This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

Players:

  • that Joe Thornton would be in the top ten in the NHL in scoring when he last finished a season there in the 2009-10 season.
  • of the top five goal scores, Ovechkin, Steen, Perry, Kane and Kunitz, Ovechkin would have both overtime goals in the quintet.
  • the leagues three leaders in PIMS Derek Dorsett of the New York Rangers, Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators, and Antoine Roussel would combine for more penalty minutes (275) than the New Jersey Devils (251) or San Jose Sharks (271) and each be playing 11:35 a night or more.
  • Brandon Dubinsky would be the only player over 20 points and 60 PIMS, and have a 56.1 FO%.
  • Mike Santorelli of the Vancouver Canucks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings would be tied for the NHL lead in overtime points.
  • last years Masterson Award winner Josh Harding would be dominating the league and have the best save percentage of any goalie with more than 1000 minutes on the season and be sitting pretty with a .938 sv% and a 16-5-3 record.
  • undrafted rookie goaltender Cam Talbot with ten games played would have a significantly better sv% (.934 vs .910) than teammate and the NHL’s highest paid netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

Teams:

  • a month after losing Steven Stamkos to injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning would still be holding a top 3 spot in the Atlantic division.
  • on December 13th the spread betwen the 1st and 8th place teams in the east and west would be 10 in the west with 3 teams tied for 8, and 13 in the east.
  • to date, no team in the east would have scored 100 goals.
  • Of the teams in the bottom five (tie for 5th) last year in the NHL, only two would currently be in that place.
  • the Buffalo Sabres who are dead last in the NHL in points would have allowed just one more goal than the Chicago Blackhawks who have the most points in the league.
  • the Edmonton Oilers would be the only team to allow more than 4 shorthanded goals.
  • there would be no apparent pattern to the four teams yet to score a shorthanded goal as to date the Coyotes, Penguins, Panthers and Sabres would all be on the outside looking in.
  • four teams in the west would have scored 100 or more goals.
  • under offensive minded coach Alain Vigneault the New York Rangers would be producing over half a goal per game less than under the blueshirt’s previous bench boss in prior two seasons.

If there is a more pressure packed position in any team sport than hockey goalie, I’ve never heard of the sport. Not only are they the last line of defense, they are often relied upon to coordinate the skaters in front of them, and provide a catalyst to kickstart the offense. At this time of year the masked men’s work gets its greatest regular season focus. Nearly everyone is healthy, there isn’t much wear and tear on the body coming out of training camp, and winter colds and flus are still weeks away.

Comparing the standings for the league, and the stats for goalies makes it clear that some goalies just aren’t supporting their teams. Calgary’s 3-0-2 record is not quite what people expected of them to open the season. When you realize they’ve scored just one more goal than they’ve allowed and that Karri Ramo who the Flames billed as the best goaltender outside the NHL, and his partner in net Joey MacDonald each sport a .897sv% you have to wonder how long the team can keep its head above water. If there is a saving grace to the Calgary Flames situation in net it must be the less than four million spent on the two goalies this year.

At the other end of the province, Devan Dubnyk’s collapse from .920sv% a year ago, to .829 is baffling. He’s got an improved defense, a coach and captain who are all about responsible play, and yet of the 54 goalies to take the crease this season, he’s 51stin save percentage. Where is the man who played 38 of 48 last season and finished 14th in save percentage and kept the Oilers perilously close to a playoff spot? His two previous seasons show last years mark is a little high, but not a complete fluke. What gives?

Is Cory Schneider’s goaltending skill operating on west coast time? Was it seized by customs after he was traded from Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils? While gaining familiarity with a new team can cause goaltenders issues, and moving across country isn’t easy on anyone Schneider was traded in June, and had all of training camp to get on the same page as his defense. Right now, he’s pretty bad. He’s allowed 6 goals on 53 shots.

On the other hand, close examination of the careers of Semyon Varlemov and Jean-Sebastion Giguere, might have closed a contract with a nefarious entity in the not to distant past. The pair have faced a combined 171 shots through five games. In those games they are unbeaten, with four goals given up.  This leaves the Avalanche as one of two unbeaten teams, and at the top of numerous key team metrics.

Anyone who has watched even a single Buffalo Sabres game knows how well Ryan Miller is playing. Unfortunately for him, his NHL experience is about equal to the combined games played of all the healthy members of the defense. If you were to count minutes played, he’d probably dwarf them. As of yet, none of his defense has displayed an aptitude for a key role as a powerplay specialist or shutdown defender. On the surface it is baffling to look at a team record of 0-5-1 and realize the goalie is the best player on the team. But that’s exactly the case, Ryan Miller has made 144 saves on 153 shots in just four games. It takes an incredible about of talent to build a team where the goaltender has a .941 sv% and a losing record.

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

This week Alex Ovechkin will take on the job of Olympic Torchbearer. It isn’t a job they give out randomly, you have to be the best, the best and the best known. You have to exude the essence of your sport. The Alex Ovechkin who fulfilled NHL fans dreams of a more exciting game coming out of the dead puck era was exactly that man. He dominated defenses and gouged goaltenders from day one. That is the man who was selected to be a torchbearer.

For the first five years of his career Alex Ovechkin was the torchbearer, the icon, the beacon of scoring prowess, love of game, and over powering exuberance. You couldn’t go a game without some jaw dropping display of hand eye coordination and athleticism. His goal celebrations were legend. More remarkable was how hard it was to know if he’d scored or a teammate, he just loved goals.

Two season back, he a wall. His goal production dropped twenty goals in just one year. Their were rumors, all sorts of rumors. Some of it was the usual anti-Russisan xenophobia so typical north of the 49th parallel. A closer look at the dip will reveal personal problems off the ice, and injuries to both himself and key pieces of the Washington Capitals offense. About the same time a coach ran out of tricks for motivating teams. A new coach came in, and he wasn’t that good.

This year we’ll see Alex Ovechkin playing under a hall of fame player turned coach. Better still, we’ll see him playing under a coach who respects him and understands offense as well anyone who has ever played the game. Backstrom is healthy. Green is healthy. Laich is healthy too. Grabovski has something to prove. The team is poised for 90+ points and another playoff appearance.

But will we see Alex Ovechkin regain the top rung? In recent years Stamkos among others have grabbed the headlines and bright lights. Can the 28 year old dynamo from Moscow compete with the fresh young (Canadian)  faces? With a healthy team, and a wide open division what is a good benchmark for success? Will 40 goals be good enough for the man who averaged over 53 goals a season his first five years? Does he need to eclipse the 50 goal mark? We know the great 8 will take up the Olympic torch in Greece, what we don’t know is if he can reignite the NHL torch and once more be its frontrunner.

With the time without hockey drawing to a close, this is the perfect time for perhaps the most radical change to increase scoring. In the past each NHL rink was unique, different sizes, different angles, and board heights that varied widely. Unfortunately those days are no more, and you an hardly tell where a game is being played unless you can see the log at center ice. While I would be the first to cheer the return to unique arenas like the Old Boston Garden, the Aud, and the Montreal Forum, it just isn’t practical.

Instead, I propose moving all faceoffs not following a penalty to the home team in the third period be moved to the offensive blueline of the home team. When it comes to driving ticket sales, and viewership in each city, nothing works like winning. Supercharging the ability of the home team to score goals by giving them sixty feet of  ice will make teams that struggle to draw a bit more attractive to casual fans

There are two types of teams that struggle to score goals. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers have been in recent years that have a great deal of difficulty getting the puck out of their own defensive zone, and teams like the Saint Louis Blues or Nashville Predators who either aren’t in the top half of the league in offensive depth, or  who play a system that doesn’t lend itself to aggressive offensive pushes.

You can also read parts one two and three.

This is the first part in a summer series looking at sane ways to increase NHL scoring, without doing something sacrilegious like increase net size, taking away goalie sticks or something equally absurd. If you are looking for other posts in this series click on the category marker next to the date at the top of the post. 

When the trapezoid was put into the NHL, the idea was to limit the amount of puck handling goalies could do. The hope was that this would stimulate offense or more accurately stifle smothering defenses. It was specifically made to keep ultra mobile goalies who handle the puck well from getting pucks that were dumped in, and feeding the puck back out to the neutral zone to his teammates before the opposing team could generate offensive pressure. There are two reasons this is a horrible idea.

Reason number one:

One of the most important things adding the trapezoid has done is reduce counter punch offense. Teams with mobile, puck handling goalies can no longer get the puck out as fast as often. It also means that forwards attacking the zone to retrieve lost pucks no longer get caught with four or five players behind them. So while the trapezoid allows a higher number of entries into the zone because it shackles the goaltender to the net, it does in fact slow the game down. Any goaltender who can skate well can reach the puck in a corner faster than even speedsters like Hagein or Seguin can get there. There is no reason to create dead playing time for a reason that is invalid.

Reason number two:

What is often ignored in the arguments over the trapezoid and or where and at what point goalies become fair game for hits is their competence. Some goalies are good at handling the puck, some are not. And even the best goalies such as Martin Brodeur or Mike Smith make mistakes. Further more, even the best skating goalies are wearing four or five times as much protection as the average skater. This makes them not just slower, but less agile. By keeping the goalies in the crease, the real sin is the reduction of the chaos factor. Goalie sticks are less than ideal for passing, and well, goalie skates are optimized for lateral control, not straight line speed. By eliminating the opportunity for goalies to play the puck, you eliminating not just the potential for them to squash an opponents rush, but for them to screw up by the numbers and allow a goal against. As we saw before the trapezoid was put in place, goalies that are bad at skating, or bad at skating will come out to play the puck. That is an opportunity for offense.

If the league wants to create more scoring it has to remember the law of unintended consequences.

Perhaps the greatest American (or other) writer of all time Samuel Clemens once said “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” and surely he had it right. One need do no more than watch any NHL game with any combination of teams and you’ll see it played out over and over again. By the third and most foul type of prevarications rampage across the game summary each and every night. According to the way things are tallied right now, a penalty kill that last three seconds has equal weight as one that last five, likewise a penalty kill wiped out by the other team taking a penalty kill is statistically the same as going two, four or five minutes a man or two down.

While the powers that be have done nothing, and color commentators have lamented it, it has remained for years. Intermission analysts bemoan it with hand-wringing and woeful expressions. Yet none of these guys have come up with a useful way of measuring, and simply expressing one of the most telling numbers about a team.

Time being key to all things on the ice:

  1. Percentage of penalty kill time killed by expiration. This would be the percentage of time of the actual time shorthanded, if the time shorthanded is only 10 seconds, and a goal is surrendered two seconds into the penalty, the team has killed 20% of the penalty time.
  2. Percentage of penalties in which a goal is scored. This would be slightly different but related stat. To cover major penalties in which multiple goals are scored, one goal would be listed as 100% scoring 2 as 200% and so on.

Of the two the first is the more important for the casual fan, and quick analysis. There’s also no reason that with the wonders of modern computing, available for a mere decade or so, that you couldn’t drill down to various penalty kill types. One more penalty kill statistic I do believe is vital is:

  • Percentage of penalties ended by officiating. This would be all penalty kills ended either by a penalty be assessed to the other team or the end of the game.

Employing these metrics in place of the current model has the potential to assist players, coaches, media, fantasy sports enthusiasts and vanilla fans across the hockey world.