NHL Wish Lists for Santa: The Diverse Atlantic Division
T'was the night before Christmas,
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring,
not even a numberFire writer.
It was my intention early in December to write a Hockey-Christmas poem and publish it in this space, but I failed. Instead myself and Derek Breitenstine have been writing like elves to come up wish lists for each NHL team. Over the past two weeks, Derek covered the Pacific and Metropolitan divisions, and I wrote about the Central. Today is the final installment, the Atlantic.
After being one of the Eastern Conferenceâ€™s most dominant teams since the turn of the century (except the two season immediately following the lockout), the Boston Bruins now find themselves on the playoff bubble and at risk of missing the postseason for the first time in seven years. Their 17-14-3 record puts them in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, only one point ahead of the Florida Panthers, who have two games in hand over the Bruins. Not exactly the Big Bad Bruins weâ€™ve come to expect. So, what has gone wrong?
To start, Zdeno Chara got injured near the start of the season and missed seven weeks with a knee injury. While Chara is not the dominating force on the blueline he once was, he is still an intimidating presence. Over the course of the past three seasons, Chara has seen a decline in his 5-on-5 production, and this year, while his Individual Corsi is up, his shooting percentage has suffered.
One possible cause is that Chara is shooting more because he is having less luck putting the puck in the back of the net, but that phenomenon isnâ€™t exclusive to Chara; the whole Bruins team is having trouble scoring 5-on-5 compared to their recent history.
|Season||GF60||GA60||GF%||CF60||CA%||CF%||Sh %||Sv %||PDO|
|2014-15||2.20||2.09||51.3 %||55.7||51.0||52.2 %||7.68 %||92.71 %||100.4|
|2008-14||2.55||1.93||56.9 %||57.7||52.1||52.5 %||8.18 %||93.38 %||101.6|
A look at these numbers tells a story: the Bruins are still controlling the flow of play, and their Corsi percentage hasnâ€™t changed from recent years, but fewer pucks are finding the back of the net.
Dear Santa: More puck luck, which will bring more (even-strength) goals.
Ugh, where to begin? The Sabres are bad -- not Edmonton Oilers three-straight-first-overall-picks-four-more-picks-in-the-top-10-over-the-past-eight-years-and-they still-have-nothing-to-show-for-it bad -- but still a failure of a hockey club. Their 13-18-3 record places them at the bottom of the division, and they are sitting last in our power rankings with a -1.16 nERD. This means they would be expected to lose to an average team by 1.16 goals.
Aside from a four-game winning streak that they had in early December, there arenâ€™t many, if any, silver linings to be found with this team. The Sabres rank in the bottom five in so many categories that I am just going to make a list and then go feel sad for them.
|Power Play %||30th|
|5-on-5 Corsi for /60||30th|
|5-on-4 Corsi for /60||29th|
|Offensive Zone Faceoff %||29th|
|Penalty Kill %||24th|
|5-on-5 Corsi against /60||30th|
|5-on-5 Corsi against /60||28th|
|Defensive Zone Faceoff %||30th|
*Sniffle* Well, I guess 16th is Save Percentage is something...right?
Dear Santa: Connor McDavid wearing a Buffalo Sabres jersey at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft -- Edmonton has had their chance, and the Sabres deserve the number-one overall pick this year.
Failing that: An â€œAt least we arenâ€™t the Oilersâ€ t-shirt
Realistically: A lump of coal
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the best puck-possession teams in the league this year. They have a 17-8-9 record and are third place in the Atlantic Division to show for it. They are fifth in the league with a 53.2 5-on-5 Corsi percentage and have a staggering six players that rate among the top-25 (minimum 300 minutes played).
|Player||Corsi for %||Rank|
Coach Mike Babcock has them playing a quality system that keeps the opponent pinned in their defensive zone, and consequently, the Wings are second in the league in Offensive Zone Faceoff Percentage (35.9%).
What is really ailing the Red Wings is their overtime and shootout record. Over the course of the season, the Wings have had 12 games go into extra time. They have won two games during the overtime period and one more during the shootout, but thatâ€™s it. That leaves them with a league-leading nine single-point games: two overtime losses and seven shootout losses. With so much talent on their team, it is quite surprising that they struggle with the event in the Motor City.
As a team, the Wings sit 24th with a 21.4% success rate in the game-deciding skills competition. The league as a whole scores on 31.02% of shots shots. To compound the problem, Jimmy Howard has allowed 11 goals on 15 attempts for a deplorable .267 shootout save percentage, by far the worst in the league (minimum four shots faced). Petr Mrazek has fared better, stopping 9 out of the 12 shots he has faced; maybe coach Babcock should switch goalies for the shootoutâ€¦
Dear Santa: Improve our overtime/shootout record.
The Florida Panthers are quietly having a â€œnot embarrassingâ€ season. The key word there is: quietly. With a 14-9-8 record, they sit just outside an Eastern Conference wild-card spot.
This has been achieved by solid team defense and quality goaltending from Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. The Panthers are eighth in the league with 2.36 team goals against average, and when looking at 5-on-5 play, they jump to fifth with 1.92 goals against per 60 minutes of even-strength time.
Where the team falters is scoring. The team ranks last in goals per game and shooting percentage with a horrid 6.7% success rate. Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad share the team lead in points with 19 and only Bjugstad has more than 7 goals. It isnâ€™t that the Panthers arenâ€™t getting their chances at even-strength, itâ€™s just that nothing is finding the back of the net.
|Shots for/60 mins||31.4||3rd|
|Shooting %||6.37 %||29th|
While they are an average-to-good team while at even-strength, their power play has been struggling this year and is a big reason for the teamâ€™s scoring woes.
|Power Play %||13.4%||27th|
|Shots for/60 mins||48.4||20th|
|Corsi for/60 mins||88.2||24th|
|Shooting %||9.23 %||27th|
If the Panthers start putting the puck in the net during 5-on-5 play and straightens out their power play, they could make some noise in the Atlantic Division.
Not that anyone would witness any of this, at least not first-hand -- the team averages only 8,939 fans per game to fill 52.5% of the BB&T Center. (Only one other team is below 12,000: the Carolina Hurricanes.) Those attendance figures are an embarrassment to the league -- more fans showed up to watch the Montreal Expos play in their final year. Heck, more fans walked through the turnstiles at last yearâ€™s Winter Classic than have to this year' first 11 Panthers home dates combined.
Dear Santa: One-way tickets to Quebec City where people will care. Or if you arenâ€™t feeling that generous: Fans, to keep us cool and watch us play.
The Montreal Canadiens are first in the division with a 21-11-2 record and are looking like a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference, but are only ranked 11th in our power rankings with a 0.23 nERD. What gives?
At even-strength, 5-on-5, the Habs are performing well; they generate a lot of chances and are in the top third of the league in goals per 60 minutes Corsi and shooting percentage.
|Corsi for /60||56.3||9th|
|Shooting %||8.66 %||5th|
In net, Carey Price has been spectacular; his 2.27 goals against average is the best of his career and .924 save percentage is outpacing his career numbers as well.
|2007-14 (7 years)||2.52||.917|
The Canadiensâ€™ biggest problem is their power play; with the man-advantage they rank near the bottom of the league in goals, shots, and shots directed at the net. Considering the underlying numbers, they are fortunate to be ranked 22nd with a 15.6% conversion rate.
|5-on-4 Power Play||Stat||Rank|
|Shots for /60||44.5||27th|
|Corsi for /60||88.2||25th|
|Shooting %||12.39 %||14th|
These numbers come as P.K. Subban has limited (or has been told to limit) the number of shots he takes from the point.
If the Habs manage to get their power play churning on all cylinders, Subban included, they are going to be one scary club to face and could be a contender to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Dear Santa: A better power play.
Ottawa: The City Fun Forgot. Itâ€™s okay if you like museums, government buildings, and diplomacy -- but rather bland if you want to let your hair down and have a good time. The city parallels this yearâ€™s Ottawa Senators so well.
The Sens donâ€™t have any players in the top 50 in scoring this year but have a respectable seven members in the 51-175 range. Craig Anderson has the 32nd-best goals against average and 11th best save percentage. Erik Karlsson is fifth among defensemen and is tied for the team lead in points with 23, but even that comes with a minus-14 plus/minus and a 48.9 Corsi percentage, which ranks 55th out of the 79 defensemen with at least 500-minutes played.
Not all is bleak; two bright spots in Canadaâ€™s capital have been rookies Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone, who will both get consideration for the All-Rookie Team at the end of the year if they keep up their current pace.
Despite their 14-13-6 record, there seems to some hope for the Senators if Hoffman and Stone can continue to develop along with other young players such as Karlsson and Mika Zibanejad.
Dear Santa: Speed up the rebuild.
Tampa Bay Lightning
In sharp contrast to the other franchise in their state, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been a resounding success this year. They are on the heels of the Montreal Canadiens for the Atlantic Division title and have scored the second most goals in the league. The Lightningâ€™s attack really is formidable yet well balanced; Steven Stamkos leads them and is tied for seventh in the league with 36 points in 35 games, but the efficiency and depth of their forward group is almost frightening, especially when it comes to 5-on-5, even strength.
|Player||Points||Rank||5-on-5 Points||Rank||Pts/60 5-on-5||Rank|
Speaking of Drouin, it has been somewhat of a mystifying season for the young forward; he came into camp as a highly-touted prospect and a popular Calder Trophy candidate but got hurt and then spent the first part of the season alternating between playing fourth-line minutes and sitting in the press box. Not until recently was he placed on the first unit with Stamkos and Callahan, however. When playing together, the matching has been mutually beneficial.
|5-on-5 Category||Ice Time||GF20||GF%||CF20||CF%|
|Drouin w/ Stamkos||93:59||1.064||62.5||17.24||52.6|
|Drouin w/o Stamkos||198:06||0.707||46.7||17.77||50.3|
|Stamkos w/o Drouin||410:16||0.975||58.8||19.94||57.4|
Clearly, Steven Stamkos makes any player that plays with him better, but to see that Lightning score more often when Drouin and Stamkos are playing together bodes well for the young forward and his ability to stay in the lineup for the rest of the future.
As for the rest of the team, right now starting goalie Ben Bishop is injured but practiced with the team Monday and is likely to return soon after the Christmas break. The defense core is as steady as it gets and deep; the Lightning allow the second-fewest shot attempts against, and their Corsi percentage also sits second in the league at 53.7 percent. While their special teams are nothing special (10th-best power play and 15th-best penalty kill), those numbers are sustainable, and with the Lightning being so strong 5-on-5, they donâ€™t have to rely on the man-advantage to put the puck in the net.
Dear Santa: Continued health to our players, and some cap space to make a deadline move to make a long playoff run.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Ah, the Leafs. Full disclosure: my favorite team and the one I follow most closely.
The Maple Leafs have been on another topsy-turvy season, they were sitting around .500 through the first month and a bit, then they suffered and embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. They bounced back from that to win 10 of their next 12 games but since have loss three in a row including 7-4 and 4-0 to Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively.
Now while the IIHF World Juniors are being held at the Air Canada Centre the Leafs head of the road and play 15 of their next 19 games away from their home rink. That means a lot of travel, a lot of fatigue and perhaps a lot of hard times ahead for a franchise that has a history of collapsing.
To make matters worse, a study of their advanced statistics indicate that the Leafs are not as good of a team as their 19-12-3 record indicates.
|Corsi for /60||52.5||21st|
|Corsi %||45.4 %||27th|
|Shooting %||9.54 %||1st|
|OZFO %||26.7 %||30th|
All this to say that the Leafs, while leading the league in scoring with a Goals-For Average of 3.26, are scoring often with a large proportion of luck; over time, their league-high shooting percentage will likely regress towards the mean, and pucks will stop going in the net unless they start directing a lot more pucks towards the opponentâ€™s goal.
|Corsi against /60||63.1||29th|
Meanwhile, their advanced defensive metrics fall in line with their team 2.54 goals against average (25th in the league). Judging by their faceoff stats (and the good olâ€™ eye test) the Leafs spend way too much time in their own zone and often fail to generate sustained pressure in the other teamâ€™s end.
I could go on and on with home and away splits and how they do not support the Leafs being able to sustain their current pace while they continue their trip through the month of January, but this is supposed to be a short section not a full article onto itself.
Dear Santa: Help us avoid a(nother) collapse during this road trip.