Week 17 of the Nerdy 30: Sweeney Todd

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@bruinshockeynow and @DimFilipovic

Another week, another coach has gotten fired. This one was a bit more predictable as Boston decided to get rid of longtime coach Claude Julien. While I still stand by the fact that it was a bad decision, Bruins fans can’t tolerate the idea of missing three postseasons in a row and that is understandable. In some ways, the NHL is in the “Chapter 2” phase of what to do with analytics. Almost everyone knows or has been told by the outside ad-nauseam that puck possession determines future wins, which determines future Stanley Cup champions. But after Los Angeles missed the playoffs in 2015, teams across the league are questioning if that is really true. To me, that is why the likes of measuring shot quality like war-on-ice’s and now corsica.hockey’s versions of scoring chances and expected goals from Emanuel Perry and Dawson Sprigings have to be taken accounted for more than ever.

Still, Boston were topping those markers as well. So unless you replace an entire roster that was poorly constructed under the final years of Peter Chiarelli and poorly repaired by current general manager Don Sweeney, there is no way the Bruins were going to develop a significantly better shooting percentage than what they are delivering right now. At the end of the day, fans and general managers demand rapid answers to such questions as to why Philadelphia can’t score or why Colorado “decided this year” to be terrible all around and sometimes PDO isn’t enough. So that’s what I try to analyze and hopefully others will join me in that mindset as well.

In the meantime, we need to replace who has been eliminated from playoff contention. Apparently, one team is too good to be considered not a playoff team now-a-days so another has to take their place. This is not a first-time occurrence here as the likes of Dallas and Vancouver from previous seasons have pulled off this feat before. In the meantime, let’s find out who got a bump up and who got sent to 12 years dungeon in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Colorado (82-game standings points pace: 52 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Arizona (Pace: 65 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. New Jersey (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Detroit (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Buffalo (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Winnipeg (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24)
  • 23. Tampa Bay (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 16)

Surely, even with all the talent that is available on the roster when this team is fully healthy, there is no way Tampa can get out of their massive slump and claim one of the final wild card spots. While it was discussed last week about their massive issues in goaltending, the goal scoring has also not been able to compensate their deficiencies in that department. In fact, since Jon Cooper has taken over as head coach, the Lightning have finished 5th, 8th and 1st in total goals for in his first three years. Last year was the first sign of some possible trouble when they slipped to 13th in the NHL in that category. This year, they are 15th.

The underlying numbers at even strength prove that this decline isn’t simply a matter of bad puck luck. When Tampa made it to the Stanley Cup final, they sat 6th in score and venue-adjusted shots for and unblocked shot attempt generation. This year, they sit in 17th and 16th place, respectively. While that is league average, it is certainly well below Tampa’s expectations. To make matters worse, their 146 total expected goal total isn’t that far off from their actual total of 149.

Plenty of that has to do with Steven Stamkos being among the highest paid players in the league and only playing 17 games this season, but don’t ever forget how brittle of a hockey player Ryan Callahan has become. Does anybody remember that the former Rangers captain put up 54 points in 77 games that 2015 season? Now he’s put up just four in 18 games while having a cap hit of $5.8 million that isn’t going away until 2020. That is way too much money for an aging player that has missed 104 games due to injury since the 2008-09 season.

Along with that, the Stamkos injury has forced the forward lines to be jumbled in the least ideal ways. While Nikita Kucherov has developed into one of the better players in the sport, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat has seen their development hit a brick wall. For Palat, his 39 assists in the last two years are way less than the 83 assists he put up in his first two seasons in the NHL and he too is now developing a bit of an injury record himself by missing 36 games in the last three years. As for Johnson, his issues are less obvious, but having him play with Alex Killorn more often this season has really hampered his puck possession minutes. Recently, J.T. Brown, of all people, has been his third linemate and that just screams disaster if you are counting on production from the crafty centerman.

Still, Tampa might need some injection of talent this offseason if they are to continue making the deep Stanley Cup playoff runs that were expected of them. Valterri Filppula is not getting older anytime soon while Jason Garrison and Braydon Coburn are surely on their last legs as professional hockey players. While Bryan Boyle and Ben Bishop will free up close to $8 million in cap space, but almost all of that will go to resigning Johnson, Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Andrej Sustr. That only leaves $5 million to work to fill in three roster spots. Could bringing in 18-year old Brett Howden to next year’s team be a wise decision? No matter what happens, general manager Steve Yzerman can’t stand pat and see his team rot into a decaying corpse.

  • 22. Florida (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 22)
  • 21. Dallas (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 21)
  • 20. Philadelphia (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 19)
  • 19. Calgary (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 20)
  • 18. Chicago (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 17)
  • 17. Ottawa (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 14)
  • 16. New York Islanders (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 23)

Meanwhile, Brooklyn has no business seeing their hockey team be on pace to claim the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders may have seen their permission to playing hockey at the Barclay Center cut to only two more seasons, but that hasn’t stopped them winning, including last night’s 3-1 must-win performance against Philadelphia. Since December 18th, they have gone 13-4-4 while also going 7-1-2 since replacing Jack Capuano for Doug Weight for head coach. During those last 10 games, the Islanders have only scored less than 3 goals once while outscoring the opposition 36-26.

From their adjusted expected goal total of 31-28 during that span, New York may have had some puck luck on the offensive end, but it also shows that they have become a much better hockey team than they were under Capuano. Having a power play that has scored on eight of their last 33 opportunities after going at a 13.6% success rate their first 13 opportunities has certainly made life easier. Along with that, the Islanders have only given up 15 shorthanded opportunities during Weight’s tenure. As a result, New York’s season-long penalty differential has gone from a shocking deficit to zero within the span of three weeks.

Lastly, the Islanders have become a much better puck possession team. In their last ten games, they have generated 57.4 adjusted shot attempts for per hour while giving up 55.8 per hour at even strength according to naturalstattrick.com. While the defense is still below league average, it is still a massive improvement from the shot attempt-per-minute days of Capuano and their offense is slowly getting closer to the fun-and-gun days of the 2014-15 team.

Who knew that the common sense of putting Anders Lee on the top line, while giving Jason Chimera fourth line minutes would make the team better? The team still seems a bit too top heavy in goal scoring and puck possession but Travis Hamonic will be a massive addition once he returns from injury, but for now, the Islanders can be thankful that they are back in the thick of things for a playoff berth. Add the fact that they won three of their five meetings against their possible playoff opponent in Washington and things are looking up in Flatbush (pardon me while I take a lifetime dosage of ipecac after writing that sentence).

  • 15. St. Louis (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 15)
  • 14. Anaheim (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 13)
  • 13. Carolina (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 12)
  • 12. Nashville (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 18)
  • 11. Edmonton (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 11)
  • 10. Toronto (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 10)
  • 9. Los Angeles (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 8)

We are getting to that point in the season where certain teams can breath some sighs of relief that they will make the postseason as long as they hit cruise control. While they certainly won’t do that in their remaining 27 games, Edmonton is slowly getting towards that territory. According to Micah Blake McCurdy’s calculations, the Oilers are sitting with a 93% chance of making the playoffs coming into tonight’s games.

While they have hit a bit of a speed bump lately, Edmonton has gone 8-3-1 since January 11th and have outscored opponents 29-23. While that may not be a huge margin of victory during that 12-game span, there are signs that Edmonton’s defense has really began to be the staple of this team. No my friends, that is not a misprint.

Throughout the course of the season, Edmonton’s adjusted even strength shot suppression of 53.0 shot attempts per hour is the 11th best rate in the NHL. Along with that, their penalty kill may still be among the worst shot suppression units, but their success rate has been at 82% this season, including killing 27 of their last 31 opportunities. Plenty of credit has to fall on the shoulders of their workhorse goaltender, Cam Talbot. Unlike Ben Scrivens, Talbot is showing that he can make the successful transition from backup to starter this season. With a quality start percentage of 63% and a goals against percentage vs league average of 90, Oilers fans wished Braden Holtby, Devan Dubnyk and Sergei Bobrovsky haven’t been such massive locks in the Vezina Trophy conversation since December. That is because Talbot has played all but 416 minutes of Edmonton’s season this year. By far, that is the most time on ice, total shots faced and total saves among any goaltender in the NHL this season. Can Talbot sustain that same positive production in the postseason? Time will tell.

In the meantime, more attention has to be given to Matthew Benning for Edmonton’s success. The 22-year old former sixth round pick has come in and has led all Oiler’s in on-ice shot suppression among those that have played more than half the season. If for anything else, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to see if he can perform with more shorthanded minutes while lessening the “burden” for the “always talented” Kris Russell. There is plenty to still improve in Edmonton, but the excitement of playoff hockey finally happening should be imminent in those neck of the woods.

  • 8. Montreal (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 7)
  • 7. Boston (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 9)
  • 6. San Jose (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Columbus (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 3)
  • 4. New York Rangers (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 5)
  • 3. Pittsburgh (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 4)
  • 2. Minnesota (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 1)

Surely, when a team that was in the midst of a historic winning streak like Columbus was in, massive amounts of puck luck would be most of the main cause for such success. Once the streak is over, hockey teams that ride on that puck luck tend to see themselves regress to the mean in the worst way possible. That is certainly what has happened to the Blue Jackets since their streak came to an end on January 3rd.

Since that date, they have gone 8-9-1, have been outscored 50-59 and have had the 21st adjusted puck possession at 49.0%. That being said, they were only expected to be outscored 47.8-49.3 during that time period. Plenty of that now unfortunate puck luck falls onto Bobrovsky possibly feeling the wear and tear of this miraculous season. Since the streak ended, “Bob” has only gone 4-6-1 with an 89.6% save percentage in all situations. Along with that, consider that he has already played 2,507 minutes and 43 games out of Columbus’ 53 this season. If you pro-rate that to 82 game, those totals become 3,879 minutes and 67 games. Never in Bobrovsky’s career has he played more than 3,000 minutes and 58 games other than the 2013-14 season: also known as the last time Columbus made the playoffs. It’s amazing how little playing time Bobrovsky has ever gotten in every season he has played, but it goes to show injury-plagued he has been in Columbus and how untrustworthy he was in Philadelphia. At 28, Bobrovsky still has time to become a workhorse goaltender in the NHL, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen right away after this season with consistently positive results.

In the meantime, Columbus’ power play has hit a massive dry spell. They may still be one of the best in the league, but the Blue Jackets have now only scored six of their last 42 opportunities. While being one of the worst shot attempt units all year at 77.5 adjusted attempts per hour, their 26.0 adjusted scoring chance rate is the fourth best in the NHL. During their post-win streak run, that number has plummeted to 10.6 scoring chances per hour with a shot attempt rate of 66.1 per hour. Could it be time to rely on more shots from the point to open up the goaltender and cause shorthanded units to tire out more often? It will be interesting to see how this unit adjusts in the postseason, but in the meantime, they might be at a point where the league is adjusting to them instead of the other way around.

  • 1. Washington (Pace: 122 pts, LW: 2)

How DC Sports can you get by having Andre Burakovsky miss almost the rest of the regular season to a broken hand?! Pardon me while I go vomit profusely until I black out.

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