As we get closer to the end of the first quarter this NHL, we begin to see sample sizes hit a point where flukes become trends. And with that, we begin to see teams in need to make their move if they genuinely want to make an impact on this season. Colorado, Ottawa and Nashville did thanks to the Matt Duchene-Kyle Turris trade, but now we’re at a state where head coaches really need to worry about their jobs. It’s almost certain that you’ll probably see one change coming before, at the latest, Christmahannakwanzikah comes around. In the meantime, let’s observe where the rest of the NHL is in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.
31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 35 points, Last Week: 31) 30. Buffalo (Pace: 64 pts, LW: 30)
- 29. Washington (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 25)
- 28. Anaheim (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 23)
- 27. Vancouver (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 14)
- 26. Boston (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 27)
- 25. Florida (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 28)
- 24. Montreal (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 21)
So one thing I noticed in this year’s rankings is that strength of schedule is really playing a factor as to how teams are ranked. Last week, Boston wasn’t doing too badly in the standings, but because they had the worst strength of schedule through goal differential and expected goal differential, they ended up plummeting to among the worst teams in the league. By going 1-3-1 in their last five games, their win-loss record has now caught up to them.
Last season, the Bruins struggled mightily to score while also trying to fill in so many roster spots left open due to injuries while being one of the best puck possession teams in the league. This year, the same story is happening but even worse. Last season, Boston and their lack of puck luck generated 234 goals. This year, they are on pace for 219 despite having 52.9% of the score-adjusted shot attempts go in their favor.
One thing that is making goal scoring harder this season is that their power play is a tad less lethal. Sure, the Bruins are at 20.3% efficiency on the man-advantage, but with 87.0 shot attempts per hour in those situations, that effectiveness is going to fall off massively. Along with that, Tuukka Rask may not be good anymore.
Consider that from the start of his career up until 2014-15, Rask had a 92.6% all-situations save percentage and a 66.1% quality start percentage while facing 7,463 shots. Since then, those numbers have plummeted to a 91.4% all-situations save percentage, a 49.4% quality start percentage and while facing 3,794 shots. Now there is still room for some regression, but that two plus-year span is growing to the point where it is difficult to see it no longer being a trend. And bluntly, we’re getting to a dark place if head coach Bruce Cassidy has to start playing Anton Khudobin more, especially after losing Malcolm Subban to Las Vegas.
With a team so stretched towards the cap, Cassidy has basically called upon prospects Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork to change the narrative with this team. While there is some success thanks to McAvoy and Bjork driving possession and racking up the scoring sheet, Debrusk is just not ready for this level yet. At 21, that’s kind of not a good thing because Boston can’t wait extra years to see if one of their three predictably disappointing first round picks from the 2015 draft can work for them. To make matters worse, Torey Krug and Brad Marchand are the latest to hit the injury table with respective upper body injuries. Lastly, Zdeno Chara…woof!
Everyone and their mama knew Boston wasn’t going to come back to their 2011 & 2013 Stanley Cup final runs any time soon. The real question was when the party was going to end for this generation of players and it looks like the clock is finally striking midnight.
- 23. Detroit (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 29)
- 22. Pittsburgh (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 24)
- 21. Winnipeg (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 26)
- 20. Dallas (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 18)
- 19. Edmonton (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 17)
- 18. New York Rangers (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 22)
- 17. Colorado (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 19)
When Ken Hitchcock returned to coach Dallas this season, you would expect him to put an end to the fun and gun era Lindy Ruff implemented and unleash a no-nonsense defense first style of hockey. For the most part, he actually is getting that thanks to the Stars leading the entire NHL in even strength shot prevention at 52.81 adjusted attempts per hour. However, the Stars are giving up a below league-average total of 58 goals while only putting up 52 themselves. So what gives?
Surely enough, just because Ben Bishop is the new number one goaltender doesn’t mean things haven’t gotten better in that department. It’s getting to the point where the former Lightning netminder has had three chapters into his NHL career.
- 2008-09 to 2011-12: 523 shots faced, 90.2% all-situations save, 47.1% quality starts
- 2012-13 to 2015-16: 5,751 shots faced, 92.2% all-situations save, 60.1% quality starts
- 2016-17 to present: 1,447 shots faced, 90.7% all-situations save, 50.0% quality starts
Best case scenario, Bishop is still recovering from the lower body injuries he has picked up during the 2016-17 season and after game one of the 2016 Eastern Conference finals. That way, he can gradually improve his play as he is moving past the prime of his career like Pekka Rinne did and come good for Dallas in the long run. Still, that’s just not good for what the Stars are expecting out of someone that signed a six-year contract close to $5 million per season.
Along with that, Dallas may have this awesome power play at a league best 28.6% efficiency and 129.0 shot attempts per hour, but because of their -13 penalty differential, their special teams strength has basically been nullified to a much weaker 17-13 scoreline than it should be. Along with that, Dallas’ even strength shooting of 6.9% puts their PDO as the worst in the league not named Pittsburgh.
Despite being outscored 15-5 in their three games this past week, I do think the Stars have some bright spots that could allow them to come good. John Klingberg and Esa Lindell have been among the two biggest beneficiaries in Hitchcock’s system and Mattias Janmark has been a real contributor being either Jamie Benn’s or Jason Spezza’s linemate. That being said, Hitchcock is beginning to deviate what has worked for him because of this terrible 0-2-1 week and I would like to see him play with the lines that work best for him.
A Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alex Radulov top line is scary, even if they do end up giving up shots the other way. If Hitchcock can figure which players work best for Spezza and Janmark, this team has a shot of being in some serious business. Remember, there isn’t anybody completely standing out in the Central Division outside of St. Louis so far. They have what it takes to go back to the second round of the playoffs and get revenge on the Blues if things break right for them.
- 16. Chicago (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 20)
- 15. Nashville (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 12)
- 14. Calgary (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 11)
- 13. Ottawa (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 16)
- 12. Carolina (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 13)
- 11. New Jersey (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 10)
- 10. New York Islanders (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 15)
- 9. Columbus (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 8)
If it wasn’t for last Wednesday’s 8-2 loss to Detroit, Calgary’s goal differential would be a +1 and their ranking this week would be much more different. After all, their expected goal differential in all situations is at a +2.6 and their strength of schedule is well above .500 in both goal and expected goal differential. Still, it is a good time for the Flames to be brought back to Earth since they aren’t on pace to be a 100-point team just yet.
For starts, Mike Smith has missed the last two games due to an upper body injury, which has lead to head coach Glen Gulutzan calling upon Eddie Lack and Jack Gillies to be the guy in goal. Both of them have a goals against average above five. That’s not great.
More importantly, the Flames special teams are a disaster. While having a solid +2 penalty differential, Calgary has been outscored 22-13 thanks to some porous defense while shorthanded. While their power play should start to come good thanks to a 12th best rate of 100.2 shot attempts per hour, their penalty kill is only 20th best in shot prevention at 105.2 attempts per hour. That rate, plus the poor goaltending that does include Smith’s inefficiencies, has lead to a horrendous 70.8% efficiency in that department.
Along with that, Calgary’s even strength defense could be so much better than what it is now. While they have the sixth best offense in the NHL at 62.4 adjusted attempts per hour, their 58.3 attempts against per hour is sitting at a mediocre 18th best in the league. While it could be worse, this team has four of the better defensemen on paper. To see Travis Hamonic and T.J. Brodie seeing less than 48.2% of the shot attempts go in their favor while they’re on the ice is just not acceptable and has to change as the season goes along.
In the meantime, Calgary should be very happy they aren’t the Edmonton Oilers right now.
- 8. Los Angeles (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 6)
- 7. Minnesota (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 9)
- 6. Philadelphia (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 3)
- 5. Vegas (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 4)
- 4. Toronto (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 7)
- 3. St. Louis (Pace: 119 pts, LW: 2)
- 2. San Jose (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 5)
- 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 138 pts, LW: 1)
Ok. Here me out. Philadelphia is a genuinely good hockey team!
Yes, they are sitting at 8-8-3 to start the year, but as we speak, they are sitting at a +3 goal differential despite not having their power play click on all cylinders. Their penalty kill is atrocious and that is something to watch out for in the long term, but I am quasi-digressing.
Thanks to a much younger defense, the Flyers are now giving up just 53.7 adjusted attempts per hour this season. That is the second best rate in the entire NHL behind the aforementioned Dallas Stars. That said, it has been their offense that isn’t fully there thanks to an eighth worst 54.2 adjusted attempts per hour. Add in some goaltending that has delivered 14 quality starts in 19 games, and you have a Flyers team that was the absolute inverse of what they were in 2011-12.
One thing to take note is that the power play has been awesome analytically. At a sixth best 115.8 attempts per hour, there is signs that offense can be generated of some sort. The problem might actually be that the defense is so good the forwards have just decided to take a nap.
At even strength, almost all Flyers defensemen that have played the majority of the season have generated over 10 individual shot attempts per hour on their own. Numbers like that are well above league average. Meanwhile, the only forwards to generate above a league average 13 individual attempts per hour are Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier. That’s not enough if Philadelphia wants to become a consistent playoff performer. Not having Claude Giroux and Valteri Filppula be among the go to shooters is fine since their best attribute is passing, but Wayne Simmonds doesn’t have an excuse here and neither does any of Philadelphia’s bottom six forwards.
The makings are there for a Flyers team to be very very good. The schedule will eventually chill out for them to start racking up points in the standings, but in the meantime, Philadelphia just needs to continue putting in the good habits in order for them to be a finished product.