Week 18 of the Nerdy 30+1: Something’s Bruin

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Mary Altaffer/AP

  • 31. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 61 points, Last Week: 31)
  • 30. Ottawa (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 30)
  • 29. Arizona (Pace: 53 pts, LW: 29)
  • 28. Vancouver (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 27)
  • 27. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 28)
  • 26. Florida (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
  • 25. New York Islanders (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 24)
  • 24. Montreal (Pace: 76 pts, LW: 25)
  • 23. Edmonton (Pace: 77 pts, LW: 23)
  • 22. Washington (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 22)
  • 21. Columbus (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 21)
  • 20. Anaheim (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 20)
  • 19. New York Rangers (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 19)

Just when you thought the Rangers were going to continue outperforming their analytics under Alain Vigneault, they have fallen apart in the worst way imaginable. You know you’ve hit a dark place for your franchise when your general manager had to pen a letter to the fans and quasi-admit that they have to rebuild.

Anywho, the Rangers have been 3-10-0 since January 7th and have been outscored 53-30 during that span. To make matters worse, New York has only had two one-goal losses during that span and they haven’t lost in a shootout since December 29th. So not only are the Rangers not able to come away with nothing almost all the time, they are getting blown out of the rink as well.

Their offense has gotten worse, but a good chunk of that has had to with the fact that their on-ice even strength shooting has dwindled a full percentage point. However, their 2017-18 rate of 7.85% is still 11th best in the NHL and shouldn’t be the biggest excuse as to why goals are not being scored.

Injuries have also played a major factor here. Pavel Buchnevich is out with a concussion. Chris Kreider can’t build on his career 2016-17 season due to broken ribs. Kevin Shattenkirk and his expensive contract is out with a torn meniscus and Mark Staal is out with a neck injury. Every one of these ailments is crippling this team. However, Nick Holden and J.T. Miller have been the only player to see his goal count drop significantly for non-injury related reasons. Every returning Ranger has basically stayed at his usual norms. Still, those injuries have been enough to see New York only generate a league-worst 47.9 shot attempts per hour at even strength during their 13-game rut.

If anything, it has been the porous defense that has really been at fault of the Rangers this season. At 63.5 shot attempts against per hour, only the Ottawa Senators are worse in the NHL at even strength shot prevention. To make matters worse, only Paul Carey has played the vast majority of the season and has gotten close to league median in on-ice defense. Remember, this is a 29-year old Paul Carey that has played more games this season than the rest of his NHL career beforehand.

Simply put, these are dark times for New York and it will be a massive struggle for them to get out of it in the near future. If it weren’t for them being in a tight and mediocre Metropolitan Division, they would have been knocked out of playoff contention sooner.

  • 18. Chicago (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 16)
  • 17. Colorado (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 11)
  • 16. New Jersey (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 18)
  • 12. Calgary (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 17)
  • 14. Pittsburgh (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 12)
  • 13. Philadelphia (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 15)
  • 15. Carolina (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 13)
  • 11. Los Angeles (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 14)
  • 10. San Jose (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 10)

Just when you thought San Jose was going to have another comfortable ride towards the playoffs, cracks are beginning to show. Almost all of it is due to the potential season ending-injury to Joe Thornton who has been so instrumental for them all season. With 13 goals, he already has nearly-doubled his seven-goal output from last season. That being said, seven of those goals have come off of a power play that has returned to being among the best in the NHL.

Last season, the Sharks were a team that was absolutely reeling when it came to scoring goals in all situations. But in their bread-and-butter situation, they were only able to convert on 16.8% of their power play opportunities. This season, that rate has skyrocketed to 24.0%; good for fourth best in the NHL. Even analytics have shown that this unit is better. While last season’s 104.8 shot attempts generated per hour should have made San Jose a top-10 unit, their 10.9% shooting, and their shot locations were horrendous. This year, they have improved massively to the tune of 114.6 shot attempts per hour and their much more well-balanced shot distributions have a shooting percentage towards 14.9% as well. Now that’s all fine and dandy that the offense is back. But why is it that the Sharks haven’t improved as a team and why are they in a conundrum where they could be overtaken by Calgary and Anaheim in the standings?

For starts, the Martin Jones honeymoon might be coming to an end. He may have a 55.6% quality start percentage, but his 91.2% save percentage at even strength is really hindering his team’s chances for success. In fact, Jones’ only season where he has been the number one goaltender and with an above average even strength save percentage was his famous 2015-16 season where he guided the Sharks to a Stanley Cup finals appearance. He has to rediscover his form because Aaron Dell isn’t doing that much better.

Along with that, there is almost too much job being done on special teams. In those situations, San Jose has outscored the opposition 51-28 throughout the season. But at even strength, San Jose is being outscored 105-122. It’s not like their offense is not working hard as they have generated a fifth best 61.9 shot attempts per hour. However, their shot quality dwindles when you remove the blocked shots. As a result, San Jose sits 12th in unblocked shot attempts, 15th in shots on goal, 13th in scoring chances and 14th in high definition chances.

Still, it doesn’t excuse the fact that San Jose should be scoring 171 goals, instead of 156. Their shooting percentage of 6.9% of even strength has to find a way to improve for them to make any noise in the playoffs, especially if Joe Thornton’s meniscus doesn’t heal up in time. Otherwise, it will be another wasted season for an aging side.

  • 9. Winnipeg (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 8)
  • 8. Minnesota (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 6)
  • 7. St. Louis (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 9)
  • 6. Nashville (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 7)
  • 5. Toronto (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 5)
  • 4. Dallas (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 4)

People. Dallas is for real right now.

Not only have the Stars won five in a row, but they have gone 10-4-1 since December 29th. A 15-game scoreline of 63-35 during that span shows the absolute dominance in both phases of the game. Now when a strong run of form happens, puck luck usually comes to play and Dallas’ 103.7 during their hot streak is no different. Along with that, their season-long strength of shot prevention has worsened to a 10th worst 59.8 attempts per hour during that span.

Still, it’s really good to see Ben Bishop return to form as he has racked up 10 quality starts in his 12 attempts, including a 93.9% save percentage since December 29th. Along with that, all of Dallas’ best players have dominated with Alex Radulov leading the way with 24 points in 18 games. But don’t ignore Mattias Janmark’s eight goals and 12 points during that span either.What is getting fascinating about Dallas is that they have four players (Radulov, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg) who are hitting world-class status with their goal scoring: averaging a point per game. However, the next best scorer is Janmark with 29. That’s not a high total for a not-top line forward.

Everything about Ken Hitchcock’s hire has been whether he can add a defensive grit to a firewagon team. He has certainly done that, but has he trapped them too much into his systems? Like Barry Trotz’s conundrum with the Caps, eventually, you need to develop a consistent attack as well. Discovering that could separate the Stars from a possible Stanley Cup finals appearance and an early playoff exit.

  • 3. Vegas (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 3)
  • 2. Boston (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 2)
  • 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 117 pts, LW: 1)

Speaking of for real, you really haven’t been paying attention if you don’t think Boston is either. I mean, they’ve gone 23-3-4 since November 26th. They have been the best defense this season and the most consistent one for the past two seasons. Offensively, they are finally putting the puck in the back of the net and are doing so thanks to the infusion of three players under the age of 22.

Danton Heinen and Jake Debrusk have come on among the forward lines and have really added some necessary depth. Somebody much younger than David Krejci and David Backes had to come on and provide strong scoring depth, otherwise, the whole league was going to gang up on the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergerson-David Pastrnak line. Also, it’s not like Matt Beleskey has lived up to his contract because everybody saw that coming. With a combined 23 goals and 66 points, Debrusk and Heinen have done just that.

On the backend, McAvoy has been a true revelation for them. Along with Torey Krug, the Bruins finally have two puck movers that perform at an elite level at the prime of their careers. This is something they haven’t had since their Stanley Cup finals days. And with Chara hitting the wrong side of 40, somebody had to come in and relieve him of some major duties.

Now Boston still lacks a bit of scoring depth. Only seven players are on pace to score 40 points or more this season. But with the defense they got and with Tuukka Rask returning to form, their potential is has a very high ceiling. Even Anton Khudobin is getting in on the act and he hasn’t played this well since 2013-14. Man, is the top of the Atlantic Division looking like a lot of fun. There’s no denying that that side of the playoff bracket is going to be deadly.

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