The 2013-14 season passed the one-month mark Nov. 1, and that typically is about the time for teams to take stock in where they are at and where they need to go.
One of the trusted axioms in hockey is the importance of a fast start to the season. The general thought process is points are easier to come by in October and November than in the final months of the season when teams become more focused, the pressure becomes greater and the games become tighter.
That might not necessarily be true in the current NHL. The tables above show the top eight teams in each conference at the end of the day that is one month from the start of the regular season (for seasons when teams played games in Europe, we're using opening night in North America as the "official" start date).
The teams with an asterisk did not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season. This has happened 21 times in the past five seasons. Or to put it another way, 26.3 percent of the clubs who were in a playoff position at the one-month mark didn't reach the finish line in the top eight.
In the past three seasons the numbers are even higher -- one-third of the teams (16 of 48) didn't capitalize on a strong start to the season. It isn't just teams near the bottom of the top eight who were only a point or two in front of the competition who have missed out either. At least one team that was in the top three in its conference after one month has missed the playoffs every season, and all of the top three in the Western Conference missed out in 2011-12.
The idea that points are easier to come by early in the season might have some issues. Nearly every player comes to training camp in better condition and more ready for the season to start than players from generations past did, so teams are less likely to need the first couple months to find "midseason form."
Injuries pile up over the course of the season, and injury-riddled teams likely are going to be easier to beat than healthier ones. Games do tighten up as the season progresses, and while that might make it harder to win some nights, it also makes it easier to force overtime and collect at least one point later in the season.
Points in the standings are important regardless of when a team accrues them. Recent history also suggests that a slow start can be overcome.
If someone was looking for a couple of teams not currently in the Super 16 who still are likely to reach the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, two more teams from the Metropolitan Division have to make it along with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Among those teams currently outside the top eight in the conference standings, the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers have the potential to make strong postseason pushes.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks but stay for the information. Also, statistics and team records are through the games Wednesday night.
1. San Jose Sharks (10-1-4) LW: 1
The Sharks have lost three straight games and four of six. In those four losses they have outshot their opponents by a combined total of 54 shots on goal. They put at least 50 shots on target in each of the past two games.
In short, they are fine. Maybe the defensive-zone work was a little sloppy against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, but they still are really good at playing hockey.
MUST READ: Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area [http://www.csnbayarea.com/sharks/pavelski-sharks-third-line-setting-pace] writes about the steady, productive work from Joe Pavelski and San Jose’s third line.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (10-2-4) LW: 3
The Blackhawks have won four of five and outshot the Calgary Flames 44-30 in an overtime loss. The offense wasn't clicking at the start of the season, but it is now. Chicago has 22 goals in the past five contests and rookie Brandon Pirri has played well as the latest player to audition for the role of second-line center.
MUST READ: Michal Frolik returned to Chicago with the Winnipeg Jets and Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times [http://www.suntimes.com/sports/hockey/blackhawks/23500606-419/hawks-have-yet-to-find-suitable-replacement-for-michael-frolik.html] writes the Blackhawks are still looking for his replacement.
3. St. Louis Blues (9-2-2) LW: 2
Another team with four wins in its past five contests, and more discipline is almost certainly helping the cause. The Blues put themselves shorthanded at least four times in five of their first six games this season, but have done so just once in the past seven. They've killed 17 of 19 power plays in that stretch after yielding seven extra-man goals in the first five games.
MUST READ: T.J. Oshie is spending more time watching film and consulting coaches as he matures as a hockey player, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes [http://www.stltoday.com/sports/hockey/professional/blues-oshie-is-starting-to-become-a-student-of-the/article_c4b78394-85c6-58a9-928d-7bfb55b41cb0.html].
4. Colorado Avalanche (12-2-0) LW: 5
Before a loss to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday the Avalanche were playing better in the past few games as the wins continued to pile up. Colorado remains in the bottom half of the League in Corsi-for percentage when games are close (17th, according to ExtraSkater.com) and near the bottom in all even-strength situations (26th), but the Avalanche have done a solid job of possessing the puck when the score is tied. They are 10th in the League at 52.5 percent, which puts them in a group with eight of the top teams in the NHL (the top three are the Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Sharks) … and the New Jersey Devils.
MUST READ: Ryan O'Reilly has turned some of his teammates onto a new form of training, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post [http://www.denverpost.com/avalanche/ci_24462998/avalanche-forward-ryan-oreilly-introduces-his-teammates-yoga] writes.
5. Anaheim Ducks (13-3-1) LW: 8
The Ducks were a team with a record better than some advanced statistics suggested they should have had for much of last season. They also regressed a fair amount in the second half of the season before losing a tight seven-game series to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sample size always is a caveat at this point, but the Ducks again are one of the teams on the radar for regression. Their PDO (save percentage plus shooting percentage) at even strength is the highest in the League, just ahead of other teams in the regression crosshairs like the Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs.
One reason to consider the Ducks might end up being a pretty good team as the season progresses and statistics are more likely to settle near the mean are the injuries the team has dealt with. The website mangameslost.com tracks, well, man-games lost to injury for every team that provides the necessary information (the Avalanche, Sharks and Vancouver Canucks have not provided that info to this point this season).
The chart below shows the teams who have been hit hardest by injury to this point in the season. The Edmonton Oilers began the season without its top two centers, while the Montreal Canadiens have been short key players like Max Pacioretty, Daniel Briere and Alexei Emelin.
There are the Ducks after those two teams with the third-most man-games lost. Among the players who have missed time are forwards Teemu Selanne, Jakob Silfverberg and Dustin Penner. All three are plus-possession players, especially Penner and Silfverberg to this point in the season.
The numbers suggest the Ducks will regress, but better health from some key players could help Anaheim play better and keep the points flowing when not as many of the bounces are going the team's way.
MUST READ: Puck Daddy’s Ryan Lambert writes [http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/teemu-selanne-watching-favorite-player-trending-topics-153001607--nhl.html] an ode to Teemu Selanne.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-5-0) LW: 6
Yet another team on this list that has won four of its past five games, but the last one (a 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers) was a clunker for the Penguins. The forward depth has been tested by injury (note the chart above again), and they will be happy to have James Neal back in the near future.
MUST READ: Evgeni Malkin has been healthy but not as productive as expected, so Rob Rossi of the (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review [http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/4995304-74/malkin-games-goals#axzz2jvUpj15m] examines why.
7. Los Angeles Kings (9-6-0) LW: 4
The Kings continue to put up strong peripheral numbers, but Jonathan Quick's play has not been up to the high standard he's set, Jeff Carter's injury is a big blow to the offense and the team has won three games in regulation this season. Also, as of Thursday morning the Kings would not be a participant in the playoffs (though they would be the No. 2 team in the Metropolitan Division).
MUST READ: The influence of Mike Richards continues to grow for the Kings, Curtis Zupke writes [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=690362].
8. Phoenix Coyotes (11-4-2) LW: 10
Coach Dave Tippett has expressed concern about his team's work in the defensive zone, and for good reason. While the Coyotes have won five of their past six games, they have also yielded at least 30 shots on goal in six of the past seven. The one game they didn't they still allowed 29 in a 5-2 loss to the Ducks on Wednesday.
That said, an improved offense and strong goaltending from Mike Smith has meant times are good in the Valley of the Sun.
MUST READ: The Coyotes' new-found offense continues to be fueled by its defense, writes Jerry Brown [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=689545].
9. Vancouver Canucks (10-5-2) LW: 12
The Canucks certainly are playing plenty of close games this season. Ten of their 17 games have been decided by a goal, including four in overtime (all victories) and three in shootouts. The past seven games have included five wins (four by one goal), a one-goal loss to Detroit and a shootout loss against Phoenix.
MUST READ: Cam Cole writes [http://sports.nationalpost.com/2013/11/02/why-daniel-henrik-sedin-gave-the-canucks-the-hometown-discount/] about the extensions for the Sedin twins in the National Post.
10. Boston Bruins (8-5-1) LW: 7
The Bruins haven't been the same since squeezing out a win despite being heavily outplayed by the Sharks on Oct. 24. Boston had outshot six of its first eight opponents but has not done so in the past six, including the game against the Sharks. They're also 1-3-1 since the win.
MUST READ: Joe Haggerty of CSN New England [http://www.csnne.com/blog/bruins-talk/bergeron-line-looking-more-offensively] writes about the Bruins needing more offensive from the now-healthy second line.
11. Detroit Red Wings (9-5-2) LW: 11
After four straight losses, including a couple of ugly ones, the Red Wings used a trip to Western Canada to get well. Seven of their next eight are at Joe Louis Arena. Even better, 13 of their next 16 are against teams currently not in the top half of the League standings and none of the 16 feature games against teams in the top nine.
See you a lot higher in everyone's power rankings in a few weeks, Red Wings.
MUST READ: Tomas Tatar could be a key player for the Red Wings and he's proving he belongs in the lineup, writes Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press [http://www.freep.com/article/20131102/SPORTS05/311020113].
12. Minnesota Wild (9-4-3) LW: 15
The Wild were playing well and losing in frustrating fashion early in the season, often outshooting their opponent but seeing no reward for the effort. That changed in a hurry. Minnesota now has won six of seven and the only loss was against the defending champions after the Wild had beaten the Blackhawks the night before.
MUST READ: Moving Jason Pominville to the second line has helped ignite the Wild offense, writes Dan Myers [http://www.nhl.com/ice/blogpost.htm?id=21980].
13. Tampa Bay Lightning (10-4-0) LW: 14
The Lightning have victories against Los Angeles, Minnesota, Chicago and St. Louis among seven wins in the past nine games. Martin St. Louis continues to be an elite player for Tampa Bay -- he's second on the team with 16 points in 14 games.
That is significant in part because of his age -- St. Louis turned 38 years old in June. That puts him on pace for 93.7 points in an 82-game season. As the table at right shows, if St. Louis can continue at score to this pace, he could have the second most-productive season by someone at least 38 years old in NHL history.
Some of the players on that list didn't play in 82-game seasons, but accounting for the significantly better goaltending in this era it is hard to diminish what St. Louis could accomplish.
MUST READ: Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman likes what he sees so far, writes Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune [http://tbo.com/sports/lightning/yzerman-likes-what-he-sees-from-bolts-20131105/].
14. Toronto Maple Leafs (10-5-0) LW: 9
The Leafs have played one game in the past week and it was a costly one. Losing Dave Bolland for weeks because of a lacerated tendon in his ankle is a big problem for Toronto. Center was a potential problem for the Maple Leafs before the season started and it is a very real problem now with Bolland and Tyler Bozak injured. The Predators are hanging around without Pekka Rinne, so maybe Toronto can as well despite being critically short down the middle.
MUST READ: JP Nikota of Pension Plan Puppets breaks down [http://www.pensionplanpuppets.com/2013/11/4/5059676/collapsing-defensively-leafs-coaching-breakouts-101] Toronto's troubles with breaking out of the defensive zone
15. Montreal Canadiens (8-7-1) LW: 13
Panic in the streets. The end of the world is nigh. The star player is maybe, possibly not getting along with the coaches.
Oh wait -- it's just a three-game losing streak in Montreal. Not only that, the losses were to three of the best teams in the League and two were by one goal. Stand down, citizens of Bell Centre. It will be all right. It's not like the mayor is holding press conferences while wearing awful, 1990s-era ties.
MUST READ: Andrew Berkshire of Eyes on the Prize [http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/2013/11/1/5052024/what-are-alexei-emelins-true-salary-comparables] writes about comparable contracts for the defenseman with the new $16.4 million contract, Alexei Emelin.
16. Nashville Predators (8-5-2) LW: 16
The update on Rinne reportedly is worse than the original prognosis, but the Predators are indeed hanging around the playoff race with Carter Hutton in net. A 2-0-1 start to a seven-game, 15-day road trip, with victories in Los Angeles and Denver and a shootout loss in Phoenix, is pretty great for anyone, let alone a team missing its franchise goaltender.
MUST READ: Stu Hackel writes [http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/63658198/] for Sports On Earth on the education of Seth Jones as an NHL rookie.
|Back to top|