NHL Wish Lists for Santa: The Diverse Atlantic Division

Have the Big Bad Bruins been good this year? Do they even deserve a present?

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.

Boston Bruins

After being one of the Eastern Conference’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 we’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.

SeasonShooting %Points/60iCorsi/60
2014-154.35 %0.2712.04
2013-145.98 %0.8711.05
2012-135.00 %0.9011.49
2011-122.78 %1.1511.89
*iCorsi/60 measures a player’s shots+blocked shots+missed shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time.

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 isn’t exclusive to Chara; the whole Bruins team is having trouble scoring 5-on-5 compared to their recent history.

SeasonGF60GA60GF%CF60CA%CF%Sh %Sv %PDO
2014-152.202.0951.3 %55.751.052.2 %7.68 %92.71 %100.4
2008-142.551.9356.9 %57.752.152.5 %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 hasn’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.

Buffalo Sabres

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 aren’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.

5-on-5 GF6028th
5-on-4 GF6030th
Power Play %30th
5-on-5 Corsi for /6030th
5-on-4 Corsi for /6029th
Shooting %27th
Offensive Zone Faceoff %29th
Goals Against28th
5-on-5 GA6023rd
4-on-5 GA6025th
Penalty Kill %24th
5-on-5 Corsi against /6030th
5-on-5 Corsi against /6028th
Save %16th
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 “At least we aren’t the Oilers” 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).

PlayerCorsi for %Rank
Tomas Tatar60.02nd
Jakub Kindl59.04th
Pavel Datsyuk58.57th
Riley Sheahan58.111th
Darren Helm58.113th
Justin Abdelkader56.825th

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 that’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.

PlayerAttemptsShootout GoalsPercentage
Gustav Nyquist8337.5
Pavel Datsyuk6233.3
Tomas Tatar4225.0
Henrik Zetterberg300
*Nestrasil, Smith, Kronwall, Sheahan, Franzen, Jurco and Helm all have missed their only attempt.

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 shootout…

Dear Santa: Improve our overtime/shootout record.

Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are quietly having a “not embarrassing” 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 isn’t that the Panthers aren’t getting their chances at even-strength, it’s just that nothing is finding the back of the net.

5-on-5 CategoryStatRank
Shots for/60 mins31.43rd
Corsi for/6055.812th
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 team’s scoring woes.

5-on-4 CategoryStatRank
Power Play %13.4%27th
Shots for/60 mins48.420th
Corsi for/60 mins88.224th
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 year’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 aren’t feeling that generous: Fans, to keep us cool and watch us play.

Montreal Canadiens

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.

5-on-5 CategoryStatRank
Corsi for /6056.39th
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.

SeasonGAASave %
2007-14 (7 years)2.52.917

The Canadiens’ 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 PlayStatRank
Shots for /6044.527th
Corsi for /6088.225th
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.

SeasoniCorsi/60Shots/60Shooting %Points/60
2014-1528.0712.6613.04 %2.20
2013-1435.6715.084.30 %3.08
2012-1331.5616.2710.00 %6.51
2011-1230.8315.411.45 %1.79
2010-1130.3214.4912.96 %4.02

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 Senators

Ottawa: The City Fun Forgot. It’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 year’s Ottawa Senators so well.

The Sens don’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 Canada’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.

Filip ForsbergNSH31131831
Johnny GaudreauCGY3471724
Aaron EkladFLA3151419
Mike HoffmanOTT3010616
Mark StoneOTT318816

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 Lightning’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.

PlayerPointsRank5-on-5 PointsRankPts/60 5-on-5Rank
Steven Stamkos36T7th19T13th2.26T33rd
Tyler Johnson3412th252nd3.512nd
Nikita Kucherov30T17th22T8th3.225th
Ryan Callahan27T31st15T42nd2.18T44th

That doesn’t even include Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Valtteri Filppula or rookie Jonathan Drouin.

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 CategoryIce TimeGF20GF%CF20CF%
Drouin w/ Stamkos93:591.06462.517.2452.6
Drouin w/o Stamkos198:060.70746.717.7750.3
Stamkos w/o Drouin410:160.97558.819.9457.4

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 don’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.

5-on-5 CategoryStatRank
Corsi for /6052.521st
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 opponent’s goal.

5-on-5 CategoryStatRank
GA60 (GAA)2.9425th
5-on-5 GA602.5824th
Corsi against /6063.129th
Save %92.1620th
DZFO %35.7%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 ol’ eye test) the Leafs spend way too much time in their own zone and often fail to generate sustained pressure in the other team’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.