Week 9 of the Nerdy 30: Speak of the Devils and Heavy Mason-ry

Claude Giroux

AP/Matt Slocum

Clearly, the biggest trends that have been observed throughout the NHL has been the domination of the Metropolitan Division throughout the standings. If the season were to end, five teams will make the playoffs. That part is not a surprise because the Atlantic Division has been full of teams that have shown a weakness or two too much or have only used puck luck to carry them through high regular season totals. Tampa Bay has been the exception to the rule, but it looks like Stamkos’ injury and aging to one too many players has made them look stale.

What makes things more shocking about the Metropolitan Division is how superior they have been to the rest of the NHL. So far, five of the eight best teams in the league are from the Metropolitan Division based on standings points. Even sixth place New Jersey would find a way to make the top four in the Atlantic Division if they decided to find an easier path to the playoffs.

It should still be noted though, that we haven’t even passed the All-Star Break, let alone Christmas. Once we get through that monotonousness is when we see many more inter-divisional games than what we have been seeing right now. Until then, we will be seeing plenty of games where an Eastern Conference team travels west and tries to get it’s Pacific Division trips out of the way and so forth.

Still, it’s a sign of not only the Metropolitan Division thriving, but also the Western Conference as a whole deflating a good deal throughout the season. As we get through this week’s edition of the Nerdy 30, you will see that the three best teams in the NHL, four of the top seven and six in the top 15 are from the Metropolitan Division. To celebrate such feats, two teams in that region will be featured. I wished I could have done more considering their spectacular winning streaks, but even this Metropolitan Division expert has to limit my partisanship.

  • 30.Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 71 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Colorado (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. New York Islanders (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. New Jersey (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Dallas (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24)
  • 24. Detroit (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 21)

Let’s get this out of the way. New Jersey makes no sense to me. They’re adjusted puck possession is sixth worst in the NHL and their PDO of 98.7 is seventh worst. Along with that, Cory Schneider has a 38.3% quality start percentage and a 90.7% save percentage. Their power play is below league average while their penalty kill doesn’t compensate it enough. Yet, here are the Devils sitting with just under the usual league average of 92 standings points with an 88-point pace of their own.

Taylor Hall is back from his knee injury and is still on pace to average a point every game while Damon Severson isn’t far away from matching his career high point totals before the half-way point of the season. Still, this Devils team is bad as a whole.

Only Detroit is worse at generating shots at even strength and their defense is only league average after killing the puck so much that they had to be the second best team in the NHL in shot suppression. If you knew who Yohann Auvito is, you deserve a really big hug. That is because the 27-year old rookie is the only regular Devil defenseman with puck possession over 50%. Also, Pavel Zacha has had a miserable rookie season by tallying only seven points in 24 games and only seeing 44.4% of his on-ice shot attempts go his way. All of that was before missing games due to a nasty facial laceration. Lastly, if you know who Nick Lappin is, you deserve a pint of your favorite desert because he’s a 24-year old rookie who just so happens to round out the top five in puck possession among Devils forwards.

Simply put, this team had Hall, Schneider, Travis Zajac and Mike “always injured” Camalleri as the only certainties on this team whenever they become a consistently good playoff team. Otherwise, this team should regress to about a 70-75 point team very soon.

  • 23. Calgary (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 25)
  • 22. Winnipeg (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 20)
  • 21. Ottawa (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 18)
  • 20. Nashville (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 22)
  • 19. Buffalo (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 23)
  • 18. Florida (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 19)
  • 17. Tampa Bay (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 15)

Just when I kept thinking the Flames will keep on losing and be among the worst teams in the NHL, they have found ways to win. Since Gaudreau had to be on injured reserve due to a broken finger on November 15th, Calgary has gone 11-4-1. This stretch also includes winning four games in a row since the speedy forward has returned from injury and six games in a row up to today. During that four game span, Gaudreau went from being an uncharacteristically bad possession forward to nearly doubling his season-long point total by racking up three goals and five assists.

Him, Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan will have to find a way to generate shots when they are together at a much higher rate but make no mistake that the Flames might genuinely be a decent team. Chad Johnson has taken over as the starting goaltender and has produced an 93.2% save percentage and the trio of Matt Tkachuk, Michael Frolik and Mikeal Backlund have been deadly in puck possession. Also, Dougie Hamilton is apparently good at hockey.

If they can get their skill players, including Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg, to ever perform better in the analytics side of the game and find a way to brainwash T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano into playing their 2014-15 best, this is a genuine playoff team. In the Pacific Division, this is very rare to find and that could mean seeing them in the second round for the second time in four years.

  • 16. Chicago (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 17)
  • 15. Carolina (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 14)
  • 14. St. Louis (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 11)
  • 13. Edmonton (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 13)
  • 12. Philadelphia (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 16)
  • 11. Toronto (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 8)
  • 10. Los Angeles (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 9)

Don’t get me wrong, any 9-game winning streak is very impressive and any team needs a little puck luck to get them there. However, the first signs of puck luck are not super noticeable. Their 98.5 PDO is still within the bottom third in the NHL and both on-ice shooting and save percentages have continued to be poor all season. While Steve Mason has gone 7-0-0 during that span, his 93% save percentage is good, but nothing to scream that he’s been the soul reason the Flyers have achieved such great heights. If anything, there are two categories that have put the Flyers back into playoff contention: penalty differential and their power play.

Yes, the Flyers, the team so infamous for getting in trouble with their dirty play that they are nicknamed “The Broad Street Bullies” have a league leading +23 differential between power play opportunities and penalty killing situations!!! Either the refs have forgotten who they are or they don’t have anymore jerks on this team. With Ryan White gone and Radko Gudas remembering that he was a good defenseman in Tampa, I would like to think the latter. However, that +23 differential included a massive 42-27 power play advantage for the Flyers during that winning streak. As a result, the Flyers were able to outscore opponents 7-4 on special teams alone.

While that may not sound like much, all of Philadelphia’s wins during their nine game winning streak have been decided by two goals or less. I could argue that Philadelphia’s 24-15 even strength scoring margin doesn’t align with their 51.8% puck possession during their winning streak, but this new skill of baiting teams into the penalty box is an intriguing stat to follow throughout the season.

Remember that a should-be-bad 2014-15 Calgary Flames team made it to the second round of the playoffs because they led the league in penalty differential. Philadelphia is a much better team than they were, but with the Metropolitan division being so talented, it will be fascinating to see how much that would be the reason they keep winning hockey games.

  • 9. Boston (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 6)
  • 8. Anaheim (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 10)
  • 7. Washington (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 7)
  • 6. San Jose (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 3)
  • 5. Minnesota (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 12)
  • 4. Montreal (Pace: 119 pts, LW: 5)
  • 3. Pittsburgh (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 4)
  • 2. Columbus (Pace: 122 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. New York Rangers (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 1)

We go from one team that has experienced tons of puck luck to another that is beginning to lose it. Since November 12th, Montreal has gone from being a Stanley Cup favorite to going 7-5-3. They have outscored their opposition 46-33 during that span, but you can interpret one of their games, a 10-1 rout over Colorado, as a makeup for their 10-0 loss to Columbus earlier in the season or a recent goal differential that should be smaller if that Colorado game was treated more like a 2-1 or 3-1 win. Either way you look at it, Montreal is a far cry from their 9-0-1 start to the season.

Still, Montreal isn’t all that bad. Since that November 12th cut off, their adjusted puck possession is tied with Nashville and only bettered by Columbus with a 56.3% rate. Overall, their special teams have been quite solid, with conversion rates sitting at or above league average. That being said, their -11 power play to penalty kill differential is a major concern. You can thank Andrew Shaw and Alexei Emelin for that.

To top things off, Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais will be out for more than six weeks due to both picking up knee injuries. That will mean more playing time for lesser known forwards Charles Hudon, Chris Terry and Sven Andrighetto. The key to Montreal’s season, though, will be continuing to aim pucks towards the net.

This season, they sit in the top three in shot generation at 60.2 attempts per hour. With the likes of Lars Eller, Thomas Fleischmann, Dale Weise and Devante Smith-Pelly gone, in have come Shaw, Alex Radulov and rookies Phillip Danault and Atturi Lehkonen that are much more willing to throw pucks around left, right and center. It has lead to freeing up Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty and has alleviated the pressure of Shea Weber from being defended hard in some ways. If Michel Therrien can keep emphasizing this during Galchenyuk’s and Desharnais’ absences the Canadiens shouldn’t suffer that greatly in the NHL standings.

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