Reports indicate the NHL is pretty close to expansion Sin City, among other places. There are questions all over the place about expansion, but here are the important ones.

 

10: Will the Ice Girls be prohibited from dating the players, even for an hour at a time?

9: How many members of The Real World Las Vegas cast will be selling concessions?

8: Will the slot machines built into the seats be hockey themed?

7: Will club seat be retitled”Gentlemen’s Club Seats” ?

6: Will players have the option of being paid in poker chips?

5: How many years will it take before this team is better than the Las Vegas Wranglers or Las Vegas Storm?

4: Will they be using the foam from the mouths of fans in Quebec City and Saskatchewan who will inevitably be upset that the sun belt is getting another team, and getting another team ahead of them to create the ice surface?

3: Will an NHL team in Lost Wages finally, finally, bring decent prop betting to hockey?

2: How many times will you be able to add the attendance in Vegas to that in Florida and not fill either barn?

1: Will presumed Las Vegas owners William Foley and the Maloof family manage to slide into a top five most hated owners in their first three seasons?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have gotten off to a great start this season. They lead the Metropolitan Division with a game in hand. They are the only team in their division with a double digit goal differential. No one has a better or even a comparable powerplay, and their goaltender is having a career year. Sidney Crosby is producing at a rate he never has before, and he, Hornqvist and Malkin are all producing half or more of their points on the powerplay.

That’s the problem. Most of this is completely unsustainable. The Penguins powerplay is rocking along at 35.6%. Going back all the way to the 2005-06 season, the best a powerplay has finished is 26.8%. That’s 9% below what the team is rolling along at, and still well above the 21-22% the top powerplays have finished at in the last decade. When you consider that they are 13th in 5 on 5 scoring, you have to wonder how hard the fall will be.

Marc-Andre Fleury is saving a noticeably higher number of pucks than is normal for him. A career .911% save percentage with over 500 games played and no full season higher than .918, means people shouldn’t fall in love with his current .924. Through 12 games played he is also facing more shots per game than anytime in the last five years.

While there are lots of reasons for the decline, the Pittsburgh Penguins are near the top of the league in scoring in the first and second periods, and twentieth in third.  In the third period they’ve also allowed more goals than in any other period, 30% more goals than in either the first or second period. Is it conditioning? Is it desperation by the other team? Or are the Penguins just getting caught playing passively and running out the clock as happens to many teams?

Unsustainable powerplay, high reliance upon it for scoring, weak 3rd period, a goaltender fighting above his weight class all on one team add up to a team that will slide backwards at some point soon.

In the last few weeks the Boston Bruins have been ravaged by in recent weeks. Kevan Miller went down. Then Zdeno Chara went down. David Krejci has been in and out of the lineup, Torey Krug went down, Brad Marchand was dinged, and now David Warsofsky is out of action. Zdeno Chara is the biggest factor, and on the surface we know their record is solid since his 4:13 of ice time in the game where he was lost.

October 23rd is the game where Chara went down the tunnel and didn’t come back. It was early in the game, and the rest of the game was chaotic. Matt Bartkowski played 21 minutes and was a minus one. The defensive pairs were shuffled, blended and then shaken for good measure. Even allowing for the Chara injury, the game wasn’t a good one for the men in black and gold. Patrice Bergeron was a -2, Krejci registered just one shot on net and the team never recovered from Chara going down. They dropped the game to a team that’s giving up as many goals as they score.

October 25th they take on a team who just don’t have what it takes to keep the Bruins out of their head. They managed a convincing win against a team that failed to make the playoffs last season, and are at best a bubble team this year.

Next up is the Minnesota Wild on October 28th. Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and company. The Bruins got down early giving up the opener to former New York Islander Nino Niedderreiter. By the end of the second the Bruins were up 3-1 in what was likely Krejci’s most healthy game of the season. In the third period the team failed to show up. No one took control, no one dominated their space, and the boys from the state of hockey popped three by Tuukka Rask to walk out with two points.

The night before Halloween the Boston Bruins played division ‘rivals’ the Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres who are averaging one goal per game. One. Goal. Per. Game. The Boston Bruins gave up two goals to this team, yes, twice the average the team has achieved all season. Then they took overtime to beat the team most likely to be drafting first overall. Yes they gave a pity point to a team that’s so bad no one even pretends the team has a shot at the playoffs.

Next up were the Ottawa Senators. A team who’s best player is Kyle Turris but who lack a legitimate superstar. Again, a team that isn’t considered a threat to division or conference and who no one except maybe Eugene Melnyk thinks they have a shot at Lord Stanley’s silver. The Bruins win against a goalie who put up a .867sv%  on the night. A mediocre team, and they beat the backup.

Next was a visit against a team they should expect the Providence Bruins to beat in a seven game series; The Florida Panthers. Aside Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell there’s no one worth knowing on the team. Gudbranson, Huberdeau, and maybe Barkov will be name players in two or three years, but right now, nope, nada, talent not found. This team is currently averaging 1.67 goals per game, yes that’s 29th in the NHL with only Buffalo scoring less. The Bruins again gave up a pity point. Yes, they went to overtime with a team that can’t manage even two goals per night for the second time in three games.

Finally in this run without Chara, and others they faced the Edmonton Oilers. There was no Taylor Hall in the lineup. That’s arguably their best player. Andrew Ference was out. That’s their captain, their best defensive defensemen, and two two of them are both physical, good skaters, and guys who don’t take shifts off. What’s left of the team lacks firmness and the team is impressively bad at getting the puck out of their own end. They are 27th in the league for goals allowed with 3.50 goals against per game. Ben Scrivens turned in a .871sv% in the loss.

Against the two teams most likely to be in the playoffs the Bruins lost. They went to overtime against two teams likely to be in the lottery. In short we know they can beat, just barely, wretched teams. We know they aren’t any good against anyone who is any good.

As for the suggestion that Chara might be traded now (possibly for Jordan Eberle who is becoming the new Vincent Lecavalier), with what we’ve seen there is zero reason to think that if the Boston Bruins made it to the playoffs they would make it out of the first round. It’s arguable they wouldn’t even make it to a fifth game if they replaced him with Eberle or any player on the Dallas Stars.

There are three clear things to understand about what Jim Rutherford has done. First, he signed a player who was art of a Stanley Cup win, in a lot of minds that’s important. Second in keeping Marc-Andre Fleury in the fold he has a known quantity in net for the foreseeable future. Third and most importantly, he has decided he doesn’t want to correct one area of opportunity via the draft or shrewd trades.

The contract itself is actually team friendly. Fleury will get a reported $5,750,000 per year for four years. That will put him in the same range as Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard who are, about average NHL netminders. These teams have all decided they want to go with good enough at the goaltending position, and make various attempts at the best in other positions and in system execution. None of them are likely to win the Vezina this year or next year, but they aren’t likely to

What are Marc-Andre Fleury’s numbers like when it counts? In the last five NHL playoff runs he had 13 games (Columbus 6, Rangers 7) and a .915%, going back to the previous year he had 5 games played (Islanders) and lost the starting job to Tomas Vokoun after turning salarya sv% of .883. The year before that was a seven game series (Flyers) where he turned in a performance that can’t be accurately described with a nice word than putrid for his .834%. In 2010-11 his .899 sv% was good enough to lose in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And courtesy of the wayback machine we know that back in 2009-10 his .891 sv% got the Penguins out of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, before he and the Penguins fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the final of which he played just twenty five minutes of and allowed four goals on thirteen shots.

The key to the deep playoff runs when they won the Stanley Cup (where he still allowed more goals than anyone) were a better defense than what has been seen in Pittsburgh since. If the Penguins who between Letang, Crosby, Malkin and now their netminder have $31,200,000.00 committed to just those four players can spend money on quality defense first defensemen, they might do better in the future than the recent past. With a total salary cap currently at $69m, spending almost half of it on four players, only two of them elite, seems like it might not lead to a long tenure for General Manager Jim Rutherford.