Week 19 of the Nerdy 30: Back from Extinction and Penguins in Pain

florida-panthers-celebrate

The Canadian Press

Embrace this week’s power rankings everyone, because this will be the last time you will see almost every team look the same before the upcoming trade deadline. Not a single team has been eliminated in this week’s rankings, so until then, let’s analyze a few teams that have made a massive change in their performances in recent weeks in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30.

  • 30. Colorado (82-game standings points pace: 49 points, Last Week: 30)
  • 29. Arizona (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 28)
  • 27. New Jersey (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 27)
  • 26. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Dallas (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 25)
  • 24. Buffalo (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 24)
  • 23. Winnipeg (Pace: 81 pts, LW: 23)
  • 22. Tampa Bay (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 22)

It has been a while since I have written about the Winnipeg Jets and there have been some interesting things about this team since they have been eliminated fro mthe power rankings. With the pace they are currently delivering, they are now pretty close to catching up with Los Angeles and Calgary for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

What has been strange about the Jets is it is not like this team’s style of play is bad to begin with. They are roughly league average in expected goals for and against per 60 minutes in all situations and their total differential is just -0.1 throughout the whole campaign. You would think that would make them a possible playoff team. Instead, they are struggling to have a winning record.

Goaltending is still a massive problem for the Jets. While the team has given up 170.1 expected goals against, they’re actual goal total has been a league-worst 199. As a result, Connor Hellebuyk is still among the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL thanks to a 91.8% save percentage at even strength, an 85.3% save percentage in shorthanded situations and a goals saved versus league average of 103. Meanhile, Michael Huchinson and Ondrej Pavelec continue to post sub-30% quality start percentages and goals against averages well above 3. When you consider how many games Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba have missed due to injury and how well they have suppressed shots in spite of that, the goaltending really needs to find a way to rise to the occasion if they are to ever make it to the next step in the rebuild, let alone make it into the playoffs this season.

That is because Winnipeg’s offense has turned things around in a massive hurry. Mark Scheifele has been so criminally underrated, that he could finish in the top five in scoring this season without anyone noticing it. Nikolaj Ehlers has been brilliant in his first full NHL campaign and some Finnish kid is neck and neck with Sydney Crosby for the league lead in goals. Lastly, having Mathieu Perrault and Bryan Little healthy has made things much easier for Winnipeg’s best players to be open for cleaner shots on goal. Even Josh Morrisey is getting involved in the act from the point.

That being said, the Jets are still 24th in the league at even strength shot generation with 51.3 attempts per hour. So plenty of their goal output is due to their 8.4% shooting percentage. That is almost a full percentage point above league average that has lead to as many as 15 extra goals throughout the season. Plenty of that comes from scoring 93 goals in comparison to a 77.3 expected total by corsica.hockey since December 22nd. Along with that, Winnipeg’s power play has scored on 18 of their last 84 opportunities and have now gone up to 17th in the NHL shot generation in that department.

While there are plenty of positives to see from Paul Maurice’s side, they still have one too many flaws for them to make the playoffs. Even if they find a way to make it into the postseason, it will be a massive challenge to see them get by teams like Minnesota or San Jose who just have too much talent up front and in goal to allow the Jets to play their game.

  • 21. Philadelphia (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 19)
  • 20. Calgary (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 20)
  • 19. Florida (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 21)
  • 18. Carolina (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 15)
  • 17. New York Islanders (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 18)
  • 16. Ottawa (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 17)

After firing Gerard Gallant the Saturday after thanksgiving, you would think the Florida Panthers would turn things around for the better. After all, that’s how every midseason coaching change works, right? Well, not necessarily.

Before Gallant got fired, the Panthers owned the sixth best adjusted puck possession rating at 53.4% and were only bad enough that they were on pace for 90 points in the standings. Fast forward to right now and Florida is now on pace for 92 points in the standings and are now only playing with 49.2% adjusted puck possession during that span. That’s right my friends, General Manager Tom Rowe thought it was best to fire their head coach despite being the same above average hockey team as they were a season ago. Along with that, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Jussi Jokinen were missing almost the entire first half of the season due to injury. The fact that Jonathan Marchessault is a relevant hockey player, let alone one of the team’s leading scorers is nothing short of a miracle. So why should anyone be optimistic about Florida while going 8-2-0 in their last ten games.

Welp, Huberdeau is back to full fitness and has racked up eight points in his last eight games. Other than that, not much can be said about them. Their expected goals total has the Panthers being outscored 17.1-19.4 during their hot streak instead of outscoring everyone 23-20. No matter how you look at it, the Panthers are still a low event team that doesn’t put the fear in anyone when they give up a ton of goals. To put it bluntly, you know you don’t have a clue to score goals for you when you’re counting on captain Derek Mackenzie and Colton Sceviour as third line forwards.

Defensively, the team continues to be amazing and their penalty kill is among the best in the NHL when it comes to shot suppression and efficiency. One thing to watch out for is that Roberto Luongo might FINALLY look like he’s aging. The soon to be 38-year old is currently posting his lowest quality start percentage since the 2013-14 campaign (aka, the season in which he got traded from Vancouver to Florida) and his lowest goals against percentage versus league average while playing more than 41 games since the 2009-10 campaign. In fact, James Reimer has played the majority of Florida’s 10-game run and has impressed during that span (5-1-0, 93.5% save percentage).

With Florida going to battle with the run-and-gun Islanders and the luck starved Bruins for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff spot, any fine margin could matter throughout the rest of the season. Do they make a move for a proven goal scorer at the trade deadline? Do they make Reimer the permanent starter? Each of these questions have to be answered by the end of this week.

  • 15. St. Louis (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 13)
  • 14. Anaheim (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 14)
  • 13. Chicago (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 16)
  • 12. Nashville (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 12)
  • 11. Los Angeles (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 10)
  • 10. Edmonton (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 11)
  • 9. Montreal (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 9)

Throughout the entire NHL season, Chicago has been considered the luckiest team in the NHL. Despite possibly getting to 109 points, their expected goal output is an abysmal 160.9 for and 172 against in all situations. However, the Blackhawks have been outscoring opponents 183-157 in actual goals. Along with that, their ranking has gotten higher every week. So what is making them more of a legitimate contender?

Welp, going 8-1-0 since the calendar month certainly helps, but they have been doing it while posting a league leading 58.9% adjusted puck possession while at even strength. Along with that, their expected goal output in all situations has been 26.6-23.7 during that span. While that is not earth shattering in the slightest, that is the longest stretch in which Chicago has stayed in the net positive in expected goal differential all season.

Now when any team scores 40 goals during a nine-game span, let alone compared to the 26.6 they are supposed to produce, plenty of luck is on their side. Nine players scored six or more points during this 9-game span with Jonathan Toews finding his groove back with 16 points with the likes of Ryan Hartman (six points), the always lucky Richard Panik (10 points) and Nick Schmaltz (nine points) joining the list. With Toews playing with Panik and Schmaltz, the forward lines have become more balanced for the Blackhawks and has allowed the aging Marian Hossa to lead a defense first line with Dennis Rasmussan and Marcus Kruger. Chicago’s fourth line is still a giant pile of IDKs but it’s not like many teams have an ideal fourth line to begin with. For now, Joel Quenneville can except a stable top nine and see how things go from there.

With these adjustments, Chicago now looks like a much more legitimate playoff team. Whether this is enough to make it back to their conference final or better ways is another story.

  • 8. Toronto (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 8)
  • 7. San Jose (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 7)
  • 6. Boston (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Columbus (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. New York Rangers (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 4)
  • 3. Pittsburgh (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 3)

Within the span of eight days, Pittsburgh has lost four regular defensemen due to injury. Olli Maata is out for at least six weeks due to a broken hand while Trevor Daley is out for almost the same amount of time due to a knee injury. Meanwhile, Kris Letang and Jeff Schultz are in the day-to-day variety of pain due to an upper body injury and a concussion, respectively.

Even with these skaters back on the ice, the Penguins have been a shell of who they’ve been defensively this season. While their goals against output is a respectable 166, their 180.7 expected goals against is the fifth highest total in the NHL. Along with that, they have given up seven goals in a game three times and three goals or more in 12 of their last 22 games. While the New York Islanders and Toronto have proven that that is not a direct relationship towards hockey failure, it is a major sign of weakness if they want to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

At the very least, we are now seeing more Chad Ruhwedel and Steve Oleksy than Pittsburgh fans would like. While both can put in decent puck possession numbers at even strength and on the penalty kill, both don’t possess the same puck moving skills that is required to play in Mike Sullivan’s systems. Along with that, it has been a struggle for Derick Pouliot to either (a) get a sweater on a regular basis (b) generate goon on-ice numbers this season and/or (c) find a good defenseman pair since Ben Lovejoy was his regular partner last season. Lastly, the apocalypse might as well happen if David Warsofsky and Cameron Gaunce become regulars for the Penguins (Wait a minute, we’re already in the middle of an apocalypse….). That is why General Manager Jim Rutherford had to go out and acquire veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey. While he didn’t cost much (a second round pick and 26-year old minor leaguer Danny Kristo), Hainsey’s meh puck possession should not be enough to swing the pendulum significantly in Pittsburgh’s favor. If anything, Hainsey provides good depth along the top six that their won’t be any significant weaknesses shown come playoff time.

Yes, Pittsburgh plays with a tempo that almost no NHL team can handle when they’re at their best. However, fast teams always leave plenty open going the other way, as evidenced by all of Bruce Boudreau’s Capitals teams. If you don’t have six capable NHL-level defenseman to stop such plays from happening, goals will be scored against you by the boatloads. With that, I would like to think that won’t be enough for Pittsburgh to make the Conference Finals in this cutthroat Metropolitan Division, but boy am I in need to knock every piece of week and rub every rabbits foot in the entire world right now.

  • 2. Washington (Pace: 121 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Minnesota (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 1)

Of course Radko Gudas tries to injure every Capital left, right and center. Oh, and Nate Schmidt got healthy scratched for the dumbest ever reasons again!

 

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