Week 10 of the Nerdy 30+1: Net-Neutral and Golden Years

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AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Welp, we had another week of hockey that has just passed us by and two points of fact are happening as the season has gone along. First, there are too many bad teams. Second, there are not enough really good teams.

Consider that we haven’t even hit the halfway point in the regular season and there is not a single NHL team that is looking like they’ll surpass Washington’s standings point total from last season of 118 points. To make matters worse, the teams closest to said mark have even strength PDOs that are just way too high for them to maintain it over the course of the 82-game regular season. Coming into this season, a team that is among the 30 luckiest within the past decade have gone on to record PDOs over 101.4. So far this year, six of the ten teams on pace to receive over 100 points in the standings could surpass that top 30 mark in PDO. In other words, it would be historic if Nashville, Tampa Bay, Toronto, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Washington maintain their run of form and do damage in the postseason. It just very rarely works like that.

On the other side of the spectrum, an NHL team would need a PDO of 98.52 to be among the 30 unluckiest of all-time within the past decade. So far, six have hit that mark, but five of those six have either been eliminated or on the verge of being eliminated from these power rankings. So their level of badness is considered justified and if their PDO does get better, it won’t be enough to have them salvage their season and make it to the playoffs anytime soon. The sixth team that I haven’t brought up, Pittsburgh, is just straight up confusing. At 95.86, the Penguins will surpass the lockout-shortened 2012-13 Florida Panthers for the worst PDO ever recorded. If you only want to count teams that have played a full 82 games, that mark is currently owned by last season’s Colorado Avalanche with a 96.94 PDO. So in short, all the teams out of playoff contention don’t have much to work with when it comes to how they can have things go their way and put them into the 16-team dance this postseason.

Outside of the final two places in the Central Division between Chicago, Minnesota and Dallas, the NHL standings look kind of dull, for now. However, if all of the super lucky teams start to falter miserably, as it can happen, then things might get a bit more fun. Until then, let’s hope for Stanley Cup playoff hockey to be part of our lives really soon.

But first, let’s knock off a team that, as Mike Goodman and Michael A. Caley best phrase on the awesome “Double Pivot” soccer podcast, are the current owners of the crisis conch. Let’s check out their story on the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.

  • 31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 46 points, Last Week: 31)
  • 30. Buffalo (Pace: 57 pts, LW: 30)
  • 29. Ottawa (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 25)
  • 28. Florida (Pace: 74 pts, LW: 29)
  • 27. Montreal (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 28)
  • 26. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. Anaheim (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 27)
  • 24. Colorado (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 24)

Just when you thought the Matt Duchene trade would make the Ottawa Senators better, they have gone 2-10-2 since Duchene stopped playing for or against his former team in Colorado. It’s not like Ottawa came into this trade thinking they would get worse as a result. After all, Duchene was the slightly better individual player than Kyle Turris when it came to point tallies (180 goals & 433 points in 602 games vs.  139 goals & 334 points in 559 games, respectively) and relative puck possession (+1.8% vs. +1.1%, respectively)

However, the Senators have gone from a 48.8% puck possession team when score-adjusting at even strength to a shocking 46.3% ratio since November 13th. So what gives? And why on earth is my twitter feed surrounded by Erik Karlsson trade rumors after the Senators went all-in over 40 days ago? Oh, and after making it to the conference finals last season?

For starts, it doesn’t matter whether Craig Anderson or Mike Condon is in goal; both have been utter garbage all season with none saving over 90% of their shots faced in all situations. At 36 though, you do have to wonder where Anderson is as a long term option. You may think that his 89.8% save percentage, 38.3% quality start percentage and 529 career NHL regular season games under his belt should to send him to the bench for the rest of his career.

However, consider that his quality start percentages since he’s been a Senator before this season have been 77.8%, 56.7%, 70.8%, 50.0%, 48.6%, 51.7% and 62.5%. So was 2016-17 a season that was based solely on playing inspired hockey considering what was going on with him and his family off the ice? Or was it something that led to reverting back to his 55.6% quality start percentage career form? Sadly, I’m banking on the former, but I wouldn’t right out the latter either. Either way, this season is not ideal considering that Ottawa resigned him to a two-year and $9.5 million that starts next season.

As for Duchene, the start of his first season in Canada’s capital has been an unmitigated disaster. Of the four forwards that have played over 20% of the former Avalanche’s even strength ice time with him, only Mike Hoffman has seen his puck possession improve with him than away from him. Otherwise, Bobby Ryan, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel have generated over 50% puck possession when not playing with Duchene versus below 50% with him. And at five points in 16 games, Duchene just can’t catch a break at all.

In defense, Mark Borowiecki and Chris Weidman have to come back fast, otherwise the rest of the corps will continue to be a mess. To put the cherry on top of the Sunday, a 92.3% combined efficiency on special teams despite having a +24 penalty differential will certainly do it. Plenty of that has to do with being among the six worst teams in the NHL in scoring chances and high definition chances generated on the power play, but you should still expect the Senators to shoot much better than at 10.4% in that situation. As for the penalty kill, it basically matches what else has been wrong with the defense and goaltending.

  • 23. Washington (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 23)
  • 22. Pittsburgh (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 17)
  • 21. Edmonton (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 22)
  • 20. Vancouver (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 21)
  • 19. Boston (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 20)
  • 18. Carolina (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 13)
  • 17. Calgary (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 18)

Welp, somewhere along the line I had to right about my favorite team. After all, they have won all but one game this whole month and have won 10 of their last 13 games overall. Along with that, their puck possession has improved from an embarrassing 48.0% to a solid, but not great 51.8% since their run of form began on November 18th. You would think that with such results that I would be much more rosier about this team. You would be wrong!

Reason #1: Their puck possession rise began as soon as Matt Niskanen returned to the lineup after suffering an upper body injury all the way back in October. Eventually, more players that were on the shelf such as Christian Djoos and Andre Burakovsky also returned to the lineup as well. There are others that have gotten hurt in the middle of the surge in form, but T.J. Oshie and Brooks Orpik, while very valued members of the team from an experience, leadership and other “save it for the latest Star Wars movie” adjectives standpoint, don’t swing the needle in key underlying numbers as much as they do.

Reason #2: Because of said injuries, this proves that due to lack of top end draft picks and quality of above average NHL talent that the Capitals, as predicted ever since losing Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft, can’t afford to lose any star players whatsoever. In other words, I’m not writing off an Ottawa Senators level crisis if Nicklas Backstrom goes down for the entirety of the regular season because I would rather have me and my one goal-every-20 ball hockey games output in extra attacker situations more than I would ever have Alex Chiasson or Devante Smith-Pelly or, even worse, Tyler Graovac, out there. Even more worse, if Matt Niskanen goes on the shelf, this forces the likes of Brooks Orpik and Taylor Chorney to play meaningful minutes when they shouldn’t deserve them for the rest of their careers.

The Caps just don’t have any depth and the only way that can be fixed is with stocking up the prospect pool, and that won’t happen until the 2018 draft where Washington could have three picks in the top two rounds of the draft. As long as they are smart and don’t touch any of those picks at the trade deadline, their long term outlook is bright.

Reason #3: Speaking of Chiasson and Smith-Pelly, those two are playing key roles on the penalty kill now that Justin Williams and Daniel Winnik on the penalty kill. To the surprise of no one, it has been an unforgivable failure with both players giving up over 115 shot attempts per hour while their on the ice. Last season, not a single Capitals forward that played over a minute of shorthanded ice time gave up over 90 shot attempts per hour. That’s the difference between an 83.8% penalty kill last year and a 79.8% unit that isn’t getting any better as long as the personnel remains the same. Sadly, Braden Holtby’s 86.8% save percentage in such situations is about league average.

Reason #4: Speaking of Holtby, for the third straight year, he is playing at his best in December and has had 76% of his starts reach quality status. Does that mean for the third straight year, he is going to be so burned by Valentine’s Day that he will regress horribly and will scramble to return to form for the postseason? It worked in 2016. It absolutely failed in 2017.

Consider that last year’s leader in that statistic was Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky at 65.1%. Also, the last time any netminder has had a 70% quality start percentage or better was in 2013-14 by Semyon Varlamov thanks to the 101.6% PDO delivered by Patrick Roy and his bag of Lucky Charms.

But let’s not stop talking about Braden Holtby on just how many times he can play well. Because we seriously need to talk about his durability. Yes, Holtby is 28 years old and still has a handful of seasons left while in the prime of his career. However, Holtby is also at 332 career games with a league-leading 227 of them played since the beginning of the 2014-15 season (aka since Barry Trotz has become head coach). That career game total is either at or close to the magic number in which you start to see goaltenders worsen from here. It has happened to lesser talents like Jonas Hiller and Ilya Bryzgalov, but it has also happened to Marc Andre-Fleury, Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask.

Am I saying that I expect Holtby to worsen from here on out? Not yet. But do I demand that every Capitals fan stops banking that Braden Holtby will carry them through another season with 100+ standings points with him being the team MVP? End of discussion, YES!!!

Until Washington improves the depth within their line combinations, not only will they not win a Stanley Cup, but they will struggle mightily to accept that a rebuild is coming before the decade is over. Until then, Brian McClellan has to return to being the smart GM I saw when he signed Williams and traded for Oshie on the cheapest returns imaginable. Otherwise, he better be fired before he cripples the future of this franchise any further.

  • 16. Winnipeg (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 14)
  • 15. Dallas (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 11)
  • 14. Chicago (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 19)
  • 13. Minnesota (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 15)
  • 12. New York Islanders (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 8)
  • 11. New York Rangers (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 10)
  • 10. Philadelphia (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 16)
  • 9. Nashville (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 9)

Just when I thought Minnesota was beginning to crumble, they have been climbing up the standings thanks to winning six of their last seven games. To the surprise of no one, Matt Dumba’s season has been saved thanks to him being freed of the badness that is Jonas Brodin and joining the light of goodness that is Ryan Suter. Also, until he ended up suffering an upper body injury, Devan Dubnyk was really rounding into form thanks to an 8-2-1 record, a 92.7% save percentage in all situations and three shutouts since November 9th.

However, I wouldn’t necessary go and say that the Wild are cured. Bruce Boudreau’s team only outscored their opponents 19-14 in their seven-game hot streak and four of their six wins came in either overtime or the shootout. Analytically, the Wild are only seeing the Dumba-Suter defense pair, plus Eric Staal, Nino Neiderraiter and Marcus Foligno as the only skaters to have generated over 50% puck possession. Of the 20 skaters Boudreau has played during their seven-game stretch, only Staal and Foligno have been on the ice for over one shot for per minute at even strength. Meanwhile 10 skaters have been on the ice for over one shot against per minute at even strength, with some being bombarded with over 80 shots per hour.

Last year, expected goals was the perfect excuse as to why Minnesota performed well beyond their shot attempts data. This year, their roughly 83-80 expected goal scoreline throughout the course of the season is roughly the same margin of victory as their 91-88 actual goals scoreline. In short, I don’t think the Wild are cured and it might be a long season if they can’t stay consistently good while Dubnyk is on the shelf.

In the meantime, hey Staloooooooooooooooock!!!

  • 8. Toronto (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 4)
  • 7. New Jersey (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 12)
  • 6. Columbus (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
  • 5. Los Angeles (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 3)
  • 4. San Jose (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 7)
  • 3. Vegas (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 5)
  • 2. St. Louis (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 1)

If you were to tell me that Marc Andre-Fleury were to lead a 100-point Vegas Golden Knights team, I would tell you you were crazy. But what if I changed the story on you. What if I told you that Fleury has only played six games this season due to a concussion and that Vegas had to pull off a 6-6-1 record with kinda bae google search result Maxime Legace and his 87.2% save percentage in goal. Also, Malcolm Subban, Oskar Dansk and, I kid you not, last summer’s seventh round pick Dylan Ferguson had to step in for Fleury as well and somehow deliver a combined 92.9% save percentage, you would have told me to get up out of here.

Welp, here we are and Vegas somehow is one of the best teams in the NHL. Analytically, this is no longer a joke. Since the start of their 8-3-1 hot streak, the Golden Knights have generated a 54.7% puck possession with only Dallas, Chicago, Boston and Tampa Bay topping them in this category. If anything, the strength of this team since November 16th has been the improbable breakout performances in the goal scoring department.

It’s one thing that Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith continue to rub it in Florida’s faces for how unbearably incompetent of a franchise they are and that James Neal turns back the clock as a lethal sniper. It’s another to see William Karlsson leading the team with 15 goals and 26 points. That being said, everyone and their mama knows that his 23.6% shooting percentage isn’t going to last anytime soon. Neither is Erik Haula’s 17.5% shooting percentage (11.9% for his career) or even David Perron’s 15.9% shooting percentage (12.0% for his career). If anything, just like Oshie and Tom Wilson for the Capitals, Karlsson is such a fit on Vegas’ top line as he, Smith and Marchessault don’t generate puck possession less than 52.5% individually.

The thing to watch out for is that Vegas has done a solid job of masking potential holes in their lineup. Simply put, Perron is not a good two-way player and as long as he is fellow offense-first stars like Neal, he’s in good hands, just like how he was with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin when with the Penguins under Mike Johnston. In defense, Luca Sbisa looks less like an ECHL defenseman when playing with Nate Schmidt, but it has made the latter look like the third pairing defenseman Barry Trotz thought he was rather than the future top pairing defenseman that everyone else knows he is. Thank goodness Sbisa is hurt so that Schmidty can play with a real NHLer in Braydon McNabb!

If Vegas wants to, they absolutely can go all in at this trade deadline. After all, they ransacked the entire league so hard in expansion draft trades that they have so many trade chips to work with in terms of prospect and 2018 entry draft picks. With the team that they have assembled, they might as well do it. It’s seasons like these that define the history, standards and culture of a hockey franchise. Where would the expectations of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia be without winning playoff series and Stanley Cups so early in their historical timeline? What about the same for a team like Edmonton as soon as they came from the old WHA? You just can’t predict these things. Take it from a DC Sports fan: once you see an opportunity, you better make the most of it!

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