So as we pass the halfway mark of this NHL season, the only thing I can conclude about the league as a whole is that everything is just weird. What makes it weird, you ask? Welp, Vegas going from an idea to the second best team in the sport certainly is a good starting point.
Now I’m not saying Vegas has earned their spot, but I also can’t help but think that they have taken advantage of teams just not performing to their expectations. Remember when Pittsburgh was supposed to challenge for a three-peat or when Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were supposed to own the league for the next decade? How about Nashville continuing to be the most fun and analytically inclined team in the league with no rivals nearby? Or how about team Erik Karlsson being a one man wrecking crew because that dude is the greatest defenseman we have ever seen? Boy have those ideas have turned to poop.
There is still a trade deadline to be had and a Victor Hedman injury or five can swing the whole dynamic before it’s all said and done. Still, there just doesn’t seem to be that much excitement towards the top of the table.
According to my rankings, only Tampa Bay, Vegas and Boston have performed like 100-point teams based solely off of goal differential and expected goal differential and adjusting both numbers according to strength of schedule. Once you get past those three teams, everything gets bunched up massively between fourth and 16th. Anyone of those teams can hit elite status with the right type of hot streak. But for now, all those teams are playing to about a 90-95 point level: good enough to be an 8th seed for most postseasons.
After that, you have 17th through 23rd that are full of teams that just don’t have a strong enough identity or puck luck to be trusted anywhere beyond round one of the postseason: assuming they even make it to the dance. Lastly, we have all the scrubs 24th downward, with two of them from that group on pace to pick up less than 60 points in the standings. That’s a lot of bad teams this far into the season.
As I’ve said for a while, this season just feels like a transitional year for the league where all the traditionally good teams are gradually decaying while all the newcomers are, at best, still figuring out their way and, at worst, still not having a clue how to build a roster around their future stars. So while very little games have been played this week, we still had plenty of turnover across the power rankings. Let’s check out where everyone stands on the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.
31. Arizona (82-game Standings Pace: 50 points, Last Week: 31)
30. Buffalo (Pace: 58 pts, LW: 30)
29. Ottawa (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 29)
28. Vancouver (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 28)
27. Detroit (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
26. Florida (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 27)
25. Montreal (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 25)
- 24. Anaheim (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 24)
When I knocked out the Montreal Canadiens from my power rankings, I personally thought they were going to be dead and buried, even with a PDO that was unsustainable and low. It’s just how all Marc Bergevin businesses work. That was before this team suggenly rallied and won five in a row, including a 10-1 win over fellow stragglers Detroit. Afterwards? Welp, they have reverted to type and have gone 5-8-1 since. Oh, and this run all started BEFORE Shea Weber broke his foot.
Surely enough, that winning streak was a complete mirage and there were numbers that backed that fact. Despite Montreal being outplayed by a 240-217 adjusted even strength shot attempts scoreline, they were still able to outscore teams 24-6. To answer the next question, yes, Montreal had a league-leading PDO during that span at 101.1. Lastly, those five opponents that got trounced were Detroit twice, Buffalo, Ottawa and Columbus. Every one of those teams are in the bottom half of my rankings.
So yeah, Montreal is a mirage and losing to Edmonton twice, Florida, and having Ottawa exact revenge on them since then has put them back in their place. Before December 3rd, Montreal were a fine possession team that was dealing with just bad luck. Since then, they have been a total mess with the sixth worst shot prevention at 63.3 attempts against per hour. And while their 97.8 PDO during this timespan is bad, it’s not like Arizona, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and Carolina are going to shed tears for them anytime soon.
When you look at Montreal’s defense, you seriously wondered if there was some mass evacuation that happened recently. With Weber out, the Canadiens have to count on Jeff Petry being the go-to guy to generate offense from the point. Petry is solid in that department, but he’s never have more than 28 points in a single season. Afterwards, you have Jordie Benn who has been a mediocre at best defenseman throughout his career. Those a guys that you shove towards the bottom pair of your defense and never count on to be among your best four guys over there if you are building a Stanley Cup Champion. Lastly, while Karl Alzner has had an okay rebound season from a puck possession standpoint, you can’t count on him to perform difficult tasks if you expect deep playoff runs. Once you pass these three defensemen, we’re down to a poo-poo platter of options.
Pittsburgh Penguins fans will be shocked to hear that Joe Morrow has already gotten 26 games for Montreal somehow. Brandon Davidson was then sent back to Edmonton because that’s how Marc Bergevin works. David Schlemko, a guy who was solidify the depth of this back end has missed a combined 27 games due to a broken hand or illness this season. Brett Lernout and Mark Streit have been afterthoughts. Which leads me to Jakub Jerebak and Victor Mete.
Mete is a fresh faced fourth round pick from the 2016 draft that has never played professional hockey this year. While he did put up some interesting numbers to suggest being an offensive defenseman is in his future, Mete is 5’9″ and is still 19 years old. He’s basically Montreal’s Connor Carrick. As for Jerebak, the 26-year old has recently been racking up points since 2013-14 while in the Czech Republic. After putting up 34 points in 59 games in the KHL last season, Montreal hoped he would be a good AHL call-up/seventh defenseman option. Instead, he has been thrusted upon the lineup and has had no points in 16 games.
Yeah, these are dark times in Montreal.
- 23. Washington (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 23)
- 22. Edmonton (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 20)
- 21. New York Islanders (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 22)
- 20. Pittsburgh (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 21)
- 19. Columbus (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 16)
- 18. Nashville (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 17)
- 17. Colorado (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 19)
- 16. Minnesota (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 12)
- 15. New Jersey (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 14)
- 14. Carolina (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 10)
Hey look, Carolina is in the thick of things for the playoffs! Finally this team is having their puck possession translate to a possible seat in the postseason party. Now they will have to stave off teams like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for them to hold on to it, but if anything, destiny is finally looking like it is in their control. So how did they get here?
Since December 12th, the Hurricanes have gone 9-4-1 and have done so off the back of a defense that was only bettered by Boston at even strength shot prevention during that span at 51.8 adjusted attempts per hour. However, it’s not like everything else looked that rosy during this run of form. They only outscored the opposition 42-41, still recorded a PDO of 97.5 and only generated a 21st best rate in shot generation of 56.8 adjusted attempts per hour. Plenty of that has to do with Carolina’s 7-1 loss to Boston and 8-1 loss to Toronto during that span.
Still, Carolina’s special teams are not getting completely going just yet. Their shot prevention on the penalty kill is still quite mediocre and their shooting percentage on he power play is still quite poor. Lastly, Cam Ward is their starting goaltender right now.
Anywho, this is going to be a fascinating team to cover as the season goes along, but I just don’t know if much has changed with Carolina other than a little bit of taking advantage of special teams more than they should.
- 13. New York Rangers (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 8)
- 12. St. Louis (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 6)
- 11. Chicago (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 18)
- 10. San Jose (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 9)
- 9. Philadelphia (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 15)
Ok, let’s talk about the Blackhawks because, man, are they weird. While the likes of Minnesota are slipping in the standings, it has actually been Colorado and Calgary chasing for that unoccupied playoff spot instead of Chicago. And though the ‘Hawks seemed to be back on track with a five-game winning streak of their own since I last wrote about them, they have gone 4-5-1 ever since. During those last ten games, they have been shredding teams with 56.9% puck possession, including a league leading 70.5 adjusted shot attempts per hour at even strength. However, if you were to take away the 8-2 Ottawa win out of the equation and Chicago has only scored 21 goals in nine games. It’s a solid total, but one that can certainly be better, especially while the power play is being dragged by a
Queneville anvil the rest of the season.
The real issues, as evidenced by all the hustle and bustle that general manager Stan Bowman has done has been in defense. While they have improved in the last three games, the Blackhawks have now given up three goals or more in six of their previous seven games. All this is happening despite Chicago giving up only the fifth best shot prevention rate in the league since December 21st with 53.8 adjusted shot attempts per hour. However, this is where the “shot quality” crowd gets their last laughs.
Despite having their recent run of good defense on the whole, the Blackhawks actually sit 26th in the NHL at even strength high-definition chance prevention at 12.0 per hour. It when you even expand the data towards shots on goal, Chicago still struggles to get in the top-20 in the league. This perfectly explains why Micah Blake McCurdy’s shot chart for them looks like a bloody nose on a rorschach test.
Banking on having Jeff Glass and Anton Forsberg hold the fort while Corey Crawford has been out with a lower body injury has not helped at all, but that still doesn’t mean that they are the only ones to blame. Still, it’s so uncharacteristic of Chicago for them to try to fix the problem the wrong way. So while Bowman decided it was best to waive Cody Franson and for Queneville to healthy scratch Brent Seabrook, it just didn’t seem like every move was thought out in complete detail.
For starts, why are Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling getting this much playing time!? Both players are below 50% puck possession and are easily the two worst shot prevention defensemen on the team. However, both average well over two minutes per game on the penalty kill, in spite of giving up over 110 attempts per hour while shorthanded.
This leads me to Jordan Oesterle, who has gotten massive amounts of playing time with Duncan Keith since the beginning of their five-game winning streak. Even though Oesterle doesn’t have much experience, he has averaged close to a minute on the penalty kill and is an upgrade based off of his 108.9 on-ice shot attempts against per hour in such situations.
Next, Conor Murphy is really good. Stop healthy scratching the guy and let him do his job for a full 82 games since he’s among your best shot prevention defensemen in every situation. Along with that, he plays great with Seabrook where the duo have generated over 55.5% puck possession together. So there’s your top four right there: Keith & Oesterle followed by Murphy & Seabrook.
As for the bottom pair, I’d go Franson and Michal Kempny. In his two years in the league, Kempny has been brilliant in puck possession to the tune of 56.2%, while the two have only played together for 37 seconds all season at even strength, I want to see how it looks before we poo-poo both of them out of the lineup. So there you go Blackhawks, I just did countless hours of research in less than an hour. Please make me your head of analytics guy right now…unless Chris Watkins or Jen Lute Costella want it instead.
- 8. Calgary (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)
- 7. Los Angeles (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 11)
- 6. Toronto (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 7)
- 5. Winnipeg (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. Dallas (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 4)
- 3. Boston (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 3)
- 2. Vegas (Pace: 120 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 121 pts, LW: 1)
Welp, just like I did last week with Tampa, I am going to run a quick exercise that will be immediate proof as to why Vegas can’t win the Stanley Cup. Why is that, you ask? Is it because George McPhee can’t have nice things because of all the bad moves he made post-2010 or because Nate Schmidt not wearing a Caps jersey scars me so much that I can’t bare to watch this particular team and ever feel good about them and their fans, ever? No, I’m not that completely spiteful.
I just simply want to know what makes them tick despite them generating okay, but not great puck possession with a hint of luck, but not so much of it that you expect the regression to be that massive. If anything, Vegas’ penalty kill currently sits eighth best in shot prevention at 98.4 attempts per hour with a league average 88.0% save percentage. Also, Malcolm Subban might be bad, but he’s saving shots at a league average rate and playing consistently at a league average level too. Maybe Marc Andre-Fleury gets old and leads to Gerard Gallant having an unnecessary goaltending controversy before the playoffs come around. But that’s all speculation for now.
So again, what’s that thing that is going to make them stumble? Welp, how does having a somewhat unsustainable 29-10-2 winning percentage in one-goal games sound!? In fact, they are joined by Washington and Columbus as the only other teams in the league to having a 70% winning percentage in these types of games all season. Since the 2004-05 lockout, only three other teams have finished an 82-game season with a winning percentage so high: the 2014-15 Anaheim Ducks, the 2014-15 Vancouver Canucks and the 2008-09 New Jersey Devils. Those Ducks went on to lose in seven games to Chicago in the Conference Finals after surging up the charts with their puck possession thanks to the acquisitions of Jiri Sekac, James Wisniewski and Simon Despres. Meanwhile, the Canucks were a bad possession team that lost to Hartley Magic and the Calgary Flames in the first round. Vegas is an ok team in puck possession, but they have loads of cap space to work with.
However, the Pacific Division is getting better thanks to a surging Calgary Flames and a somewhat underrated San Jose side. Los Angeles is in the thick of things, but John Stevens has unshackled them to play an offensive brand of hockey probably a bit too much to my liking. So Vegas has a shot to go far in the playoffs. I just don’t think their road is as easy as people think it is.