Everything Else

Into The Great Wide Open

This generally happens every October. As we know, the NHL season tends to be wacky and fun and Seussian in the  first month as teams scramble to entrench themselves into their standings position. We know they pretty much have to because of how hard it is to make up ground late in the season, and the percentage of teams that are in the playoffs spots at Thanksgiving that stay there (just north 0f 75% as of last check). You can’t entrench by gaining one point. You need two. And you generally need to keep the other team from getting one. So teams actually go for it. If this is where you’d ask wouldn’t this be solved season-long if wins were worth three points you can just shove it because your logic has no place in the hockey world! Put your telescope away, Galileo! (He used one, right?)

So scoring is up so far. But is it simply that? Will teams pull back, combined with boredom, in December and beyond to give us the turgid, uninspiring morass we’ve come to know and…well, know? I’m not so sure.

The numbers are there. Teams are averaging 3.11 goals per game after 2.97 last year. Though this is just about the same jump we saw from two seasons ago to last, which was 2.77 to 2.97. Maybe it’s just the way things are going? That’s a bit simplistic, so let’s dive a little deeper.

There are four teams averaging over 35 shots per game, when no team managed it for the total of last year (topping the list are the Hurricanes who are averaging a simply bonkers 41 shots per game so far). However, only 22 teams are averaging over 30 shots per game, while 28 managed it last year. So the high-end, the more volatile selection, is higher. But overall there aren’t more shots being taken from last year. In fact, teams are averaging slightly less shots than last year, 31.3 to 31.8.

As far as overall attempts, there are five teams averaging over 65 attempts per 60 minutes at evens, and nine over 60. Last year, only five teams got over 60 per 60 (isn’t that neat?), and none over 65. So there are more teams attempting more shots, but that doesn’t mean that many are getting through. That would suggest there is more action, just not that much more important action.

Teams are getting faster and copying all the time, so you do see more teams trying to replicate what the Penguins, Knights, Predators have done over the past couple seasons. A couple teams have pivoted to more aggressive coaches. The Stars went from Ken Hitchcock to Jim Montgomery, and they’ve seen a slight uptick in both attempts and shots per game. Bill Peters went from Carolina to Calgary, but they’ve actually seen a downtick in both categories. His replacement in Raleigh, Rod Brind’Amour, certainly has not overseen a downtick. The Coyotes have changed their system, and Ottawa and Montreal at least have tweaked theirs.

The number that jumps out most so far though is that team SV% has dropped .912 to 908 this year. Some will attribute this to the new goalie pads, and that probably plays a role. Some will attribute it to some of the league’s better goalies getting off to slow starts, or not being around at all in the case of Corey Crawford or Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Quick has been abhorrent in LA, Cam Talbot is still stepping on his tongue in Edmonton, Marc-Andre Fleuy has been pretty woeful in Vegas (and really, who could have seen that coming?), Holtby terrible in DC as he was at the start of last year, Martin Jones has been bad, Sergei Bobrovsky worse, and Connor Hellebuyck has been mediocre (say it like Immortan Joe).

Still, they can’t all be off to slow starts, right? There must be something.

Combine that with how many teams simply whiffed on their goaltending decisions. Trusting Mike Smith in Calgary was always going to end in ennui. Jake Allen in St. Louis…well, you know what we’d write here. Did they really thing Carter Hutton would work in Buffalo? Jimmy Howard has been an anchor for a while, which is good for a team trying to bottom out like the Wings (wait, they’re doing what?). The decision to stick with Brian Elliot in Philly is why Gritty looks like that.

The amount of teams getting steady goaltending right now is pretty thin. The Rangers and Ducks are, and those teams both suck eggs. The Stars are getting good work from Ben Bishop. If you want to argue the Hawks now that Crow is back, I guess you can but we’ll need more than the three games Crow has gotten. Dubnynk is doing his normal thing, Kinkaid has been really good in New Jersey, and Varlamov has been a mutant in Colorado (not hard for him). Throw the Lightning, Predators, and Canucks on the list. Essentially, 10 teams are getting average goaltending at even-strength. One of them is Calgary that has Rittich making up for the toxic waste Mike Smith is leaving behind. Minnesota and Anaheim are getting incredible goaltending, but they’re also giving up the most shots in the game. So there are still goals to be had against them. Without their goaltending, the commissioner would have to step in and relegate them.

But that’s not all of it. Could it be the pressure and chances these goalies are asked to stand up against is higher? Yes, it appears that way. Currently, eight teams have an expected goals-against per 60 minutes over 2.8. Only one team did that last year, which was the Rangers. Still though, deeper you go it’s about the same. Nine teams had an xGA/60 last year over 2.5. This year that number is 11 (it always comes back to Nigel Tuffnel on this blog).  A difference to be sure, but not huge.

There clearly isn’t one answer to this. Everyone hopes it sticks around, though.

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