With the first quarter of the 2013-14 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.
The start of the 2013-14 season has provided plenty of surprises and disappointments to supplement the teams and players that have met preseason expectations.
Whether it is through traditional statistics or the breakthrough of advanced metrics into the mainstream conversation, there are several teams worth watching as the 2013-14 season heads for the halfway point.
Here's a look at some of the surprising statistics from the season's first quarter, with an eye toward how teams and players might perform in the next quarter. NOTE: Most of the advanced statistics in this story are from ExtraSkater.com [http://extraskater.com/], an easy choice for the Calder Trophy among hockey websites in 2013-14:
TEAMS TO WATCH
New York Rangers -- The Rangers began the season with a nine-game road trip, two top-six forwards on the mend and a new coach and system. A couple weeks in they looked terrible and were down three top-six forwards, including their best, Rick Nash.
With Nash returning Tuesday, the Rangers are whole for the first time this season. They have another five-game trip coming up but after that play 11 of 13 at Madison Square Garden before the holiday break.
Not only have the Rangers played much better recently, they have been possessing the puck much better (a likely cause for improvement and an indicator of better things to come). When the Rangers were near the bottom of the NHL standings, they were among the worst in the League in shot attempts, or Corsi. In seven of the past nine games the Rangers have had a Corsi-for percentage of higher than 50 percent at even strength, and they've climbed into a tie for 10th place in the League at 51 percent overall.
New York's PDO, which combines the team's shooting percentage and save percentage, is also low at 97.7. The average is typically about 100 and teams generally progress or regress toward that number as a season moves along. So expect the Rangers’ 5.4 shooting percentage in 5-on-5 play to improve.
Los Angeles Kings -- The Kings have been a dominant possession team for years and they were a prime example of a team playing better than its record showed and/or unlucky for much of the 2011-12 season before it all clicked at the end of the season.
This season the Kings are again among the League leaders in Corsi (all shot attempts) and Fenwick (shots on goal plus misses, no blocked shots). They are first in Corsi-for percentage at even strength at 58.1 and Fenwick-for percentage at 57.2. They are second behind the Chicago Blackhawks in Corsi-for percentage when the score is close (tied or a one-goal lead/deficit) at 57.2.
However, the Kings are seventh in the Western Conference and goaltender Jonathan Quick is out for a while with a groin injury. It will be interesting to watch which direction the Kings go. The team's shooting percentage at even strength could improve from 6.4 percent, but can Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones continue a high standard of goaltending? Scrivens actually has better numbers so far than Quick.
Colorado Avalanche -- The unquestioned surprise of the season's first quarter, the Avalanche stormed to the top of the League standings with new coach Patrick Roy and MVP candidate Matt Duchene. Colorado's goaltending, from Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, was fantastic and Roy has utilized the team's speed, particularly at forward, well.
There are questions about Colorado's ability to continue at this level of success. The goaltending was amazing but in reality a little too amazing. There was bound to be some regression, particularly in the team's penalty-kill save percentage. The Avalanche have been among the worst teams in shots on goal allowed per two minutes on the PK, but until a recent loss to the St. Louis Blues, Varlamov and Giguere were among the League leaders in penalty-kill save percentage.
While the Avalanche do have lots of swift skaters up front and can strike quickly on the counterattack, they have been spending too much time in their zone. Colorado is tied for 23rd in the NHL in Corsi-for percentage at even strength (48.2), though they are slightly better in close-score situations (49.5).
The other issue for the Avalanche is the overwhelming strength of the West. Colorado was 14-2-0 and atop the NHL standings (by points percentage). Now, after a three-game losing streak, they've fallen to eighth in the West by total points (fifth in points percentage).
Roy is a Jack Adams Award candidate and Duchene has led a resurgent offense, but the Avalanche need to hang on to the puck a little more to remain near the top of the conference standings moving forward.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild -- Suter's ability to devour ice time is remarkable. He's averaging -- yes, averaging -- 29:36 of ice time per contest. There have been 40 instances of a player logging at least 29:36 in one game this season; Suter is averaging that much every night. If Suter maintains that pace over the course of an 82-game season, it would be the most anyone has averaged since Chris Pronger played 30:14 per game for the St. Louis Blues in 1999-00, and won the Hart Trophy in the process.
Not only does Suter have the top three single-game time on ice totals, they came consecutively, in a seven-day span. The least Suter has played was 23:27 against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 3. There are only 30 other defensemen averaging that much ice time.
Can Suter continue to play this much? Can he continue to play so well while doing so? He's one of the frontrunners for the Norris Trophy and a big reason the Wild have moved toward the top of the standings in the West.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- Ovechkin finished last season on a scoring binge and has continued it into this one. After scoring twice Sunday against the Blues, he is tied for the League lead with St. Louis' Alexander Steen with 17 goals. Ovechkin had 23 in his final 23 games of 2012-13.
While Ovechkin’s shooting percentage (15.5 percent) likely will regress a little, he has finished three seasons at 13.6 or higher. There also are a couple of positive indicators for him.
One, he's scoring again at even strength. Half of his 32 goals in 2012-13 were on the power play, as well as seven of his first 13 this season. Finding different ways to score at even strength, like he did against the Blues, will be one way for him to keep up something approaching this pace.
Two, he's shooting more. Ovechkin was a shots-on-goal dynamo for most of his career, posting some of the highest totals in League history, including 528 in 2008-09. That number dropped for three consecutive seasons after that, and he didn’t lead the League for the first time in his career in 2011-12.
He's got 110 in 21 games (he missed two), and continuing at his current clip of more than five per game would get him to 463 if he stays healthy. That would be the third-highest total in League history.
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- Check out everyone's lists for top Norris Trophy contenders to this point in the season and Chara's name probably won't be on many of them. He is playing well, and a little luck in his favor could change that by the season's midpoint.
Chara has one of the lowest individual PDOs in the League at 96.5, mostly because the Bruins are shooting 4.3 percent when he's on the ice. That's the lowest on the team, and a progression toward somewhere in the 7-9 percent change should be expected.
That alone would boost his point total. He's also above 55 percent in Corsi-for percentage and Fenwick-for percentage at even strength, but he's been on the ice for eight Boston goals and 12 against. All of those numbers suggest Chara's traditional metrics likely will improve, which could have him back in the Norris discussion in short order.
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