Tag:Pucks And Numbers
Posted on: December 20, 2011 3:24 pm
Edited on: December 20, 2011 3:40 pm
 

Teams that are out of the playoff race right now

jacketsPucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the teams that are probably already out of the playoff race.

By: Adam Gretz


We are not even half way through the NHL season, but we have reached the point where a slow start in the standings is going to be too much to overcome, and you can probably already cross a handful of teams off when it comes to the playoff race. And perhaps more than just the teams you would expect.

The NHL has already seen six head coaching changes during the regular season (and who knows how many more to come), and now that Jacques Martin and Terry Murray have been let go by Montreal and Los Angeles over the past week, all eyes have shifted to Columbus and Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel. Earlier this week general manager Scott Howson refused to blame Columbus' brutal start, which currently has the team at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, on coaching issues.

The season started with such promise for the Blue Jackets, in large part because of the big offseason additions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, players that filled two of Columbus' biggest areas of weakness -- A No. 1 center (Carter) and a big-time offensive defenseman (Wisniewski). Unfortunately, whatever optimism that might have been floating around the Blue Jackets fan base in the preseason was crushed almost immediately thanks to a 1-9-1 start the team hasn't been able to recover from.

The eight-game suspension to Wisniewski to start the season, as well as Carter missing extended time due to injury certainly didn't help matters, either.

Entering Tuesday's slate of games the Blue Jackets own a 9-20-4 mark, giving them a league-worst 22 points in the standings. They currently sit (again, as of Tuesday afternoon) 15 points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, which is now occupied by the San Jose Sharks.

Howson was asked about whether or not the season at this point is already a lost cause, and he refused to acknowledge that, telling Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch, “I’m not going to acknowledge that, no. Strange things happen in sports. We’ve certainly dug a hole for ourselves. It's a requirement of being in pro sports to keep banging at the door, no matter what's going on. So, no, I'm not going to acknowledge that."

Strange things do happen in sports, but here's something that hasn't happened in the NHL in its current playoff format: a team overcoming a deficit the size of the one Columbus faces to make the playoffs. More on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, out in Edmonton, Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini is reportedly still of the belief that his team, which currently sits six points out of the eighth spot in the West, can still make a run at the postseason, a claim that has left even Oilers fans in disbelief.

Does either team still have much of a chance? Recent history suggests that no, they don't. I'm aware that it's not exactly an earth shattering revelation to announce a team that is 15 points out of a playoff spot at the end of December is in danger of missing the postseason, but the point here is to see how possible it is to overcome that deficit, and whether or not it's been done recently.

Some things to consider:

-- Going back to the 2000-01 season, a span of 10 full seasons, there have been 62 teams that have been more than five points out of a playoff spot on December 20 (Tuesday's date).

-- Only four of them (or a little over 6 percent) were able to overcome that deficit to qualify for the postseason: The 2010-11 Sabres (eight points), 2008-09 Blues (six points), 2007-08 Capitals (seven points) and 2007-08 Predators (nine points).

You wouldn't think that being just five points in December would be such a tall mountain to climb, but it is. And along with Columbus, that's also bad news for the Hurricanes and Islanders (both nine points out), and leaves Tampa Bay, a team that was just one game away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, and Calgary (five points out) right on the line. The Ducks, another playoff team from a year ago and just one point ahead of Columbus, are 14 points out and should also be considered out of the playoff race at this point.

-- You might notice Nashville overcoming a nine-point deficit in 2007-08 as the largest number, and since 2000-01, it is. There have been 29 teams that have been 10 or more points out at this point in the season since then, and none of them have been able to come back and qualify for the playoffs.

Even worse, if you go all the way back to the 1993-94 season, the year the NHL scrapped the divisional playoff format (Adams, Patrick, Smythe, Norris) and went to its current Conference playoff format (1 vs. 8, etc.), there have been 41 teams 10 or more points back.

Not one of them qualified for the playoffs.

For a team like Columbus or Anaheim to overcome this it would be completely unheard of in the current playoff format.

Ninety-five points has typically been a good bet to get in the playoffs, or at the very least, still be in the playoff discussion during the final week of the season. For the teams mentioned above to reach that mark they would need to finish with the following records over the remainder of the season:

Columbus Blue Jackets -- (Need 73 points in 49 games): 34-10-5
Anaheim Ducks -- (Need 72 points in games 49 games): 33-10-6
Carolina Hurricanes -- (Need 69 points in 48 games): 32-11-5
New York Islanders -- (Need 69 points in 52 games): 30-13-9
Tampa Bay Lightning -- (Need 65 points in 50 games): 30-15-5
Edmonton Oilers -- (Need 64 points in 49 games): 29-15-6
Calgary Flames -- (Need 63 points in 49 games): 28-14-7

Yeah, that's asking a lot, even for Tampa Bay and Calgary. Obviously, no team is going to throw in the towel on a season, nor do I expect a general manager to publicly admit defeat (which explains Howson's comments), but for the fans? Well, there's always next season. And for others (mainly Columbus and Anaheim), there's always prospective No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov to look forward to.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: December 14, 2011 2:25 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2011 3:11 pm
 

Milan Michalek's fast start

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Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the the fast start for Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek.


By: Adam Gretz

(Note: I started to prepare this Tuesday evening after Milan Michalek took over the NHL's goal-scoring lead, and before he was injured. It was announced on Wednesday that's he day-to-day with a concussion. I decided to go with it today anyway.)


Ottawa Senators forward Milan Michalek unfortunately became the latest player in the NHL to suffer a concussion during his team's 3-2 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when he collided with his teammate, Erik Karlsson, in the second period. It had to be a tense moment for the Senators and their fans to watch as their two best players this season smashed into each other. It's the second time in a week that an accidental collision between teammates sidelined a top-scorer with a concussion, as Philadelphia's Claude Giroux is currently out after Wayne Simmonds hit him in the back of the head with his knee over the weekend.

Michalek's status for future games is still unknown at this point, and while the team currently has him listed as day-to-day, you simply never know with concussions. It could be a couple of games, it could be a couple of weeks, or it could be even longer.

Head coach Paul MacLean said on Wednesday that he didn't think it was going to ruin his season, which is good news. Hopefully, for his sake and the Senators, he's able to return to the lineup soon enough.

Before exiting Tuesday's game he did manage to add to his early season goal total, scoring his (as of Wednesday morning) league leading 19th goal of the season, pushing him past Toronto's Phil Kessel and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.

It's been a magnificent start to the season for 27-year-old forward, and by far the best of his seven-year career. Through 31 games he's only seven goals behind his previous career best for a full season (26), and was on a pace to shatter that total assuming he kept producing at the same rate -- even if that were unlikely to happen, even before the injury.

Currently, Michalek is shooting at a 21 percent rate, a mark that few players have been able to top over a full season in recent years. Since the start of the 2005-06 season, only eight players that qualified for the league lead finished with a number that high, and pretty much all of them were single season outliers in each players career. And that's kind of what's happening for Michalek this season.

For his career, he is a 12 percent shooter, and his previous six individual seasons have all fallen between 10 and 13 percent. Like most players, he's been pretty consistent in that area.

How does his hot start compare to his previous seasons through the same number of games? Let's take a quick look:

Milan Michalek's Goal Scoring
Year Goals (through 31 games) Shots On Goal (31 games) Shots Per Game (31 games) Shooting % (31 games) Full Season Shooting %
2011-12 19 88 2.80 21.5%  N/A
2010-11  7  63 2.00 11.1%  10.8%
2009-10  15 85 2.74 17.6%  13.5%
2008-09  8 75 2.41 10.6%  12.8%
2007-08  10 98 3.16 10.2%  10.3%
2006-07  10 76 2.45 13.1%  13.6%
2005-06  4 52 1.67 7.6% 10.7%

Obviously, this season stands out from the rest.

One of the factors that's gone into his increased production (both goals and shots) is that he's simply playing more than he has in recent years. Throughout his career, whether it's been with Ottawa, or his previous team, San Jose, he's typically averaged about 18 minutes of ice-time per game. This season he's up over 19 minutes, and not only playing more in even strength situations, he's also seen a small bump in his power play time.

But no matter what he's done through this many games, his single season shooting percentage has always regressed toward his career average of 12 percent, and unless he suddenly became the best sniper in the NHL in one offseason, that's probably going to happen again this year once he returns to the Ottawa lineup.

What could reasonably be expected from this point on? Well, if he were to play every game the rest of the way (and we already know that's not going to happen, as he's already out for Wednesday's game against Boston and is probably expected to miss Friday's game when the Senators host the Penguins) and maintained the same number of shots per game, and shot at his career level of 12 percent, he would still score an additional 17 goals this season. Even if he shot at the league average rate of 9 percent, that would be in the area of an additional 12 goals. Both of which would not only give him a new career high, it would shatter it. Either way, it's been a career year for him.

But before any of that happens or can continue, he and the Senators need to make sure he's 100 percent healthy and completely recovered before he returns to the lineup.

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

Posted on: December 7, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 4:51 pm
 

Top defensive forwards so far this season

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By: Adam Gretz

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at three of the top defensive forwards in the NHL this season.

One of the toughest individual awards to win in the NHL over the past four years has been the Frank J. Selke Trophy, which is given annually to the best defensive forward in the league. In each of the past three years two of the three finalists have been Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, while Datsyuk has won it in three of the past four years going back to the 2007-08 season. Kesler won it last season, snapping Datsyuk's run of three consecutive victories.

Whether it's intentional or not, the award almost always seems to go to a player that scores a lot of points. As I pointed out before the season started, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo even acknowledged that fact when discussing Mikko Koivu's chances for the award, saying, "In order to do that [win the award], you have to get a lot of points."

It's kind of like how a lot of Gold Glove winners in baseball are also excellent hitters and run producers, even if there are superior defensive players at the same position. If that seems backwards to you, that's probably because it is.

That's not to take away from the past winners. Players that score a lot are obviously going to get noticed more and have their names in the spotlight more often because of their offensive ability, and that is obviously going to make their other qualities stand out and help influence voting. Still, there are a lot of excellent defensive players in the NHL that, while limited offensively, quietly shut down their opponents and keep them off the scoreboard.

Defense in hockey is still pretty subjective, and a lot of it can depend on your linemates/defensive partners. That said, you can get a pretty good idea which players are strong defensively when taking into account who they're playing against, the situations they play in, and how often they get scored on. For example: If you have two players that are on the ice for a similar number of goals against, but one of them plays against significantly tougher opponents and starts more shifts closer to his own goal, it's a good bet that player is the better defensive player, because even though the goal totals may be similar, he's playing in tougher situations.

We're over a quarter of the way through the season at this point, and here's a look at some of the top defensive performers that have stood out to me so far, taking into account a few of the aforementioned variables: 1) the level of competition they face every night during 5-on-5 play (Corsi Rel QOC), 2) the number of offensive zone starts they get (the lower the number, the tougher the assignments) and 3) the number of goals that are allowed per 60 minutes played when they are on the ice.

(Statistical data via BehindTheNet.ca)


vladimirsobotka1) Vladimir Sobotka, St. Louis Blues

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.243

Offensive Zone Starts: 40.6%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.13

The Blues have been one the best defensive teams in the NHL this season, especially since Ken Hitchcock has taken over behind the bench, allowing the second fewest goals per game and the fewest shots per game in the NHL.

Leading the way has been the 24-year-old Sobotka, a player they acquired from the Boston Bruins in June, 2010, in exchange for David Warsofsky. Sobotka isn't going to light up the scoreboard, and in 224 career games has tallied just 61 points, including only 10 (two goals, eight assists) this season. But nobody scores against him, despite playing the toughest minutes on his own team and some of the toughest minutes in the NHL.

He's also the Blues' best center in the faceoff circle, winning over 54 percent of his draws. His defensive game has improved dramatically so far this season, and he's currently one of the top defensive players on one of the top defensive teams in the league, which is mighty impressive. Even so, he's unlikely to get much attention in the voting because he doesn't score enough to get noticed.

PatriceBergeron2) Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.351
Offensive Zone Starts: 43.8%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.22

My preseason pick to win the Selke, and every year over the past two years he's taken small steps in the voting, finishing fifth two years ago and fourth in 2010-11. If his play through the first two months continues, he should finish even higher this season.

Sometimes it feels like Bergeron has been around forever, but he's still only 26 years old and doesn't turn 27 until July. His career was nearly ruined by concussions, and he's not only rebounded from those early setbacks to once again become a regular in the Boston lineup, he's one of their core players and one of the best defensive centers in the league.

Bergeron dominates the faceoff circle, and as I pointed out on Tuesday, plays in the tough situations against the other team's best players to open the scoring opportunities for Boston's other top forwards, such as Tyler Seguin, to be put into situations where they can focus on offense. There isn't a forward on Boston's roster this season that has a tougher combination of defensive zone starts and consistent ice-time against the other team's best players. And he's still been one of the toughest forwards in the league to score against.

MikkoKoivu3) Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild

Corsi Rel QOC: 1.261
Offensive Zone Starts: 42.1%
Goals Against Per 60 Minutes Played (5-on-5): 1.53

If the Minnesota Wild are going to continue to win games and stay at the top of the Western Conference they're going to have to do it with defense. I'm still not entirely sold on them long-term, mainly due to their lack of offense, but what I am sold on is that Mikko Koivu is one of the better two-way centers in the NHL, and nothing about that has changed this season.

The Wild still use him in the toughest spots against the best players, and along with out-of-this-world goaltending, he's been one of the driving forces behind their surprising start.

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

Posted on: November 29, 2011 4:06 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:30 pm
 

Guy Boucher knows how to use M-A Bergeron

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Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the way the Tampa Bay Lightning take advanatge of Marc-Andre Bergeron's offensive ability.

By: Adam Gretz


A quick look at the top-scoring defensemen in the NHL this season and the second name on the list, as of Tuesday afternoon, is Marc-Andre Bergeron of the Tampa Bay Lightning, currently with 19 points, trailing only the 21 that belong to Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. There are two things, to me, that stand out about Bergeron being in that spot: First, he plays significantly fewer minutes than the other defensemen near the top of the list. Second: His name isn't one that's usually near the top.

Whether or not he remains there for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but he's not only been one of the leading scorers among defensemen across the league, he's also been one of Tampa Bay's top scorers, regardless of position, and a lot of that has to do with the way head coach Guy Boucher utilizes him and takes advantage of what he does well, while also minimizing what he does not do well.

Every player in the NHL has strengths and weaknesses, and Bergeron's are easy to spot every time he steps on the ice. He has a heavy slap shot (Boucher actually talked about it at the Lightning's website on Tuesday) and is a threat to score from the blue line, while he also struggles mightily in his own end of the ice. In all honesty, he's probably the closest thing there is in the NHL to having a fourth forward on the ice without actually putting a fourth forward on the ice.

After spending the 2009-10 season with the Montreal Canadiens, Bergeron was not re-signed by the team and spent most of last season as a free agent before signing with the Lightning in January. He ended up playing 23 regular season games for them, as well as 14 of their 18 playoff games, scoring four goals and recording seven assists in a limited role, mainly in offensive situations and on the power play. 

Since joining the team mid-way through last season, it seems as if the Lightning have made sure to put him in situations where his skills can be maximized: the power play, obviously, while also starting as many of his 5-on-5 shifts as they can as far away from his own net as they can get, while also sending him out against the other team's weakest competition.

For the season, he's a plus-four, tops among all Tampa Bay defensemen, and has been on the ice for 14 even strength goals against, the second-lowest total on the team. That doesn't necessarily mean he's been the best, or one of the best, "defensive" players on the team. It actually says more about the way Boucher and the Tampa Bay coaching staff have used him, and the situations they've put him in.

We know he can score on the power play. It's something he's done throughout his career for every team he's spent time with. But let's take a look at how he's been utilized during even-strength situations in recent years.

(The table below looks at the following over the past five seasons: Percentage of shifts started in the offensive zone (Ozone%), total offensive zone starts (Ozone), Neutral Zone Starts (Nzone), Defensive Zone Starts (Dzone), Quality of Competition (Qualcomp) and the number of even-strength points he's produced. Data via Behindthenet.ca)

Marc-Andre Bergeron's Even-Strength Usage
Team Season Ozone% Ozone Nzone Dzone QualComp Points Games
TB Lightning 2011-12 69.6% 135 111 59 -.152 12 23
TB Lightning 2010-11 69.2% 110 51 49 -.046 5 23
Montreal Canadiens 2009-10 54.6% 227 207 189 -.078 12 60
Minnesota Wild 2008-09 66.8% 399 251 198 -.040 14 72
Anaheim/Islanders 2007-08 50.2% 167 166 246 -.065 4 54

Obviously, none of his recent teams have asked him to play against the other teams best players, while most have gone out of their way to hide his defensive struggles by starting him in the offensive zone. No team has taken it to the extreme that Tampa Bay has, with only the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09 coming close. The one exception here is the '07-08 Islanders who gave him more defensive zone starts than any other team over the past five years, and it's not a coincidence that was the year he finished as a minus-14, still the worst mark of his career. 

By starting nearly 70 percent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone Bergeron is far and away the top defensemen in the NHL in that area. Of the 127 defensemen that have played at least 20 games this season, the only ones that are starting even 60 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone are Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, Montreal's Yannick Weber and Vancouver's Alexander Edler, while only Sheldon Brookbank and Andreas Lilja have played against a lower quality of competition.

In other words: He's playing some seriously sheltered minutes, and that also can have an impact on the other defensemen on the team.

While Bergeron is getting some of the most favorable matchups in the NHL, his teammates Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, are drawing some of the least favorable matchups, currently owning the highest QualCOMP numbers in the NHL (again, among defensemen that have played at least 20 games) while also starting, by far, the fewest shifts in the offensive zone. That might help explain, at least in part, why Bergeron is a plus-four, while the two better players defensively are currently a minus-five and minus-seven on the season.

Bergeron is a flawed player defensively, but he has value if he's used properly, and so far Boucher has demonstrated that he knows exactly where, and when, to put him on the ice to take advantage of what he does the best: help score goals.

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

Posted on: November 23, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:30 pm
 

Are the Wild, Rangers for real?

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Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the fast starts of the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers and whether or not they are for real.

By: Adam Gretz

The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers enter their games on Wednesday night as two of the hottest teams in the NHL, with the Rangers winning seven of their past eight games and the Wild riding a four-game winning streak that has helped propel them to the top of the NHL standings with 27 points.

The Rangers were expected by many to be a playoff team this year, coming off a season that saw them take the No. 8 seed in the East and add the top free agent on the market, center Brad Richards. But Minnesota's meteoric rise to the top under the leadership of first-year coach Mike Yeo has been quite a surprise to say the least.

Are these two teams as good as their early season (and most recent) records would suggest? Or are they both setting themselves up for a sudden fall?

If you're a believer in PDO  (or familiar with it) you're probably placing your bets on the latter.

Along with their recent hot streaks, these teams have three things in common.

1) Both teams are getting crushed during 5-on-5 play in terms of shots for and shots allowed. The Wild currently own the third-worst shot differential per game during even-strength play at minus-6, while the Rangers are currently the worst at minus-7. Neither team scores a lot of goals, mostly because...

2) ... Neither team is particularly dominant on special teams, especially when on the power play.

3) As a result, both teams are relying almost entirely on their goaltending, which is good in the short-term, but could be very, very bad in the long-term. In the case of the Rangers, it's Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron, while in Minnesota it's the tag-team duo of Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding.

All four of the aforementioned keepers are near the top of the league in terms of even-strength save percentage (they're all in the top-12, actually) with Backstrom pacing the league with a mark of .953. Which is unbelievable.

(Harding, for what it's worth, isn't far behind at .946, while Biron and Lundqvist are currently checking in at .944 and .939 respectively.)

Now, Backstrom is a fine goaltender. Probably one of the better ones in the NHL. But unless he's suddenly become the best goalie in NHL history he (along with the other three -- at least Harding and Biron) probably aren't going to maintain their current save percentages all season, especially given the amount of rubber they face every night. Just as an example, in the post-lockout NHL there have only been seven instances in which a goaltender finished a full season with an even-strength save percentage north of .940, and two of them belong to Boston's Tim Thomas.

Only once (Thomas last season) did a goalie finish over .943. In other words, this probably isn't going to continue all season.

And that brings us to PDO, a relatively simple but often times telling statistic about hot teams that could soon fizzle out and cold teams that could suddenly catch fire.

Originally the brainchild of Brian King (you can check out a recent interview he did talking about the subject by clicking right here) PDO is simply the sum of a team's shooting percentage and save percentage. For individual players, you take the sum of the shooting percentage and save percentage only when that player is on the ice.

On a league-wide level, this number will equal always 1000, but will vary from team-to-team and player-to-player. Teams (and players) with a PDO above or below that will, over time, see it start to regress back closer toward 1000.

Over the past four seasons the PDO range, from low-to-high, for individual players that have played at least 50 games in a single season have been as follows:

2007-08: 937-1056
2008-09: 944-1068
2009-10: 932-1069
2010-11: 934-1062

And let's take a look at the current ratings for the Wild and Rangers players. In an effort to avoid what is an even smaller sample size than we're already dealing with this early in the season, I've limited it to players that have played a minimum of 10 games this season:

Wild And Rangers -- PDO
Team Player PDO Team Player PDO
Wild Guillaume Latendresse 1087 Rangers Michael Sauer 1100
Wild Justin Falk 1060 Rangers Michael Del Zotto 1079
Wild Clayton Stoner 1045 Rangers Ruslan Fedotenko 1058
Wild Pierre-Marc Bouchard 1042 Rangers Erik Christensen 1056
Wild Mikko Koivu 1041 Rangers Derek Stepan 1050
Wild Dany Heatley 1039 Rangers Ryan McDonagh 1046
Wild Marek Zidlicky 1039 Rangers Dan Boyle 1046
Wild Matt Cullen 1035 Rangers Dan Girardi 1028
Wild Nick Schultz 1032 Rangers Brandon Dubinsky 1028
Wild Nick Johnson 1031 Rangers Jeff Woywitka 1027
Wild Jared Spurgeon 1028 Rangers Ryan Callahan 1026
Wild Nate Prosser 1028 Rangers Marian Gaborik 1022
Wild Devin Setoguchi 1025 Rangers Artem Anisimov 1017
Wild Kyle Brodziak 1024 Rangers Brad Richards 1010
Wild Cal Clutterbuck 1014 Rangers Brandon Prust 996
Wild Brad Staubitz 1011 Rangers Steve Eminger 993
Wild Marco Scandella 1010      
Wild Colton Gillies 1009      

The only two regulars on either team with a PDO currently under 1000 are Brandon Prust and Steve Eminger, both of the Rangers. Many of the others are well above their career norms, mainly due to what are almost assuredly unsustainably high on-ice save percentages.

There are currently 551 skaters that have appeared in at least 10 games this season, and out of the top-100 in PDO, an incredible 15 of them play for either the Rangers or Wild. There's a very fine line between winning and losing in the NHL, and right now these are two teams that are probably getting their fair share of breaks and bounces, while also being led by what are probably unsustainable levels of goaltending.

We've seen teams in the past get out-shot, out-chanced, and ultimately, out-scored at 5-on-5 the way the Wild and Rangers currently are and not seen a regression in the win-loss column. Last year's Anaheim Ducks are one such example. The biggest difference between that team, and these two teams, is that while Anaheim also had stellar goaltending, it also had a power play that scored almost at will. This season, Anaheim is once again getting consistently beat during 5-on-5 play, and now that its power play isn't scoring the same way it did last season, it finds itself near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

It should again be pointed out that in the case of the Wild and Rangers, these are currently two of the worst power plays in the NHL, in terms of not only scoring goals, but also generating shots.

So how long can we expect the wins to keep coming at this pace for New York and Minnesota? Probably as long as their goaltenders continue to stand on their heads.

(PDO and shot data via BehindTheNet)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 2:57 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:33 pm
 

Chicago's power play will improve

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Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the struggling Chicago Blackhawks power play that may not be as bad as its early season numbers indicate.

By: Adam Gretz


The Chicago Blackhawks power play has been struggling to score goals through the first month-and-a-half of the season, which is kind of surprising given the talent they have on the on their roster. Not to mention the fact they were one of the best teams in the NHL on the man advantage last season, finishing with the fourth best power play percentage in the league.

Entering last week's game against Columbus, the Blackhawks owned the worst power play percentage in the NHL, converting on just eight percent of their chances on the man advantage. Certainly not something you would expect for a team that boasts players like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews.

During that game against the Blue Jackets, which Chicago won 6-3, the Blackhawks used an interesting alignment on their second power play unit (which we wrote about here) sending three defensemen out on to the ice -- Duncan Keith, Nick Leddy and Steve Montador, with Montador positioning himself in front of the net as if he were Chicago's version of Tomas Holmstrom.

Not only did the seemingly makeshift line generate some offense, it scored twice for what was Chicago's first game of the season with multiple power play goals. Two games later in another 6-3 win, this time against the Edmonton Oilers, the same group of players scored another goal on the man advantage, with Montador again standing in the slot and re-directing a Leddy one-timer into the cage. In three games this week Montador scored two power play goals and assisted on another, after scoring just two power play goals over the first 11 years of his career. Crazy stuff.

Over that three game stretch (all Chicago wins) the Blackhawks power play has converted on four of its 11 attempts to help them climb from 30th in the NHL up to 24th. In the 15 games prior the unit was just 5-for-57.

Was the power play really that bad -- or underachieving -- over the first 15 games of the season? And was the presence of Montador in front of the net all they needed to get the ship going in the right direction?

Not exactly. Though, you have to give Montador credit for filling in and doing his job extremely well. (It's worth noting that Toews told Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday that Montador's experience on the PK may be serving him well in his new role. “He does a great job of boxing guys out on the penalty kill in front of our net, so he’s a workhouse ... He’s good at getting himself open when he’s on offense.”)

Small sample sizes early in the season can create some misleading percentages, and it's been found that one of the best indicators of future power play success is the number of shots on goal a team generates (you can read about it in part here). So far this season the Blackhawks have been one of the best teams in the NHL when it comes to getting shots on goal during 5-on-4 play, and prior to their recent three-game power play explosion, they had a shooting percentage of around 5 percent on the power play.

In three different games over the first month Chicago had at least 10 power play shots on a given night and failed to score. How long could that really continue? Kane and Hossa, for example, each have 17 shots on goal at 5-on-4 with no goals (Hossa's one power play goal this year came during a 5-on-3). That, too, will not continue.

We saw something similar take place with the Detroit Red Wings a couple of weeks ago during their panic-inducing six-game losing streak when their offense all but disappeared. They were still dominating their opponents in the shots department, but were going through a run where, as a team, they had an incredibly low (and unsustainable) shooting percentage. Eventually that was going to turn around (and it did. They've since won four games in a row, scoring 18 goals).

I'm not sure how long Montador is going to keep finding the back of the net on the power play, but I am confident that as long as heavy hitters in the scoring department (Kane, Toews, Sharp, Hossa) keep generating chances and shots, the goals will start to return.

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

Posted on: November 8, 2011 4:25 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:34 pm
 

Ken Hitchcock's defensive influence

Hithcock1Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the defensive improvement teams and goaltenders have seen under the coaching of new St. Louis Blues bench boss Ken Hitchcock.

By: Adam Gretz


Ken Hitchcock was recently named head coach of the St. Louis Blues, taking over for Davis Payne in what was the NHL's first coaching change of the 2011-12 season. 

Throughout his coaching career Hitchcock has developed a reputation for being one of the best defensive coaches at the NHL level. It's a reputation he's earned during three different stops with the Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets, a tenure that's seen him win over 530 games, reach the Stanley Cup Finals twice (winning one) and coach in the Conference Finals four times.

In the 10 full seasons he's coached in the NHL, his teams have finished in the top six in goals allowed seven times, including two seasons at the top of the NHL -- once with the Dallas Stars during the 1998-99 season, and once with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2002-03. It also helps that Hitchcock's teams are typically among the best in the NHL at not allowing shots on goal. Since 1997-98, every team he's coached for a full season, including those in Columbus, has finished in the top-nine in terms of allowing the fewest shots on goal in the NHL, with seven of them finishing in the top-six.

Of course, some of that defensive success comes from the fact that some of those teams, particularly the ones in Dallas, were loaded with defensemen like Richard Matvichuk, Derian Hatcher, Daryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov, as well as a three-time Selke winner in Jere Lehtinen. But every team he's coached, whether it's been in Dallas, Philadelphia or Columbus, has been a difficult team to score against, no matter what players have made up his defense or filled the net. And goalies seem to play better for his teams than at any other point in their careers.

Just looking at the season's that he coached a full season, here's a look at each team's overall save percentage (compared to the league average) and where they've ranked in total goals allowed:

Ken Hitchcock Defensive Record (Full Season Coaching Only)
Team Year Save Percentage League Avg. Dif. Goals All. Rank
Dallas Stars 1996-97 .906 .905 +.001 3rd
Dallas Stars 1997-98 .913 .906 +.007 2nd
Dallas Stars 1998-99 .915 .908 +.007 1st
Dallas Stars 1999-00 .920 .904 +.016 3rd
Dallas Stars 2000-01 .910 .903 +.007 2nd
Philadelphia Flyers 2002-03 .920 .903 +.017 1st
Philadelphia Flyers 2003-04 .912 .911 +.001 6th
Philadelphia Flyers 2005-06 .896 .901 -.005 17th
Columbus Blue Jackets 2007-08 .910 .909 +.001 9th
Columbus Blue Jackets 2008-09 .906 .908 -.002 9th

In eight of Hitchcock's 10 full seasons, his team has posted a save percentage above the league average, and in some cases significantly above the league average. And while it's true he's had some strong goaltenders over the years, he also had the best defensive team in the NHL in 2002-03 with a Flyers team that used Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche as its two primary goaltenders.

But what about the individual goalies? How much of a boost do they see while playing in what has traditionally been a tight-checking, defense-first style of play?

When looking at Steve Mason's recent struggles in Columbus I made mention of how much better he performed during his rookie season, when Hitchcock was in charge, and how his play rapidly dropped following Hitchcock's exit from central Ohio. Let's look at seven goalies that spent significant time playing under Hitchcock's systems and saw an improvement in how they performed within them, compared to how they performed under other coaches throughout their careers.

Goalies With Hitchcock vs. Without
Player Team Save % With Save % Without Dif
Steve Mason Columbus Blue Jackets .908 .895 +.013
Pascal Leclaire Columbus Blue Jackets .908 .900 +.008
Robert Esche Philadelphia Flyers .905 .890 +.015
Roman Cechmanek Philadelphia Flyers .925 .916 +.009
Ed Belfour Dallas Stars .909 .904 +.005
Marty Turco Dallas Stars .922 .908 +.014
Roman Turek Dallas Stars .910 .906 +.004

Good news for Jaroslav Halak, perhaps?The Blues' goalie has been off to a dreadful start to the 2011-12 season (and has been outplayed by backup Brian Elliott) and if there's a goaltender in the league that could use any sort of a positive boost right now, it's definitely Halak, who gets the start on Tuesday night in Hitchcock's debut against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Photo: Getty Images

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

Posted on: November 2, 2011 4:13 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 5:36 pm
 

The drop from Bryzgalov to Smith

Msmith1

Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: how big of a drop has Phoenix experience in goal with Mike Smith replacing Ilya Bryzgalov


By: Adam Gretz

A lot has been made about the early struggles of Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia to start the season, but there hasn't been much discussion about the goalie -- Mike Smith -- that's been asked to replace him in Phoenix, and how much of a dropoff there has been from one season to the next.

Bryzgalov had an outstanding run in Phoenix after being claimed on waivers during the 2007-08 season and proved himself to be one of the better goaltenders in the NHL. We know he's better than Smith, and that the Coyotes would have some large shoes to fill in his absence, but how much of an impact has the drop from him to Smith had on the Coyotes through the first 10 games of the season?

The answer so far: not that much.

When I spoke to Smith over the summer shortly after he signed a two-year contract with the Coyotes, one of the things we talked about was head coach Dave Tippett and his defensive system and how favorable such a system can be for a goalie. Said Smith back in July: "There are systems that are favorable to goalies because you're going to get more shots from the outside. There's not going to be as many scoring chances from the great scoring chance areas in the middle of the ice. For me, with my size and my ability, if I feel like I can get a lot of shots from the outside, I'm going to do my best and have a good opportunity to make those saves."

Of course, that's not really unique to the Coyotes. Every team in the NHL wants to keep the play away from the middle of the ice and limit the number of shots they allow to actually get on net. After all, you're never going to hear a coach say, "yeah, our goal is to give up a ton of shots and scoring chances and let our goalie try to bail us out every shift."

Still, under Tippett's watch the Coyotes have been a very smart, disciplined team defensively and not only have had some underrated defensemen, they've also had a lot of excellent defensive forwards, all of which makes a goaltenders job just a little bit easier. And goaltenders have had their share of success playing for Tippett in Dallas and Phoenix.

Bryzgalov's two best seasons in the NHL came while playing under Tippett's system in Phoenix. Smith had previous experience with him in Dallas for parts of two seasons in the mid-2000's, a stretch that also produced some of his best hockey at the NHL level. And while we're on the subject of coaches, don't discount the impact of goalie coach Sean Burke. I've had more than one Coyotes player tell me over the past year-and-a-half that Burke had a positive impact on Bryzgalov's development, while Smith himself said he was looking forward to the oppurtunity to learn from him.

So how much of a difference are we talking about this season with Smith in goal?

Here's a look at the performance of the Coyotes goalies at this point in the season over the past three seasons. The goalies in each season: 2011-12 -- Mike Smith and Jason LaBarbera; 2010-11 -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera; 2009-10 -- Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason Labarbera.

Phoenix Goaltending Through 10 Games
Year ES Shots ES Save % Total Shots Total Save % Goals Against
2011-12 244 .918 320 .912 28
2010-11 263 .923 345 .924 26
2009-10 196 .938 260 .915 22

The 2009-10 gave up so few goals at that point mainly because they weren't allowing any shots on goal, taking quite a bit of pressure off the two goalies. So far this season there has been a slight been a drop from where they were a year ago, which should be expected (again, Smith isn't as good as Bryzgalov) but it hasn't been all that large.

Actually, it's been quite insignificant. At least not as large as the $8 million difference in salary for this season would indicate. At the current pace the Coyotes would only give up an extra two or three goals per 500 even-strength shots (which can be a more accurate measure of goaltending talent). And if that turns out to be the case, how much are they really going to miss Bryzgalov?

Photo: Getty Images

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