While the Chicago Blackhawks are idling into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and dealing with injuries to cornerstone players, the team they beat in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final has been steamrolling toward the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Boston Bruins are going to be a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons, but another recent winner might be the best bet for someone who doesn't want to trust the banged-up defending champs. The Los Angeles Kings aren't going to finish with as many points as the other titans in a brutal Western Conference, but there will be seven other playoff teams that wouldn't mind seeing someone else have to deal with Darryl Sutter's club.
Los Angeles has been a strong team all season, but the goals just weren't coming. Nearly every other indicator of quality play pointed to contender status. In recent weeks, the Kings' offense is progressing to the mean and they now look like a team primed for a deep playoff run.
If that sounds familiar, it is because the 2012 edition of the Kings followed a very similar script. Los Angeles was one of the worst teams in the League in goals per game for much of the 2011-12 season, but the Kings were a strong possession team.
The bounces started evening out, the Kings acquired Jeff Carter at the trade deadline to balance out the top-nine forwards, and a remarkable postseason run to the franchise's first Cup victory followed. The use of analytics or advanced statistics in hockey is still in its infancy for much of the media covering the sport, but it has come a long way since 2012.
Few people who write about hockey can say they saw the Kings as even a sleeper in 2012, let alone a legitimate contender, but given the increased popularity in metrics like Corsi and better understanding about things like shooting percentages the Kings are going to be a trendy pick in a couple of weeks.
The chart above shows how this season's Kings have performed since the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and how the 2011-12 Kings performed before and after the NHL Trade Deadline. Goals per 10 shots is a way to show shooting percentage on the same scale.
Los Angeles is 14-4-0 since players returned from Sochi after a 31-22-6 start. Two years ago the Kings finished 12-5-3 after being 28-22-12 with 20 games to play.
There is also the matter of Los Angeles' path to another Cup. The Kings might be one of the top three or four teams in the League, but so are the San Jose Sharks, the club that looks most likely to be their first-round opponent.
If one of those teams survives what could be an amazing, physical series with decent health, it will be a favorite to win the Cup. If there are injuries, it is possible the two teams could knock each other out of serious contention. Remember, the Kings were far from at full strength when they faced the Blackhawks in the conference final a year ago, but were able to stay remarkably healthy in 2012.
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 will likely take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close, the tiebreaker is almost always this: If the two teams started a seven-game series tonight, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, the statistics and team records are through the games on Wednesday night.
1. Boston Bruins (52-18-6) LW: 1
Ever wonder what Dan Bylsma and Claude Julien talk to each other about when they are in the same place? Here's betting Bylsma might be a little jealous of the lineup stability Julien has been able to cultivate this season.
The Bruins have dealt with the loss of No. 2 defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, but injuries to the top-nine forwards have been minimal. Loui Eriksson was expected to be a top-six guy, but injuries and the emergence of Reilly Smith, the other guy in the blockbuster trade that brought Eriksson to Boston, have led to him settling in on the third line.
How consistent and productive have Boston's top two lines been this season? Check out the chart below. Those are the six most productive lines in the NHL this season at even strength, according to Dobber Hockey.
Bylsma would be happy to have two groups of three forwards available to play for a few weeks in a row, let alone able to produce at the level of Boston's top-two trios.
MUST READ: Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald writes about the final touches general manager Peter Chiarelli has put on this impressive Bruins roster.
2. San Jose Sharks (48-20-9) LW: 2
San Jose leads the League in shots at 35.0 per game. The Sharks have a chance to put the second-most pucks on net since the rule changes before the 2005-06 season opened up more space on the ice and helped fuel a rise in shots on goal.
The Detroit Red Wings racked up 2,965 shots in 2008-09, a clip of 36.2 per contest and a number out of reach unless the Sharks average 54 per game in their last five. The second-most shots in a season came three years ago, and it was the Sharks with 2,832.
San Jose needs 138 shots in the last five games (27.6 per contest) to surpass the team's 2010-11 total. That seems like a pretty safe bet.
3. St. Louis Blues (51-17-7) LW: 3
Ryan Miller has a .920 save percentage in 14 games with the St. Louis Blues, slightly better than Jaroslav Halak's .917 before he was sent to the Buffalo Sabres in the trade for Miller. At even strength, Miller has a .927 save percentage for the Blues, while Halak was at .928.
MUST READ: Richard Minton of St. Louis Game Time writes about the impact felt from the 2013-14 additions to the forward corps.
4. Los Angeles Kings (45-26-6) LW: 4
The Kings have had at least 50 percent of the non-blocked shot attempts (Fenwick) at even strength when the score is close in 16 of the 18 games since the Olympic break. Their Fenwick-for percentage in those situations is 58.2 percent. That will play.
5. Anaheim Ducks (50-18-8) LW: 6
There's been some narrative bending since the Ducks stormed to the top of the League standings. When the losses started coming with more frequency, a prevailing thought was maybe being pushed by the Sharks and Blues would be better than coasting to the Presidents' Trophy. The Ducks have won a couple of games of late despite playing poorly for large stretches, and coach Bruce Boudreau has sounded a lot like the guy who couldn't be happy that his team was winning games in Washington because the Capitals weren't playing "playoff hockey."
Boudreau has proven he is a great coach in the NHL. He shouldn't need a deep playoff run to make more people believe that, but that's probably the reality of his situation.
MUST READ: Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times writes more on the aftermath of Anaheim's wild comeback against the Jets.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (42-19-15) LW: 5
Corey Crawford's save percentage at even strength this season is .926. See those numbers in the same statistical category below "St. Louis Blues." Crawford's save percentage in 2014 in all situations is .927. If the Blackhawks are healthy when the postseason starts and Crawford stops 92.7 percent of the shots he faces, there might be a lot of people wearing red in Grant Park one day in June again.
MUST READ: Tim Sassone covered the Blackhawks for more than a quarter-century and he will be dearly missed. Bob Verdi writes a tribute to Sassone in the Daily Herald.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (42-25-9) LW: 9
Steven Stamkos returned from a broken leg March 6 and the Lightning promptly lost to the Buffalo Sabres. Since then, they are 9-1-2, and are collecting points at a better per-game rate than any team in the League besides the juggernaut in Boston.
MUST READ: Damian Cristodero of the Tampa Bay Times writes about the Lightning's penchant for producing shorthanded goals.
8. New York Rangers (43-30-4) LW: 8
Martin St. Louis finally has a goal, but he's still been limited to four points in 15 games. He's not playing poorly, but his possession stats are in the red relative to his new teammates in Gotham. The Rangers are shooting 5.4 percent when he is on the ice at even strength, which should improve because he is a world-class player not named Alex Ovechkin.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (48-23-5) LW: 10
The Penguins gave rookie defenseman Olli Maatta the night off a week ago. He's nearing a career high for games played in a hockey season, and NHL games are a little different than other levels in the mental and physical expenditure department. More teams should probably do this more often with young players.
MUST READ: Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes the Penguins' late-season funk is meaningless once the playoffs begin.
10. Colorado Avalanche (48-21-6) LW: 7
When Matt Duchene is on the ice for the Avalanche and Semyon Varlamov is in net, Colorado has had 50.4 percent of the shot attempts at even strength. When Duchene is not on the ice with Varlamov, that number drops to 45.6 percent.
There's a similar story to be told with the skaters in front on the team's No. 1 goalie. Ten of the 12 players who have spent the most time on the ice with Duchene have a sizable drop-off in possession, according to Hockey Analysis.
MUST READ: Justin Bourne of Backhand Shelf isn't too enamored with Colorado's chances without Duchene.
11. Montreal Canadiens (43-27-7) LW: 11
The Canadiens need to win two of their final five games (or collect four points) for this to be the second-most successful season since the shiny silver trophy everyone is playing for was lifted by a bunch of players in Montreal sweaters 21 years ago. That feels a little surprising, considering some of the tumult the team has dealt with.
12. Dallas Stars (37-27-11) LW: 14
As an addendum to the information in the portion of this about the Bruins, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have been on the ice together for 48 goals this season. That is 22.2 percent of the goals Dallas has scored, which is the highest percentage of any duo in the League.
MUST READ: In honor of a certain movie opening today, here's Michael Farber from the Sports Illustrated archives on Mike Modano.
13. Detroit Red Wings (36-26-14) LW: 15
Gustav Nyquist has scored twice since you started reading this.
MUST READ: Coach Mike Babcock is about to become the all-time leader in wins in franchise history, writes Brian Hedger.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (39-27-9) LW: 16
Jakub Voracek has 102 points since the start of the 2012-13 season in 123 games. He's spent the majority of that time next to Claude Giroux, a space occupied to much fanfare by Jaromir Jagr during the 2011-12 season. Voracek has .83 points per game in those 123 games. Jagr had .74 during his one season with the Flyers.
MUST READ: Craig Berube takes some of his coaching cues from a guy who had some success in Philadelphia, writes Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News.
15. Minnesota Wild (39-26-11) LW: 12
If Ilya Bryzgalov plays in three of the team's final six games, the Wild will have used four goaltenders at least 10 times this season. The last team to do that was the New York Islanders in 2010-11. Bryzgalov's old team could still pull off the feat as well if Viktor Fasth plays in each of the final five contests for the Edmonton Oilers.
The Wild are in a different class than the Oilers or that Islanders team from three years ago. A potential playoff team using four goaltenders that often is … abnormal.
MUST READ: Scott Burnside of ESPN.com explores the Wild's uncertain situation in net.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets (38-30-7) LW: 13
The Blue Jackets could have five 20-goal scorers and 10 players with at least 10 goals this season. They've never had five 20-goal scorers (had five with at least 19 twice) and had 10 in double digits once in 2005-06.
Why is the team's depth even more remarkable this season? Because of the six most expensive skaters on the payroll this season (Marian Gaborik, James Wisniewski, Nathan Horton, RJ Umberger, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson), only Umberger is among the 10 players who have at least eight goals.
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