31. Arizona (82-game Standings Points Pace: 47 points, Last Week: 31) 30. Buffalo (Pace: 58 pts, LW: 30) 29. Ottawa (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 29) 28. Detroit (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 28) 27. Florida (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 27) 26. Montreal (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 26)
- 25. Anaheim (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 25)
- 24. Vancouver (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 24)
So I’ve been gritting my teeth for the longest time to write about the Anaheim Ducks this season, because bluntly, I expected them to get eliminated anytime within the past handful of weeks. Instead, they are sitting more towards the middle of the Pacific Division standings. That’s nothing to write home about because the bottom half of that division is a disgrace to society, but to not see them be as worse as I expected them to be is, well, about as Randy Carlyle as you can get.
Speaking of Randy Carlyle, we all know his coaching was going to be the reason that this team would eventually become terrible. But that’s not the whole story. For starts, it wasn’t until last Wednesday that Ryan Kesler played his first game of the season due to offseason hip surgery. Along with that, Ryan Getzlaf has only played 14 games due a fractured cheekbone while taking a puck to the face. Add in the fact that Corey Perry has just six goals and you have the cliff notes version of why they have been so bad.
But at the end of the day, I basically explained what’s been going on with their three best players who also happen to be over 32 years old. Someone else on this Ducks team has to take the reigns and lead the team for the long haul if they want to maintain those standards. To his credit, Rickard Rakell has proven to not be a one-year wonder with 11 goals, 25 points in 33 games. But like Perry, it’s so obvious that losing a teammate like Getzlaf has really hindered his puck possession numbers. Without the team captain, Rakell has been obligated to play 124 even strength minutes with Derek Grant.
To put things into context, the 27-year old played for the Sabres, never scored a goal in 85 career games until this year and, for the exception of his 20-game stint with Ottawa in 2013-14, has never had an on-ice shot attempt for percentage better than 47% in any season of his career. How he has landed on a perennial playoff team like Anaheim, let alone count on him to be a middle six forward for the extreme majority of your season, should always be something that demands your general manager to get fired. Yet this is where the Anaheim Ducks are in 2017-18.
Oh, and I haven’t even started talking about how much Anaheim has turned their blue line into poison and how much of a disappointment Nick Ritchie’s career has been. But that’s a story for another time. Because I have a feeling I’ll be writing about this team again sooner rather than later.
- 23. Washington (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 22)
- 22. Colorado (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 23)
- 21. Pittsburgh (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 21)
- 20. Chicago (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 17)
- 19. Philadelphia (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 15)
- 18. Edmonton (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 19)
- 17. Minnesota (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 13)
- 16. New York Islanders (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 18)
Welp, it’s been a handful of weeks since I’ve written about Pittsburgh and here they are still having a 95.5 PDO staring them in the face and poisoning their season. Matt Murray still hasn’t found his mojo at all and now he’s on the shelf due to an upper body injury. Along with that, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Justin Schultz are all on the shelf with their respective ailments as well. Having the Penguins deal with injury crises is nothing new for them, but even when the team is at full strength, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel clicking in all cylinders, they have zero business being outside of the playoff picture, no matter who else they have on the roster.
I just have no idea what to say about them! They did everything right in the summer by offloading decaying contracts and setting themselves up for the midseason trade deadline and it’s not like anyone on this team is so far past their prime that their output is just going to crash and burn. Only being in two straight Stanley Cup runs is the loan excuse I can think of for this matter. However, Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness last season, their defense, has gotten a little better this year. Based off of their even strength shot attempt prevention, the Penguins have gone from 23rd best to 16th. It can be better, but it’s not the nail-biting disaster that almost blew them out of the building like it was against Nashville in last season’s Cup Finals.
Offensively, however, while it is still generating an elite level, they are gradually not as special as it once was. Their shot generation is still above one attempt per minute, but the NHL is now seeing goal scoring skyrocket. Even if you were to consider new laws or officiating to be tighter on certain infractions being the lone reason for such an uptick, the data proves that the goal scoring is not a fluke. In previous seasons, the league median for even strength shot attempts was somewhere between 54-55 per hour. Nowadays, it’s between 57-58. Thus, getting to over 63 shot attempts per hour is the new gold standard and Pittsburgh is not hitting that territory as of now.
Even so, the Penguins have no business shooting less than 5.5% at even strength. If it wasn’t for their elite power play (25.1% success rate), the whole that the team that is in need of digging out of would have been even greater. So far, the Islanders and Rangers are just three points away from the Penguins. Both teams have enough flaws to give up their positioning to them and all of Pittsburgh’s issues can blow over that way. This still doesn’t ignore the fact that the team should be much better than where they are right now.
- 15. Calgary (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 11)
- 14. Carolina (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 20)
- 13. Nashville (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 16)
- 12. Dallas (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 12)
- 11. Columbus (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 14)
- 10. Los Angeles (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 4)
- 9. Winnipeg (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 8)
Just when Winnipeg was becoming a contender in the Western Conference, one of their best players in Mark Scheifele went down with a shoulder injury that will be seeing him out of action for six to eight weeks. With 15 goals and 38 points in 38 games, the 24-year old was developing into one of the most well rounded offensive players in the league since last season and his line with Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor was absolutely lethal. But what if I were to tell you that all is not lost?
For starts, the Jets have gone this far without some of their best defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom due to injury as well. And despite getting off to a strong, yet somewhat fluky start, Winnipeg has gone 14-8-2 while generating 53.3% puck possession since I last wrote about them. If anything, what has made this Jets team great is their strength in depth and putting pressure to the opposition to not discount every line from having the potential to score.
Consider that before Scheifele was hurt that neither he, Connor or Wheeler were generating over 50% puck possession. If anything, Winnipeg’s best line was their shutdown line of Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev. None of them have racked up over 11 points so far this season, but both have been fantastic in limiting opposition chances and freeing up offensive zone ice time for Winnipeg’s top six forwards. Along with that, Mathieu Perreault and Matt Hendricks have been a surprisingly solid duo on the team’s fourth line and have found ways to create offense from such an odd source. Now with Scheifele hurt, Perreault is expected to return to the team’s top six, and maybe some of the lines will worsen as a result.
However, I do think a forced shakeup in the top six can cause some positive ripple effects and create solutions for their underlying weaknesses. If the answers don’t get resolved, the Jets have over $6.5 million in cap space and a full assortment of 2018 draft picks to get someone good at the trade deadline. But if the answers do get resolved, this team can only be that extra dangerous in the short and long term.
- 8. New Jersey (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 10)
- 7. New York Rangers (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 9)
- 6. San Jose (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 6)
- 5. St. Louis (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. Boston (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 7)
- 3. Toronto (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 3)
- 2. Vegas (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 128 pts, LW: 1)
Welp, that was a turn of events was it. Since I last wrote bad things about the Bruins, they have righted the ship massively to the tune of a 13-3-2 record, a fourth-best 54.6% puck possession in the NHL and a fourth-best 103.0 PDO during that span. Hey, after the past year-and-a-quarter of being starved of any luck, they deserve some of it this time around! But there is plenty of glory to go around for their success.
For starts, Tuukka Rask’s presumed death to his successful career may have been a bit to premature. Since November 16th, he has gone 9-1-1 with a 94.4% save percentage and has been on the ice to give up more than two goals only twice in his twelve games.
Up front, David Backes has returned from illness and been a man on fire with 12 points in his last 14 games. If anything, anything that involves him and linemates Danton Heinen and Riley Nash has turned to goal since the hot streak started. All three have generated over 51.5% puck possession with the 22-year old Heinen surprising everyone with 26 points in 32 games this season. With a 15.8% shooting percentage in all situations, his scoring could cool off when it is all said and done, but the former fourth round pick has proven to be a steal of a pick coming out of the BCHL. All he has done since then is tearing up the NCAA (36-57-93 in 82 games for Denver) and AHL level (14-32-46 in 66 games for Providence) to make it to the show.
In defence, head coach Bruce Cassidy should be fired yesterday if he ever thinks of bringing back Adam McQuaid into the lineup. That is because Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy have more than leap-frogged him in the depth chart and the underlying results have shown what has come of it. During their hot streak, no team in the NHL is better than Boston’s 51.2 shot attempts against per hour at even strength. When all six defensemen are clicking on all cylinders, this is a much more mobile group and can really scare anyone in the postseason. Look at any Stanley Cup champion and the list of players on every roster will tell you that depth matters first and last. Boston has had that for a while in their retool and now the process is generating results.