Week 22 of the Nerdy 30: Shark Attack and Philadelphia Flyin’

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From San Jose Sharks Twitter Account

As the NHL is less than a month away from their postseason, it is important to acknowledge another postseason that came to an end. Last weekend, the Boston Pride were the first ever champions of the National Women’s Hockey League (or NWHL), defeating the Buffalo Beaut’s. Led by leading scorer Hillary Knight, the Pride were the best team in the league from start to finish of the 18-game regular season and two best-of-two postseason rounds.

While the NWHL certainly gained traction amongst the most avid of hockey fans, there were rumors of further expansion for as early as next season, with two Canadian teams in Montreal and Toronto. That all being said, the rival CWHL has two franchises there and the bitterness of the two rival leagues could not be any more obvious. While it is all wonderful to see the NWHL taking major strides in promoting women’s hockey, having the CWHL, at minimum, become good allies will be critical to have the sport grow further.

Until then, we have this week’s rankings to dive into in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 76 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Columbus (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 27)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 29)
  • 27. New Jersey (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 28)
  • 26. Edmonton (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 24)
  • 25. Calgary (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Arizona (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 26)
  • 23. Ottawa (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 23)

Yes, Edmonton might be the worst team in the NHL. Again. They might also have the best chance at winning this April’s draft lottery. Again. But here me out on this. Edmonton (hopefully) is developing a foundation and an identity. Is it a great one? No. Is it one that can be sustainable? Probably not considering Oilers Management’s history.

Step one, though is recognizing that Connor McDavid is a good hockey player. My expert opinion is done; let’s keep moving along in this blog post….

In all fairness, with him, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, an ever-improving Leon Drasaitl, Jordan Eberle and the always analtytics friendly Benoit Pouliot, you have a top-six forward group that is quite envious in comparison to most teams in the NHL. The downside will forever be that defense is non-existent. In all fairness, Edmonton is giving up 56.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes. It’s still bad enough for 24th in the NHL, but it’s important to note that Boston and Colorado are battling for playoff spots and are giving up shot attempts at a much worse rate. Along with that, their real seasons of infamy on the backend were in 2013 and 2014 when they finished above a shot attempt per minute in both seasons.

The real problem will always continue to be the team’s goaltending. At the trade deadline, Edmonton found a way to get a fifth round pick for a bust of a prospect in Anders Nilsson. The 25-year old was desperately needed by St. Louis because of Brian Elliott’s injury layoff, but beforehand, it seemed like he was never going to return to the NHL ever again after falling out of favor with the New York Islanders organization that drafted him. The fact that Nilsson left before Jaroslav Halak put a stop gap to all of Long Island’s seasons-long goaltending woes should say something about how far he fell. When Edmonton signed him over the summer, Nilsson was plying his trade in the KHL and, actually, performed really well (1.71 goals against average and a 93.6 save percentage). When he returned to the NHL, Nilsson was found out again thanks to his 90.1 save percentage and 45.8 quality start percentage.

Edmonton’s usual starter has been the newly acquired Cam Talbot who, like Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth from previous seasons, came to the Oilers after being a breakout star as a backup from a consistent playoff team. While Talbot hasn’t embarrassed himself, his 92.0 save percentage at even strength is only 18th out of 22 NHL goaltenders that have played 1,800 minutes in that situation. Edmonton’s new backup is also their best prospect in their system in 22-year old Laurent Brossoit. InGoal Magazine rated him as only the 29th best goaltender prospect in the NHL, but Brossoit has been able to have a solid AHL season the last two years and will have his chances of playing time as Edmonton finishes out the season. No matter what happens, Edmonton has to develop a goaltender for the long term. Only four goaltenders in franchise history have played more than 200 career games for them, but in today’s NHL, that is among the things that is going to take to develop a team into a consistent playoff contender.

  • 22. Toronto (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 22)
  • 21. Winnipeg (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 21)
  • 20. Montreal (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 20)
  • 19. Colorado (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 19)
  • 18. Minnesota (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 18)
  • 17. Carolina (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 17)
  • 16. Boston (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 15)
  • 15. Philadelphia (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 16)

With last night’s win over Detroit, it’s Philadelphia that now controls their destiny for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. This is an incredible achievement when you consider the amount of injuries the Flyers have suffered to many of their key players. Amongst the trio of Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the last time all three have played in the same game was February 4th. Along with that, Michael Del Zotto, Phildelphia’s most well-rounded defensemen (more on this later), is done for the rest of the regular season due to wrist surgery.

So what’s behind the success of the Flyers and how have they come from being a team in the middle of a rebuild to a possible first round opponent against the Capitals? All year, Philadelphia’s shot generation at even strength has been solid; consistently finishing within the top ten during any time period. Currently they are sixth in the NHL at 57 attempts per hour, but it has been their shooting percentage that has led to the lack of goals on the team.

From the start of the season to January 2nd, the Flyers were shooting at 5.9-percent at even strength. If they continued to produce as such, they would be dead last in the league in the NHL. Fortunately, shooting percentage is a luck based stat and since their second game of the New Year, that number has ratcheted up to 8.9-percent. To put things in perspective, the New York Rangers lead the league in even strength shooting percentage at 8.97-percent.

Wayne Simmonds, Shayne Gostisbehere and Brayden Schenn have been major contributors to the team’s offensive upswing. While the man that has inspired emoji-filled T-shirts is already among the most offensively gifted defensemen in the league, Schenn and Simmonds have seen their playing times increase as a result of the aforementioned star-forward triumvirate injury crisis and both have been rewarded for being the top two Flyers in goals. One thing to watch out for is a possible regression to the mean for Schenn as his 15.4-percent shooting is a career high in comparison and is a sizeable margin compared to his career 12.3-percent shooting. It also helps that of his roughly 891 minutes of even strength play, Giroux and Michael Raffl have been his most common linemates; players you would expect paired more with the slumping and currently injured Voracek. It is also important to note that while “Ghost” is putting up video game numbers since the start of his rookie season, he’s still only averaging 14 minutes of even strength ice-time, his most common defense pairs have been Brandon Manning and Andrew MacDonald and he has more offensive zone starts than any defensemen on the team. He’s basically a Mike Green with his 2009 numbers and his 2016 deployments. Am I missing something from Hakstol as to why he’s not getting top pair minutes like Del Zotto is getting?

One thing to watch out for though is whether or not Steve Mason is a worthy starting goaltender if the Flyers make the playoffs. While his even-strength save percentage is solid, the 27-year old’s penalty kill save percentage isn’t even hitting 82-percent right now. That is among the worst in the NHL with the amount of playing time he has received and is also more than seven-percent worse than backup Michael Neuvirth. This is very important to think about because while their defense is giving up a league average 98.7 attempts per hour while a man down, the team-wide save percentage is languishing in the bottom ten; thus why the team is finishing below 80-percent efficiency.

Mason’s 48.8 quality start percentage (51.7-percent career) is also his worst since being traded to Philadelphia compared to Neuvirth’s 59.3-percent (53.7-percent career). The former Blue Jacket has done wonders to revive his career in the city of Brotherly Love, but at 393 career games (compared to Neuvirth’s 198), is Mason beginning to see enough theoretical wear and tear the likes we have seen from goaltenders not named Henrik Lundqvist in recent years like Ilya Bryzgalov, Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Jonas Hiller?

Wait, what the living snot am I doing?!?!?! I’m literally giving Dave Hakstol the cheat codes to beat the Capitals in the playoffs! Somebody stop me from writing on the internet forever!!!

  • 14. New York Rangers (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 14)
  • 13. Detroit (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 13)
  • 12. New York Islanders (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 9)
  • 11. Florida (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 12)
  • 10. St. Louis (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 11)

What has happened to the Florida Panthers and all the Jaromir Jagr love? At first, even this blog acknowledged that this team could have a shot at being a matchup nightmare with anyone in the playoffs and possibly win the Atlantic Division. That has all changed after their white-hot 12-game winning streak back in December and January. Since their streak ended on January 11th, the Panthers have gone 13-10-5 and have seen Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya only save 90.9-percent of their shots faced at even strength. That’s not good considering the Panthers have been a negative possession team all year and their offense at even strength is only worse than those eternally boring New Jersey Devils.

That being said, the theme of their trade deadline strategy is to improve on such a category. They did so by acquiring Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell, but their shot generation numbers may not indicate that the Panthers are going to be good long term on offense. Hudler has been more known as high-percentage shooter throughout his career while Purcell is an above average player, as long as you only stick him in bottom six roles.

Even with Hudler and Purcell being limited options offensively, the Panthers have seen their on-ice shot attempt production increase since the leap day trade deadline. Compared to their regular season-wide rate of 47.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes of even strength, that number has increased to 55.1. One thing that has changed is the possibility that the Jagr-Jonathan Huberdeau-Aleksander Barkov line is no longer Florida’s top line. Instead, that distinction belongs to the more offensive minded Reilly Smith-Vincent Trochek-Jussi Jokinen line. Meanwhile, Hudler has been hoping to improve the production of Nick Bjugstad on the team’s third line. If the fourth line can avoid being a mess full of Dave Bollands, Derek McKenzies and Shawn Thorntons, the Panthers can compete with anyone offensively, line for line. The top line does need to improve their production and hope will have to be that Luongo is not seeing the beginning of the end to a tremendous career. Until then, there’s lots of mystery with Florida right now and hopes are they can match well with even Boston and make it beyond the first round for only the second time in franchise history.

  • 9. San Jose (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 10)
  • 8. Nashville (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 7)
  • 7. Anaheim (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 6)
  • 6. Pittsburgh (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 8)
  • 5. Chicago (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. Dallas (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 4)
  • 3. Tampa Bay (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 3)
  • 2. Washington (Pace: 125 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Los Angeles (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 1)

Along with the rest of the playoff bound Pacific Division teams, San Jose has gotten much better as the season has moved along. That being said, my confidence in them to go far is not quite high. From the looks of things, the Sharks will be facing either the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings in the first round and they should be underdogs to both teams. One reason for that is their complete smokescreen of an offense.

Not since 2008 have the Sharks generated less than 55 shot attempts per 60 minutes during even strength for any regular season. This year, they are sitting at a current rate of 54.0 and if it wasn’t for their fourth best shooting percentage of 8.14-percent, San Jose’s goal scoring will be more league average than it is right now. Weirdly enough, this goes against the grain of what usually happens with the Sharks offense. Since “Corsi” became a  recorded statistic during the 2007-08 season, San Jose has the fourth worst shooting percentage while also tying Carolina for the most shot attempts per hour while at even strength.

While it is nice to see former Capital Joel Ward still racking up points with San Jose, having him and Matt Nieto on the second line with Patrick Marleau shouldn’t be ideal for a high-powered offense. Meanwhile, Logan Couture is on a third line with rookie Joonas Donskoi and either Melker Karlsson or Tommy Wingels. While it is nice to have balanced scoring, having the most ideal top six might be San Jose’s top priority if they ever want to go far in the postseason.

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