Week 4 of the Nerdy 30+1: Buffa-Low and Stinging Jackets

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KEVIN HOFFMAN-USA TODAY SPORTS

With my Capitals suffering a predictably miserable October, it is a good time to be reminded how, despite not playing that many games how this month has historically been such an indicator for which teams make it to the playoffs and which ones have future success. To abridge the links provided, recent history suggests that if you are four points or more away from a playoff spot after Halloween, odds are said team will still miss the playoffs when it is all said and done. Along with that, any team that is on the outside looking in after Halloween basically has no shot of winning the Stanley Cup even if they make the postseason.

Those are some dire predictions for so many teams that are not currently among the best in the NHL. Now due to the divisional realignment, you haven’t seen that many teams go from four points back from the number eight seed at November 1st to make the playoffs. In fact, the 2015-16 Anaheim Ducks were the only team to achieve that feat. In case you need a refresher, that was the team that got stonewalled by Pekka Rinne in seven games and thought it was a good idea to fire Bruce Boudreau despite leading them to the Conference Finals the season before.

The point is, we basically don’t need to watch that much hockey from now on now that we can roughly guess what the playoff field is with some teams needing 71 games to play. Another thing we do know is that another team has to be eliminated from these power rankings. Let’s take a look at who that team is and where the rest of the league stands in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30….+1.

  • 31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 18 points, Last Week: 31)
  • 30. Buffalo (Pace: 63 pts, LW: 30)
  • 29. Pittsburgh (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 21)
  • 28. Colorado (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 17)
  • 27. Boston (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 26)
  • 26. Detroit (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 28)
  • 25. Dallas (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 23)
  • 24. Nashville (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 14)

After Arizona, the next team that has to be eliminated are the Buffalo Sabres. With all due respect to their fans who think there are other teams that are much worthier of being ranked worse than them on account of their lack of standings points, the Sabres are a known commodity of terrible. In fact, you look at the bottom ten of these rankings and it is quite amazing to see so many good teams from last year get off to such rough starts analytically this year. Still, you know what you’re getting out of Buffalo and as much as I root for Phil Housley to right the ship eventually, it’s just not looking pretty over there.

For starts, Buffalo has already trotted out ten defensemen this season due to the injuries of Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges and Nathan Beaulieau. While not all three are such upgrades when they come back healthy that the Sabres should be a playoff team, they at least minimize that damage that is being caused right now. For example, Matt Tennyson, a hockey player that has never played more than 45 NHL games in one season and is in his age-27 season, is a second pair defenseman right now.

Along with that, Rasmus Ristolainen, such a controversial figure in the numbers business, is getting well over 27 minutes a night. To his credit, Ristolainen has been in the positive in puck possession this season and Marco Scandella has been a great acquisition in improving such an issue. Still, any good defenseman has no business playing that much time on ice.

Up front, things start to look barren in Buffalo’s goal scoring department after their four best players (Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Jason Pominville). If anything, Kyle Okposo only has one goal and four points so far while Sam Reinhart is still expected to become an elite player and it is just not happening at all. The ultimate statement for their offensive impotence is their league-worst shot generation rate at a horrific 50.9 shot attempts per hour at even strength.

To put the cherry on top, Buffalo is only clicking at 13.6% efficiency on the power play. While shooting at a league average 102.3 shot attempts per hour, they’re 7.8 expected goals isn’t horrifyingly off from the six actual goals they have in such situations to expect massive improvements.

On paper, this Sabres team should perform much better than they are right now, but I just don’t think you’ll see such a change where I will be bringing Buffalo back into playoff contention anytime soon.

  • 23. Washington (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 25)

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  • 22. New York Rangers (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 20)
  • 21. Edmonton (Pace: 52 pts, LW: 12)
  • 20. Florida (Pace: 62 pts, LW: 18)
  • 19. Anaheim (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 27)
  • 18. Montreal (Pace: 57 pts, LW: 29)
  • 17. Calgary (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 15)
  • 16. Chicago (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 24)

If there’s one team that deserves the distinction as most snake bitten in the entire NHL, there is no question it belongs to the Edmonton Oilers. At 3-7-1, Edmonton is getting outscored 24-36 in their 11 games so far this season. However, expected goals has them outscoring the opposition 30.8-24.4 according to corsica.hockey in all situations. Along with that, the Oilers are the number one team in even strength offense at a massive 71.7 shot attempts per hour. Such offensive output almost never leads to the goal drought that Edmonton is suffering.

Even on the man-advantage, they sit in ninth place in shot generation at 110.7 attempts per hour with more than nine goals expected to come out of that unit instead of five. That within itself is one victory according to the simple ethos of Rob Vollman where three goals equals a win.

In goal, Cam Talbot is posing some ugly numbers so far (90.4% all-situations save percentage, 40% quality starts). However, his expected save percentage at even strength (92.4% vs. 92.0%) and on the penalty kill (85.1% vs. 82.7%) are much higher than his actual save percentages right now. Talbot does have a very poor save percentage at even strength when it comes to stopping medium danger shots. But once those numbers improve, I expect him to be a much better goaltender and for the Oilers to return to their best defensively.

Now Edmonton’s penalty kill has leaked 107 shot attempts per hour and 9.37 expected goals against this season. Still, that is way less than the 13 goals they have actually given up. Add in the fact that the Oilers have given up one short handed goal and that’s almost another two wins Edmonton should have. Just like that, I’ve convinced you the Oilers should be a 6-4-1 team instead of a 3-7-1 outfit. It’s funny how hockey works like that.

  • 15. New York Islanders (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 19)
  • 14. Ottawa (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 8)
  • 13. Winnipeg (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 22)
  • 12. Vancouver (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 13)
  • 11. Carolina (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 11)
  • 10. Minnesota (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 7)
  • 9. Vegas (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 10)

After going 3-0-0 this week, Winnipeg now seems to be on the right track for reaching towards the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Yes, these are early days to make such proclamations, but here me out in saying that their penalty counts on both ends are below league average. Yes my friends, the same Winnipeg Jets who time and again commit way too many penalties for their own good are now only heading to the penalty box 41 times in 12 games.

To top things off, Kyle Connor is finally living up to his hype as a young Hobey Baker award winner and first round pick with five points in seven games. It definitely helps to have Connor on a top line with Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, but it’s great to see the Jets finally having their prospects come through and develop properly unlike how things looked like last year.

Speaking of guys coming through, is Conor Hellebuyck finally good? With a 93.8% save percentage and seven quality starts out of eight, it certainly looks like it. That being said, Winnipeg’s penalty kill actually has given up 12 expected goals against versus eight actual goals against. Add in the fact that the penalty kill has scored three shorthanded goals and this Jets team might be a bit overrated to start the season.

That said, it is not like the rest of the NHL has hit such a level where they are expected to leap frog Winnipeg anytime soon. As it has been written about many times before, the Central Division is there for the taking now that Chicago is not set in stone to make the Stanley Cup finals every year. St. Louis still looks like a strong side despite their injuries, but the rest of the division looks very uncertain. Keep performing the way they have been and Winnipeg should be in a very strong spot this season. It’s funny how hockey works like that.

  • 8. San Jose (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 16)
  • 7. St. Louis (Pace: 123 pts, LW: 9)
  • 6. Philadelphia (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 4)
  • 5. Toronto (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 6)
  • 4. Tampa Bay (Pace: 129 pts, LW: 3)
  • 3. Columbus (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 1)
  • 2. Los Angeles (Pace: 133 pts, LW: 5)
  • 1. New Jersey (Pace: 134 pts, LW: 2)

While loads of teams have changed their complexion this NHL season, the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to stay elite in almost all facets of the game. Un-adjusted, they have the fourth best shot generating offense and the fifth best shot suppressing defense. Along with that, despite not drawing a ton of penalties, they also don’t commit many themselves and are able to have a +6 penalty differential in their 13 games this early in the season.

That being said, their power play unit can generate way more than their 76.3 attempts per hour because their 12.8% efficiency just won’t cut it in the long term. Still, they have been a brilliant side with loads of depth across the lineup and a goaltender that matches their talent level.

Now Cam Atkinson did pick up a hip injury last Sunday and it is uncertain how long he’ll be out. However, any line that has Artemi Panarin will always be a good one. The biggest example is Columbus’ latest top line that has him with Nick “Thoren Oakenshield” Foligno and Josh Anderson (yes, that Josh Anderson). On paper, it should barely be good, but it just so happens that 61.0% percent of all shot attempts go in their favor in over 50 minutes of even strength play.

Eventually, Columbus will have to find some above average bottom pair defensemen as Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara can’t cut it if they go deep in the playoffs. Still, anytime you have a top pair that is rolling with 53.1% of the shot attempts going in your favor like Zack Werenski and Seth Jones are, you are in a very good place.

And that’s where Columbus are at the moment. If they can improve their special teams production, they have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup this year and that is not a misprint.

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