level forwards, it is important for the Coyotes to find every lucky charm they can get to make it into the playoffs.

As for the Devils, they just keep on doing New Jersey Devils things. They keep leading the NHL in the least amount of shot attempt events per game, continue to put out an aging group of skaters and Cory Schneider is continuing to be among the best goaltenders in the NHL. While the team is a league average shooting team, four of their best point-getters are shooting above 13%. It has been nice to see Kyle Palmieri producing, but at a 16.7% shooting clip and from an average distance of 32.3 feet, surely he’ll be back to the league average talent that he always has been. There’s nothing really to say about that other than hoping that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia don’t overtake them for fourth place in the metropolitan division, because they always have been that dull of a hockey team.

  • 14. St. Louis (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 12)
  • 13. New York Rangers (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 14)
  • 12. Carolina (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 17)
  • 11. New York Islanders (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 11)
  • 10. Nashville (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 8)
  • 9. Detroit (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 10)
  • 8. San Jose (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 13)

These two teams all year have gone from being the darlings of puck possession (Detroit in shot suppression, Islanders in shot generation) to teams that have had some real weakness exposed this season.

For one, while the Islanders are still among the most exciting offensive teams, their defense has been horrendous since the beginning of December. Some may wonder if it solely has to do with the absences of Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk to injury during that time, but those injuries didn’t occur until just before the New Year.

It can’t be stated enough that losing half the blueline to injury was the demise of the Islanders playoff run when Hamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan all couldn’t play in game seven. In came Scott Mayfield, the now departed Griffin Reinhart and Brian Strait. While Mayfield and Reinhart played admirably, it was obvious how much of a drop-off was in the Islanders depth in defense.

This year, the defense hasn’t really changed much as Visnovsky has been replaced by another aging veteran in Marek Zidlicky. Both Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait are still getting way too many minutes, Adam Pelech hasn’t been able to state his case to get a sweater every night as he is worst on the team in on-ice shot generation from the blue line. And you thought the trade rumors for Travis Hamonic were not enough to cause headaches.

For Detroit, if it hasn’t been the wondrous goaltending of Petr Mrazek, who knows how further down the standings they would be in a competitive Atlantic division. After rebounding from a lousy start, Jeff Blashill’s team seams to be growing bad habits with their shot quality. While their overall shot attempt numbers have stayed above league average, their shot quality in terms of unblocked attempts and scoring chances (based on the definition from War-on-Ice) has not been so good. Since December 8th, Detroit has gone 10-8-4 and the team has generated 23.6 scoring chances and 37.7 unblocked attempts per hour while giving up 25.9 scoring chances and 39.8 unblocked attempts per 60 minutes. While that is slightly league average in scoring chance suppression at even strength, the chance generation is what is killing as they are tied with Minnesota for the sixth worst rate in that span.

Individually, Darren Helm and Brad Richards are shooting well below 5.5% at 5-on-5. However, Richards could be seeing his season-long shooting percentage dwindle for the fourth straight year after hitting 10.9% in his second to last season as a New York Ranger. From the blueline, Mike Green’s 1.7% shooting has got to be horribly offputting despite leading all Red Wings defensemen in shot attempts. While it is great to see Dylan Larkin lead the team in scoring, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will have to continue to rack up points and hope that Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar can remain at their current scoring pace.

  • 7. Montreal (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 6)
  • 6. Florida (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 7)
  • 5. Chicago (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 3)
  • 4. Tampa Bay (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 5)
  • 3. Dallas (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 4)
  • 2. Washington (Pace: 129 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 1)

It’s basically become a broken record for Montreal, hasn’t it. After going 19-4-3, the Canadiens have been 5-18-1 since December 1st. The goaltending has been awful and so has the shooting percentages. It has really affected plenty of skaters like P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov who are both shooting at 3% and have combined to score only six goals this season. In fact, not a single defensemen that has played the majority of the season and is shooting higher than Jeff Petry’s 4.3%. Up front, Tomas Plekanec is shooting at a career low 7.3% and only Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher are expected to hit the 20-goal mark.

While Montreal continues to be an elite offensive team in the shot attempt generation department (only usual suspects Dallas and the New York Islanders are better), their shot quality might be dipping a bit, especially in the scoring chance department. As you can see below, it has almost come during a small stretch of games at the end of December into the beginning of January.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 2.23.02 PM

10-game rolling chart by war-on-ice.com

Despite the gradual improvements since then, the Canadiens certainly haven’t reach their peak performances. I still think Montreal will not only make the playoffs, but threaten to win the Stanley Cup because the foundations in their systems are better than anyone in the Atlantic Division. But if they don’t get better fast, they will get eliminated exactly the same way Los Angeles did last year.

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