Super 16: Capitals stay on top; Maple Leafs on rise

Friday, 01.08.2016 / 3:00 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

If you judge strictly by the standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs under coach Mike Babcock look worse now than they did at the exact same point last season, when Randy Carlyle was fired and Peter Horachek took over behind the bench.

The Maple Leafs played their 39th game under Babcock on Thursday, one year to the date that they played their first under Horachek.

Using games played through Wednesday as the cutoff, the Maple Leafs had 39 points through 38 games (1.03 points per game) and were five points out of a Stanley Cup Playoff position.

By contrast, entering Horachek's first game, Toronto had 45 points through 40 games (1.13 ppg) and was in a playoff position as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Here's a tip: Don't judge by the standings.

A deeper dive into the statistics proves what has been apparent in most games the Maple Leafs have played: They are a much better team now than they were a year ago.

Entering play Thursday, Toronto had a 50.4 shot attempts percentage, up from 44.6 entering Horachek's first game last season. The Maple Leafs are retaining the puck more, which is why their goals-against was down to 2.6 this season from 3.0 at the time Carlyle was fired last season.

Part of the reason for the reduction in goals-against has to do with Toronto's 5-on-5 save percentage -- .935 this season (entering Thursday) after being .921 entering Horachek's short stint last season.

The possession has also enabled Toronto to have a near 50-50 split of faceoffs (49.4-50.6) in the offensive zone vs. faceoffs in the defensive zone, according to war-on-ice.com. It was closer to 40-60 at this point last season (41.6-58.4). That's as much of a reason as any for why the Maple Leafs are allowing 30.9 shots per game as opposed to 34.4 last season.

All of the statistics mentioned above prove the Maple Leafs have greatly improved under Babcock despite what the standings suggest. But they aren't the only team that started the season with a new coach and has shown marked improvement.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Coach: John Hynes

Points on Jan. 7, 2016: 45 (41 games); Playoff position: First wild card

Points on Jan. 7, 2015: 37 (42 games); Playoff position: Seventh in Metropolitan Division, eight points out of the second wild card

Big reason for change: They're 8-5 in games decided after regulation, including 6-1 in OT. They were 3-7 in games decided after regulation at this point last season.

BUFFALO SABRES

Coach: Dan Bylsma

Points on Jan. 7, 2016: 34 (40 games); Playoff position: 10 points out of the second wild card

Points on Jan. 7, 2015: 31 (41 games); Playoff position: 14 points out of the second wild card

Big reason for change: The Sabres' offensive statistics have improved despite the fact that they're averaging 2.28 goals per game. They averaged 1.8 goals per game at this point last season. Their power play (20.1 percent vs. 9.7 percent), shots per game (29.9 vs. 23.3) and SAT% (48.2 vs. 37.8) are all better. Considering the improved offense, it's not surprising their goals-against (2.68 vs. 3.40) and shots against (29.2 vs. 35.3) have also improved.

EDMONTON OILERS

Coach: Todd McLellan

Points on Jan. 7, 2016: 37 (41 games); Playoff position: Four points out of third in the Pacific Division

Points on Jan. 7, 2015: 27 (41 games); Playoff position: 20 points out of the second wild card

Big reason for change: Like New Jersey, overtime has been kind to Edmonton; the Oilers are 9-3 in games decided after regulation, including 6-3 in OT. The Oilers were 1-9 in games decided after regulation at this point last season. They also have gotten better goaltending, evidenced by their .914 save percentage at 5-on-5 as opposed to .905 at this point last season, and they're scoring more (2.41 GPG vs. 2.20).

Only one of the above four teams is ranked in the Super 16 this week, but the other three are trending in the right direction.

And, now, the rankings:

DISCLAIMER: Though the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the focus will be more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail?

All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday:

1. Washington Capitals (29-7-3)

Last week: No. 1

Good: If Mike Richards works out, the Capitals will have stronger center depth, especially when Jay Beagle returns from his injury.

Not so good: Their defense is being tested without John Carlson and Brooks Orpik in the lineup.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (25-13-4)

Last week: No. 5

Good: They've won five in a row and have three games left on a four-game homestand.

Not so good: They play six of eight games before the All-Star break on the road, where they're 9-8-3.

3. Los Angeles Kings (25-12-2)

Last week: No. 4

Good: The hope is that defenseman Luke Schenn is a replacement for the injured Matt Greene.

Not so good: Schenn was minus-7 with a 46.50 SAT% in 29 games with the Philadelphia Flyers.

4. Florida Panthers (24-12-4)

Last week: No. 6

Good: The Panthers entered their game Thursday riding a 10-game winning streak, the longest in their history.

Not so good: There are some unfavorable underlying numbers (50.0 SAT% during the winning streak, for instance), but come on, they won 10 in a row.

5. Dallas Stars (28-10-4)

Last week: No. 2

Good: They don't have to return to the New York metropolitan area again this season after going 0-2-1 against the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Devils in the past week.

Not so good: Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin had no points, and each was minus-5 on the road trip.

6. Minnesota Wild (21-11-7)

Last week: No. 7

Good: Mikko Koivu didn't miss a game despite a scary incident against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, when he had to be taken to the hospital after crashing into the end boards.

Not so good: Thomas Vanek had two goals in 17 games before playing against the Flyers on Thursday.

7. New York Rangers (22-14-4)

Last week: No. 8

Good: They've played three strong games in a row for the first time in at least six weeks.

Not so good: Coach Alain Vigneault seems to be at his wit's end with center Kevin Hayes, who isn't producing or performing well but should be a valuable player.

8. Montreal Canadiens (23-16-3)

Last week: No. 11

Good: Paul Byron entered play Thursday leading the NHL with five shorthanded points, including three goals.

Not so good: P.K. Subban's shooting percentage is 0.9 (1 goal on 110 shots).

9. St. Louis Blues (23-14-6)

Last week: No. 3

Good: They've had a lead in the first period in each of their past four games.

Not so good: They are 0-2-2 in those games because they've been outscored 9-0 after the second period.

10. New York Islanders (22-13-5)

Last week: No. 10

Good: John Tavares had six points in six games before playing against Washington on Thursday. He had six points in his previous 15 games.

Not so good: Johnny Boychuk will miss 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury.

11. Detroit Red Wings (20-13-7)

Last week: No. 13

Good: Petr Mrazek entered Thursday having played in eight straight games and had a .931 save percentage.

Not so good: Gustav Nyquist went into the game Thursday having not scored in the previous seven.

12. Colorado Avalanche (20-18-3)

Last week: No. 16

Good: They're 8-2-2 since Dec. 12 and are two points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card in the Western Conference. They were nine points out of a playoff spot on Dec. 12.

Not so good: They've gotten back in the playoff race despite a League-worst 44.5 SAT% since Dec. 12, according to war-on-ice.com. The fear is a reversal could be coming.

13. Boston Bruins (20-14-4)

Last week: No. 9

Good: Brad Marchand can return from his three-game suspension on Saturday. He's sorely missed in the Bruins lineup.

Not so good: An already-thin defense took a hit with Adam McQuaid going on injured reserve because of an upper-body injury.

14. Nashville Predators (19-14-7)

Last week: No. 12

Good: They finally got their No. 1 center on Wednesday, when they acquired Ryan Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones.

Not so good: For a team that is supposed to be among the best defensively in the NHL, they entered play Thursday 16th in goals-against (2.63) and 29th on the penalty kill (76.3 percent).

15. Pittsburgh Penguins (19-16-5)

Last week: NR

Good: They're 10-for-28 on the power play in their past nine games after going 14-for-102 in their first 31.

Not so good: They've scored 13 even-strength goals in the past nine games.

16. New Jersey Devils (20-16-5)

Last week: No. 16

Good: They've allowed two or fewer goals in seven of their past nine games.

Not so good: They're 3-3-1 in those games.

Out from last week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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