Tag:Pucks And Numbers
Posted on: February 15, 2012 12:08 pm
Edited on: February 15, 2012 12:20 pm
 

A look at the NHL playoff bubble

Can the Islanders pull off a miracle run? (Getty Images)

Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the playoff bubble and what the teams on it need to do to make the postseason


By: Adam Gretz

Recent hot streaks by the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning have sparked some playoff hope for their respective fan bases. On the other side, a recent slump that's come in the form of a 9-game losing streak has left some wondering if the Chicago Blackhawks could, amazingly, find themselves on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture when the regular season comes to a close.

Anything is possible, but even though there appears to be a large number of teams that are still "in" the playoff race, the harsh reality is that even a two or three-game deficit (four or six points in the standings) is a lot to overcome. It doesn't seem like it should be, but it is.

A couple of months ago I looked at how a slow start is extremely damaging to a teams playoff chances sooner than you might realize, and as the days of the regular season start to fall away those deficits become even more daunting. I mentioned on Twitter earlier this week that since the start of the '05-06 season there have only been two teams that managed to overcome a 5-point deficit this late in the season (the '06-07 Rangers and the '08-09 Blues) to qualify for the playoffs.

Ninety-five points is usually a safe bet to get your team into the playoffs, so with that in mind, let's take one more look at what each of the bubble teams will need to do over their remaining games to reach that level. Of course, it is possible for a team to make the playoffs with fewer than 95 points, and that may in fact happen this season, especially in the East, but I'm simply going with the number that tends to be a near automatic playoff berth.

Let's start with the Eastern Conference...

Eastern Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
7 Ottawa Senators 23 29 13-7-3
8 Toronto Maple Leafs 25 33 15-7-3
9 Washington Capitals 26 34 15-7-4
10 Winnipeg Jets 25 37 17-5-3
11 New York Islanders 26 39 17-4-5
12 Montreal Canadiens 25 40 18-3-4
13 Tampa Bay Lightning 26 41 18-3-5
14 Buffalo Sabres 26 41 18-3-5

Incredibly, Washington and Winnipeg still have an outside shot (at this point, a very outside shot) at winning the Southeast Division, which speaks more to the quality (or lack of it) of the division than anything else, but that hope of a Division title gets smaller with each loss. Once you get past Washington in the No. 9 spot the remaining teams have almost no margin for error.

The Canadiens? Better start praying. The Islanders, for example, have been playing some pretty great hockey recently, especially veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but does anybody believe they have a 17-4-5 finish in them?

Even if it only took 90 points to reach the playoffs, they would still need a 15-7-4 finish.

Now, a look at the Western Conference...

Western Conference Playoff Race
Seed Team Games Remaining Pts Needed Record Needed
6 Chicago Blackhawks 25 30 15-10-0
7 Los Angeles Kings 25 30 15-10-0
8 Phoenix Coyotes 25 32 15-8-2
9 Calgary Flames 25 33 15-7-3
10 Colorado Avalanche 25 35 16-6-3
11 Dallas Stars 26 36 17-7-2
12 Minnesota Wild 26 37 17-6-3
13 Anaheim Ducks 26 40 20-6-0

When you look at in terms of how many games these teams need to win the rest of the way, the playoff races may not be as deep as they appear to be. When you get right down to it, there might only be four teams (Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Calgary) in the West fighting for three playoff spots.

Minnesota would need to play almost as well as it did in October through December to get back into the top-eight, which shows just how far that team fell over the past month-and-a-half. After 30 games the Wild had the best record in the league. Just 26 games later they're going to need to play like the best team in hockey for the remainder of the season just to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Bruce Boudreau has certainly helped get Anaheim going back in the right direction, but he's going to need to turn water into wine to get Anaheim, as well as its played in recent weeks, into the playofs this season.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: February 7, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 4:53 pm
 

Goal scoring is still going down

Goal Scoring DownBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the continuing decline of goal scoring in the NHL.

On Tuesday Morning TSN's Gord Miller mentioned on Twitter that there has been some talk from "a few" NHL general managers about potentially reintroducing the red line. The NHL attempted to open up the game by allowing two-line passes coming out of the lockout prior to the 2005-06 season in an effort to help increase goal-scoring across the league.

If there is one thing the NHL doesn't need right now, from an offensive standpoint, it's a rule change that would take the league back to the clutch-and-grab, neutral zone obstruction era of pre-lockout hockey. You remember those days. Scoring first means a near automatic win, games that looked as if they were being played in mud through the middle of the ice.

The clutch-and-grab aspect is already making its way back into the game as teams seem to be getting away with more obstruction and interference away from the play, and goal-scoring has been nearing the levels it was in the late 90s and early 2000s when scoring first was a near automatic win.

When the NHL came out of the darkness that was the lost season of 2003-04, there was a huge crackdown on neutral zone obstruction, and when combined with the elimination of the red line, goal-scoring soared during the '05-06 season to levels that hadn't been reached since the early 90s.

In the following years, however, it's slowly but surely started to regress back to the dead puck era, and it seems that a lot of it has to do with the fact that the league has started to look the other way on neutral zone obstruction and interference away from the puck, and it's becoming more and more obvious every time you turn on a game.

Below is a quick look at the total goals-per-game across the NHL going all the way back to the 2000-01 season, as well as the number of power plays each team averaged on a per-game basis:

NHL Goal Scoring
Year Total Goals Per Game Average Power Plays For Team Per Game
2011-12 5.48 3.4
2010-11 5.59 3.5
2009-10 5.68 3.7
2008-09 5.83 4.1
2007-08 5.57 4.2
2006-07 5.89 4.8
2005-06 6.17 5.8
2003-04 5.14 4.2
2002-03 5.31 4.4
2001-02 5.24 4.1
2000-00 5.51 4.5

The league may be trying to crack down on headshots and hits from behind (and that's a good thing), but it's also been looking the other way on the neutral zone obstruction.

Before the lockout, when clutch-and-grab hockey was at its peak, teams were still averaging more than four power plays per game. As you can see over the past three years, teams are getting fewer and fewer opportunities on the man-advantage, which naturally helps lead to fewer goals, and it's been on a steady downward trend for the past six years.

That also helps put some individual performances across the league in some perspective. So far this season there are only 17 players in the NHL averaging at least a point-per-game, and only two players, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, are on a pace that would give them at least 100 points over the course of an 82-game season. Only five players are on a pace that would reach 90 points.

Last season only one player, Vancouver's Daniel Sedin, topped the 100-point plateau.

Of course, there's also been a player safety angle to a potential return of the two-line pass. It's been suggested over the course of the season that bringing the red line back and slowing the game down through the neutral zone could help cut down on the number of concussions across the league (a growing problem that isn't going away), as the game has simply become too fast and resulted in more violent collisions. On the surface, that does make some sense. But the problem with that argument is there is no way of really knowing for sure if concussions are a bigger problem now because the game is "too fast" through the neutral zone, or if head injuries were simply overlooked, underreported or simply viewed as "having your bell rung" 10 years ago and we're just more aware of it today.

At this point it's nothing but talk, but there is still some smoke for the return of the two-line pass, and fans of fast-paced, skillful hockey should be at least a little concerned. If they already aren't.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 31, 2012 4:28 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2012 4:30 pm
 

Pucks & Numbers: Blackhawks' D and goaltending

Does Chicago need a backup goalie upgrade? (Getty Images)

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at how the NHL's have top scorers have been used this season.

By: Adam Gretz

As the Chicago Blackhawks prepare to enter the second half of the regular season they find themselves in the bottom-third of the league when it comes to preventing goals.

Entering Tuesday's game in Vancouver, a rematch of last year's Western Conference Quarterfinal series, which the Canucks won in seven games, the Blackhawks are giving up just a little over 2.8 goals per game, which puts them 20th in the NHL. The only teams that are currently occupying a playoff spot that are surrendering more goals on a nightly basis are the Philadelphia Flyers (2.90) and Ottawa Senators (3.04).

So what is the biggest problem at this point? The goaltending of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, or the defense in front of them?

Actually, it's probably a little bit of both.

When the the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup two years ago it was easy to point to what their biggest weakness was -- goaltending.

It was supposed to be the position that held them back on their playoff run, and there was even a bit of concern (a lot, actually) when the trade deadline passed and the team was prepared to go into the postseason with a duo of then-rookie Antti Niemi and veteran Cristobal Huet. It raised a few eyebrows, resulted in a lot of questions, and then they went on and won the ultimate prize, ending a lengthy championship drought for the franchise.

Niemi was definitely solid in net, and he made some big saves for them in the playoffs, but he wasn't exactly Tim Thomas or Dominik Hasek back there, either.

Statistically, the Blackhawks finished the regular season, as a team, near the bottom of the NHL in most of the key goaltending areas. Their overall save percentage of .901 was 23rd in the league. Their 5-on-5 save percentage of .902 was 29th, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.

Through their first 50 games this season the Blackhawks new goaltending duo is playing at a slightly higher level, especially when it comes to even strength play. At 5-on-5 the pairing of Crawford and emery is 22nd in the NHL with a .911 mark, and at a comparable .901 mark (23rd) overall. But they're giving up nearly a half-goal more per game.

How is that possible? The team in front of the goalies isn't anywhere near as good at limiting the goaltendes workload.

The Stanley Cup team in '09-10 had ridiculous depth at forward and defense and consistently steamrolled over their opponents, controlling the puck better than any team in the league. They limited their opponents to just 25 shots per game and out-shot them by an average of nine shots per game, the third-best mark of any team over the past 10 years. A team that controls the puck like that is capable of overcoming what might be a weakness in goal.

While they're still a really strong possession team this year, they're simply not an all-time great one like the Cup team was, due in large part to the decreased depth, especially on the blue line. (Just as a quick example: Even though he has a contract that was the butt of many jokes, Brian Campbell, now a member of the Florida Panthers, was a really, really good player for the Blackhawks. And while they needed to find a taker for his contract, they do miss his play on the blue line). That decreased depth puts the below-average goaltending (and let's face it, that's what it's been for a couple of years now in Chicago) under an even larger microscope.

I'm not sure Chicago can find an upgrade over Crawford on the trade market leading up to the deadline, and even though his play has regressed a bit from last season, he can probably play a little better over the second half of the season. Their best bet leading up to the deadline would be to focus on adding some depth to their blue line, or at the very least, looking to find an upgrade over Emery to help take some of the pressure off of their second-year starter.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 24, 2012 4:26 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 10:26 am
 

How the NHL's top scorers have been used

The Kings are relying on Anze Kopitar to do it all. (Getty Images)
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at how the NHL's have top scorers have been used this season.

By: Adam Gretz


Of all the top scorers in the league this season the most overlooked and underappreciated one of them all might be Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

Not only because he's their leading scorer (and one of the only players on the team that's actually having a good season offensively) but also because they are asking him to play in every possible situation against the best players on a nightly basis.

More often than not in recent years the player that finishes the regular season as the NHL's leading scorer also tends to take home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP, as has happened in six of the past 10 years. In two of the four years it didn't happen, the Hart went to the player that scored the most goals. That kind of gives you an idea as to what voters are looking at, at least in part -- total production, whether it be goals and/or total points.

Of course, there is a ton of value in a player that scores enough to lead the league in any or both of those categories, and that player is obviously going to be one of the best players in the league. That is, after all, the most basic concept of the game: score goals.

But not all scorers play in situations that are created equal. Some players are put into situations where they can focus entirely on offense (like, say, Henrik and Daniel Sedin).

Others are given assignments that aren't quite as conducive to putting up points because of what might be greater defensive responsibilities, whether it be playing more minutes as a penalty killer, where offensive is nearly impossible to come by, or simply playing more even strength shifts in areas where defense has to take a priority over offense (such as a faceoff in the defensive zone).

Last week we looked at the top rookies that have been given the toughest assignments this season, and this week we're going to take a similar look at how the top-25 scorers in the league (at the start of this week) have been utilized by their teams. The chart below takes into account all five-on-five situations and locates players based on the quality of competition they face, as well as the percentage of their shifts that start in the offensive zone (both numbers via BehindTheNet).

The closer a player is to the top left, the harder the assignments. The closer to the bottom right, the "easier."

This, again, is the top-25 scorers in the NHL at the start of this week.

TopScorers

1) See those two guys way out on the right, all by themselves? Those are the Sedin twins, and it's easy to see what their role is for the Canucks. Along with their regular linemate, Alex Burrows, the Sedin's start a higher percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone than any player in the league (not just among the top scorers, but all players) and there really isn't anybody else that is even remotely close to them.

After Burrows, who again is their linemate, the only other regular player in the NHL that has a mark over 70 percent is Tampa Bay's well known defensive sieve, Marc-Andre Bergeron. And these guys are bordering on the 80 percent mark. This is not a new development for the Canucks, as head coach Alain Vigneault has pretty much always used his players this way, whether it be making sure that the Sedin's are always playing in the offensive zone, or players like Manny Malhotra are always on the ice for defensive zone draws.

Obviously, the Canucks are not the only team that operates this way and puts certain players in certain spots, as most of the top-scorers shown above are used in similar situations (favorable five-on-five roles, a lot of power play time, almost no time on the penalty kill). Though, the Canucks do seem to be the most committed to it, and as I mentioned in this week's Power Rankings, if it weren't for icing calls that forced them to stay on the ice for a faceoff in their own zone, I wonder if the Sedin's would ever be asked to start a shift in their own end of the ice.

2) The MVP campaign for Philadelphia's Claude Giroux is no joke, and if there were any doubts about his ability to take over the No. 1 center role in Philadelphia and play the tough minutes that Mike Richards previously played, well, you can forget about it. He's not only playing the key even strength minutes, he also spends two-and-a-half minutes per game on the penalty kill. And he's still the second leading scorer in the NHL, even with the fact that he's missed four games.

Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk is having a similar season, but we already knew he's capable of that and he's simply continuing to do what he's always done throughout his career -- play unmatched two-way hockey and dazzle with his obscene level of skill.

3) Where would the Kings and Devils be without Kopitar and Patrik Elias this season? Not only are they the top point producers for two teams that have little offense after them, but they have also been doing it under less-than-ideal circumstances for offense, while both spend significant time every night killing penalties for two of the top penalty killing teams in the league. Kopitar, for example, logs 2:28 of shorthanded ice time per game for the Kings, while Elias checks in at just under two minutes per game. Of the 25 players on the scatterplot above, only nine of them play more than one minute of shorthanded ice-time per game. Twelve of them play less than 10 seconds per game.

Does this mean that players like Kopitar and Elias are better than players like the Sedins, or Evgeni Malkin and James Neal? Or having better seasons? Well, no, not exactly, because those guys are still scoring at pretty impressive rates and being relied on to carry their teams offensively. In the cases of Malkin and Neal, for example, they're pretty much the only guys scoring for their team right now, so that can't be underestimated.

It does, however, mean that perhaps the gap isn't quite as big as the point total or goal total would indicate.

It means that a player like Kopitar, who never seems to get much attention as being one of the best players in the league (he's not even an All-Star this season, for whatever that's worth) is probably extremely underrated and underappreciated for what he has done for his team every single night this season, and the way he's gone about doing it.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 4:11 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 4:43 pm
 

Rookies facing the toughest assignments

CouturierBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at which top rookies are playing some of the toughest (and easiest) assignments in the NHL.

Most NHL teams are going to put their rookies into favorable situations on the ice.

They are usually not going to be asked to play the toughest minutes on their team, against the best opponents and in defensive situations, and instead are going to be put into low pressure situations where they have the best opportunity to succeed. There are, of course, always exceptions, and some youngsters are asked to take on larger (and more important) roles, whether it be out of necessity, or because the player has shown that he's capable of taking on such an assignment at a young age. 

This year's rookie class has had some pretty impressive performances so far, including that of top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (currently the NHL's leading rookie scorer) in Edmonton, Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson with the Devils and, of course, Philadelphia's young forwards Sean Couturier (pictured) and Matt Read, who have not only flashed some offensive ability, but have also proven themselves to be more than capabale penalty killers.

But which of the NHL's top rookies are being asked to play the toughest minutes this season?

Well, that's what the scatterplot picture below helps us figure out. We're using Relative Corsi Quality of Competition (the level of competition the player is playing against -- the higher the number, the tougher the opponent, and vice versa) and Offensive Zone starts (both via Behind The Net) during 5-on-5 play to determine which rookies are being asked to play in the toughest situations by their respective teams.

The closer a player is to the top left of the chart, the harder the assignments he's being given (playing against better players and starting fewer shifts in the offensive zone), while the closer a player is to the bottom right, the easier the assignment (playing against weaker competition and starting more shifts in the offensive zone).

The players included: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Oilers), Adam Henrique (Devils), Nick Johnson (Wild), Luke Adam (Sabres), Cody Hodgson (Canucks), Jared Cowen (Senators), Adam Larsson (Devils), Gabriel Landeskog (Avalanche), Sean Couturier (Flyers), Matt Read (Flyers), Ryan Johansen (Blue Jackets), Raphael Diaz (Canadiens), Craig Smith (Predators), Colin Greening (Senators) and Kaspars Daugavins (Senators).

Rookie Assignments

A few thoughts:

1) When it comes to the NHL's rookie of the year debate the two most common names are, naturally, Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique. They are, after all, the top two scoring rookies in the league, and before Nugent-Hopkins went out with his injury they were neck-and-neck in that scoring race. Now that Henrique is running unopposed for the foreseeable future, he's going to take over that scoring lead (barring an injury of his own, of course) and will probably become the front-runner for the award by seasons end.

Both players have arguments working in their favor.

When we did our mid-season award picks I went with Henrique based on the fact he and Nugent-Hopkins were nearly identical offensively, while Henrique was being asked to play in tougher situations (as the chart above illustrates). Along with that, he is also one of the top penalty killing forwards on the best penalty killing team in the league, and has proven himself to be a threat offensively even when his team is down shorthanded, currently tied for the league in shorthanded points. Conversely, Nugent-Hopkins is getting some of the easiest minutes in the league among the top rookies, and has played just a total of one minute and 16 seconds of shorthanded ice time this season.

That said, it can't be ignored that Henrique is already 21 years old while Nugent-Hopkins is one of the youngest players in the league at the age of 18. Actually, he's the second-youngest player to have skated in an NHL game this season, having been born just six days after Ottawa's Mika Zibanejad, who appeared in nine games for the Senators.

He may not be asked to play in tough situations, but his performance is still darn impressive given his age.

2) Don't overlook the rookie duo in Philadelphia. The Flyers completely re-tooled their roster over the summer, and halfway through the 2011-12 season they haven't missed a beat as far as being a contender in the Eastern Conference is concerned.

 Losing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter looked like it was going to be a major blow to their forward depth, and while they are definitely a different team from a year ago, they're still boasting an impressive group of forwards, including their two prized rookies Couturier (selected with the draft pick that came from Columbus in exchange for Carter) and Read. Both are among the Flyers' top penalty killing forwards, and among Flyers forwards that have played at least 20 games this season Read is currently facing the fourth-toughest competition on the team.

3) Mike Yeo, head coach of the Minnesota Wild, appears to have a lot of faith in Nick Johnson, a player the team picked up on waivers before the season. Not only is he playing, by far, the toughest minutes of any of the top rookies in the NHL (he's currently 11th among rookie scorers) his Qual Comp is the highest of any forward on the Wild roster. Perhaps that faith shouldn't be much of a surprise given the connections both have to the Pittsburgh organization (Johnson was drafted by the Penguins, while Yeo was a former assistant).

Of course, age once again needs to be taken into account. While Johnson is playing tougher minutes than all of these other rookies, he's also by far the oldest player on the chart having already turned 26 back in December. A 26-year-old rookie and an 18-year-old rookie aren't exactly the same thing.

Taking into account performance, assignments and age I'd still choose Henrique as the top rookie in the NHL this season (so far), with Nugent-Hopkins, Read and Craig Smith coming in just behind.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:06 pm
Edited on: January 12, 2012 1:44 am
 

Minnesota's puck possession problem

WildPucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at what might be the biggest problem with the Minnesota Wild.

By: Adam Gretz


The Minnesota Wild have a problem right now.

After beating the Phoenix Coyotes on December 10, their seventh win in a row, the Wild improved their record to 20-7-3 and owned the best point total in the NHL. They had the look of a sure-fire playoff team and one that was going to end a three-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Of course, that could still end up happening, but it's been all downhill ever since.

In the month that's followed the Wild have won just one game in regulation (a 4-3 win against Edmonton, a team that's been one of the worst in the NHL over the past 20 games), a stretch that's seen them go 2-8-3. The other win came on Tuesday night, a 5-4 shootout win against San Jose after the Wild let a two-goal lead slip away in the final four minutes of regulation. As of Wednesday, the Wild went from the top team in the Western Conference to the No. 7 spot, just three points out of the No. 9 spot, in exactly one month, and their next three games are against Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia, which is definitely not an easy stretch.

This recent decline should have been expected (I wasn't ready to buy their fast start earlier this season ... though, I said the same thing about the Rangers and theyr'e still winning. So there's that) and unless something changes in the second half of the season they might have a big struggle ahead of them. Why? Because they are one of the worst puck possession teams in the league, which isn't exactly a good recipe for success in the NHL.

Entering play on Wednesday the Wild were generating the third-fewest shots per game and allowing the most. They're getting outshot by an average of over five shots per game, the worst mark in the league. If this continues it's not going to be a promising development for their playoff chances.

The table below takes a look at the past 10 NHL seasons and the playoff chances for teams when out-shooting, or getting out-shot by, a certain margin over the course of the season.

Possession Matters
Shot Differential Playoff % Total Teams Stanley Cup Finalists Stanley Cup Champions
+5 (or more) 100% 20 out of 20 5 4
+4 89% 14 out of 16 5 4
+3 90% 19 out of 21 1 0
+2 64% 16 out of 25 1 0
+1 64% 24 out of 37 3 0
+ >1 70% 27 out of 38 2 1
- >1 34% 11 out of 32 0 0
-1 36% 9 out of 24 2 1
-2 25% 7 out of 27 0 0
-3 40% 10 out of 23 1 0
-4 6% 1 out of 16 0 0
-5 (or more) 4% 1 out of 23 0 0

Most teams finish somewhere between plus-one and minus-one over the course of an 82-game season. It's the teams that separate themselves from the cluster, one way or the other, that either compete for the  Stanley Cup (on the positive side) or compete for the top-overall pick in the next summer's draft (on the negative side). It should again be pointed out that Minnesota currently falls into the minus-five (or worse) category (and they are the only team as of Wednesday).

Over the past 10 seasons only one such team has been able to make the playoffs -- the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens, a No. 8 seed that finished two points ahead of the ninth seeded Washington Capitals. If you remember, that was also the season that Jose Theodore put together one of the best season-long goaltending performances in recent memory by leading the league (by a pretty sizable margin) with a .931 save percentage, an obvious outlier in his career, and taking home the Hart Trophy as the league MVP and the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender.

When the Canadiens faced a similar deficit the following season, and Theodore's level of play regressed back to his normal career levels (a .908 save percentage -- exactly his career average -- instead of .931, a top-15 mark all-time) the Canadiens missed the playoffs and Theodore went from being the next Patrick Roy to just another in the revolving door of mediocrity in the Montreal net. He was eventually traded for David Aebischer in 2006.

Another team that stands out from the above chart, and also happens to be the one team over the past decade that won the Stanley Cup despite being outshot during the season, is the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a tale of two teams that year. They started the season with Michel Therrien behind the bench, playing a very passive, defense-first system. After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals the previous season (losing to the Detroit Red Wings) they found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in mid-February following a humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

At that point in the season the Penguins were 27-25-5, and were being crushed in terms of puck possession, getting out-shot by nearly four shots per game. It was then that they made drastic changes to the entire team. Pretty much everything about it, from the coach, to the system, to the make-up of the roster. Therrien was replaced behind the bench by Dan Bylsma, brought up from their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and the team instantly started playing a more aggressive brand of hockey with an emphasis on getting to the offensive zone as quickly and often as possible. Along with that, general manager Ray Shero completely overhauled the team's top line by trading for forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to improve the offense, and added some additional toughness by picking up Craig Adams on waivers.

Almost instantly they completely flipped the script on their season, and went from being a team that was getting out-shot by nearly four shots per night with a .500 record, to a team that was now out-shooting its opponents by four shots and finishing with an 18-3-4 record. That level of play continued through the playoffs, all the way through their Stanley Cup Finals rematch with Detroit, ending with a Pittsburgh win in seven games.

The ability to create shots (and prevent shots) is a reflection of skill, talent and strategy (coaching), which is why the teams that are the best at controlling the puck are the ones that tend to win the most games and have the best chance at winning it all. Looking at the Wild and there just doesn't seem to be enough players to create chances offensively, and the defense isn't anything great. They've been relying on their two outstanding goalies, Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding, and while they've had excellent seasons they can only mask Minnesota's flaws for so long.

Can they still make the playoffs this season? Sure, anything can happen. Maybe they continue to get a '01-02 Jose Theodore-type season from their goaltenders (because at this rate that's probably what they're going to need), or maybe something drastically changes in the second half of the season that allows the team to generate more offense and spend more time in the other end of the ice. But if things keep going like they have been, the odds could be stacked against them.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 5:55 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2012 6:10 pm
 

Taking a look at Colorado's shootout success

DucheneBy: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the shootout success of the Colorado Avalanche and what it might mean for them going forward.

Thanks to a recent hot streak that's seen the team win nine of its past 11 games the Colorado Avalanche entered Wednesday in what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Three of those recent wins have come by way of the shootout, and for the season, Colorado has been the best team in the league in the tie-breaking skills competition, posting a perfect 7-0 record, after an impressive 6-1 performance a season ago.

They're relying heavily on the shootout, and that may not be a good thing for the team going forward.

Their 2010-11 performance in the shootout earned them absolutely nothing as they failed to qualify for the playoffs and finished with one of the worst records in the NHL. This season, for the short-term anyway, it's at least helping to keep them competitive for a while, and as one of only two teams in the league to still be perfect in the shootout (the other is Detroit -- which has only been involved in one shootout this season) those seven extra points have certainly helped.

For Colorado, its shootout success this season has a lot to do with goaltender Semyon Varlamov. During actual game play he's been terrible and currently owns a .900 save percentage, well below the league average. In shootouts, however, he's actually been one of the best goalies in the league and has stopped 17 of the 19 shots he's faced, winning every shootout he's been involved in. His individual performance in this area has improved in each of the past three seasons, and for his career owns one of the best all-time shootout save percentages in league shootout history (brief as it may be).

Meanwhile, forwards like Milan Hejduk, the currently injured Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly have been their most called upon skaters and have managed to convert on 10 of their 17 chances, including five of the seven game-deciding goals.

Of course, the shootout still has its share of critics around the league, mainly among hockey purists, and the NHL has even taken steps to minimize the impact it has at the end of the season, as those wins no longer count when it comes to breaking ties for playoff spots. 

It's also worth pointing out that teams that rely heavily on the shootout during the regular season don't have much success in the postseason, for obvious reasons.

First, if your team is taking part in a lot of shootouts it probably means they're not pulling away from the opposition and find themselves in a lot of close games that can be decided with one bounce. And, even more importantly, there's no shootout in the playoffs, which means those teams will then have to rely on actual 5-on-5 hockey to win, and if they were successful in that area, they wouldn't have had to rely on so many shootouts over the course of the regular season.

Since the NHL added the shootout coming out of the lockout for the 2005-06 season, the average NHL team takes part in 10-12 shootouts per year, usually winning somewhere around five or six of them per season. Only once did the NHL average number of shootout wins drop below five in a season (4.76 per team in '05-06) and only once did it go above 6 (6.1 during the '09-10 season).

The Avalanche already have seven this season, and with half of the season still to go, it's a good bet they're probably going to win a few more.

How have teams that relied on shootout success done in the playoffs? Not well. Not well at all. Over the past six seasons 13 teams have won at least 10 shootouts in a single season, and here's what they did in the playoffs, assuming they qualified:

Teams with 10-or-more shootout wins in a season
Team Year Shootout Wins Playoff Success
Edmonton Oilers 2007-08 15 Did Not Qualify
Phoenix Coyotes 2009-10 14 Lost In First Round
Dallas Stars 2005-06 12 Lost In First Round
Los Angeles Kings 2010-11 10 Lost In First Round
Pittsburgh Penguins 2010-11 10 Lost In First Round
Los Angeles Kings 2009-10 10 Did Not Qualify
Boston Bruins 2009-10 10 Lost In Second Round
New York Rangers 2008-09 10 Lost In Second Round
New Jersey Devils 2006-07 10 Lost In Second Round
Pittsburgh Penguins 2006-07 10 Lost In First Round
Buffalo Sabres 2006-07 10 Lost In Conference Finals
Minnesota Wild 2006-07 10 Lost In First Round
New York Rangers 2006-07 10 Lost In Second Round

Only five made it past the first round of the playoffs, while only Buffalo during the 2006-07 season went as far as the Conference Finals.

Whether or not the Avalanche have to worry about that at the end of the season remains to be seen at this point. As a team they've been getting crushed during 5-on-5 play, mainly due to the struggles of Varlamov when he's not taking part in a shootout.

Right now they're relying almost exclusively on their power play (which is quite good) and their ability to scratch out extra points in a skills competition. How long can that reasonably be expected to continue?

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 28, 2011 5:05 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 5:21 pm
 

What happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning?



Pucks and Numbers:
a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look what has gone wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning.


By: Adam Gretz


It was less than a year ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning were a 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Thirty-five games into the 2011-12 season and Tampa Bay finds itself in 13th place in the conference, six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. As we talked about last week, that's already a deficit that is dangerously close to being too much to overcome at this point in the season, especially with five teams ahead of them for the last playoff spot.

So what has changed for Guy Boucher's team in a span of eight months, going from potential Stanley Cup team to what is currently one of the worst teams in the league?

The easy answer is goaltending, as the duo of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon has been dreadful, currently owning the second-worst team save percentage in the league, barely ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 30th spot. The position was a major problem in the early part of last season as well, and it was covered up with a short-term band-aid thanks to general manager Steve Yzerman's New Years Day trade that landed Roloson from the New York Islanders. He ended up getting hot at the right time and helped lead the Lightning through the first two rounds of the playoffs as the team upset Pittsburgh and Washington, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the former, and sweeping the latter in four straight games.

Entering this season the Lightning decided to stick with the 42-year-old Roloson, a risky maneuver given his age and the number of miles that were already on the tires. So far, it hasn't worked out.

While the Lightning have become synonymous with their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap and have faced their share of criticism for playing such a "boring" system (no, we haven't forgotten about this), the team has given up a ton of goals over the past season-and-a-half. A lot of that has to do with the bad goaltending, as the Lightning do a pretty good job limiting the number of shots taken by the opposition (though, they are worse in that area this season). Still, they were 21th in the NHL in terms of goals allowed last season, and after 35 games this season are 27th.

There are a couple of things working against the Lightning this season.

While the team has young Stars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and great veteran players like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, it also has some older parts that, obviously, are now a year older than they were a year ago. Even worse, they've also been without defenseman Mattias Ohlund for the entire season, a player that handled some of the toughest minutes and assignments last season. He didn't provide any offense, but he was the go-to guy in terms of defensive assignments. His absence has not only impacted the overall depth on the team's blue line, but also forced Hedman and Eric Brewer into playing all of the tough assignments that Ohlund would have ordinarily handled.

And, of course, there is more.

Let's just look at some numbers through the first 35 games of the past two seasons:

Tampa Bay Lightning 2011-12 vs. 2010-11 Through 35 Games
Year W-L-OTL Goals For Goals Against Shots For/Game Shots All. Game PP Goals PP OPP PP %
2011-12 15-17-3 95 117 28.8 30.6 18 123 14.6%
2010-11 20-10-5 109 114 32.5 27.1 35 149 23.0%

So here we are. Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson has been pointing out over the past week on Twitter that the Lightning have given up nearly the same number of goals this season as they did through the same number of games last season. And he's right. But that's not necessarily a good thing because the number is way too high. And again, the Lightning had a trade in their back pocket on Jan. 1 last season that enabled the team to improve that area as the season went on. Roloson wasn't great, but he was good enough and enough of an upgrade over the alternative. He also hit the aforementioned hot streak at the right time. If the Lightning hadn't made that trade there's a good chance that playoff run never happens. Yzerman is going to need to pull off a similar move (or perhaps a bigger one, involving more of a long-term solution that isn't a player over the age of 40) to help get Tampa Bay back where it wants to be (and needs to be) in the crease if a return to the playoffs is in the team's future.

But while the goals against are nearly identical, there's a pretty large difference from one year to the next that sticks out like a sore thumb: the power play.

Both the number of power play opportunities and the frequency in which they've been able to score on the man advantage. The Lightning didn't win many games last season by keeping their opponents off the scoreboard, they won a lot of games by outscoring them in some of the highest scoring games in the league. A lot of that was the result of a power play that was pretty much unstoppable when it was on top of its game.

A year ago Tampa Bay had the sixth-best power play in the league, converting on 20 percent of its chances. This season? 25th. And even worse, it's a unit that's not generating a ton of shots when it does get an opportunity.

It's been a perfect storm for Tampa Bay this season. Some aging players, bad goaltending, the absence of the best and most reliable defensive defenseman on the team and a power play that's regressed. Basically, a little bit of everything.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com