|The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins are two of this season’s early surprises.|
The Flyers enter December tied for first place in the Atlantic Division after finishing 2006-07 with the worst record in the NHL. But the improvement isn’t because opponents aren’t getting scoring chances. Through their first 24 games, the Flyers allowed 7.7 more shots per game than they took. That’s more than double the discrepancy last season, when opponents averaged 3.8 shots more per game than Philadelphia, and nearly 50 percent higher than the league-worst 5.3 per game by the Washington Capitals, who, like the Flyers, didn’t come close to making the playoffs. No team has been outshot by more than seven per game since the 2001-02 Atlanta Thrashers, who were outshot by 11.3 per game and earned just 54 points.
The Flyers have been outshot in 18 of their 24 games, but are 9-7-2 in those contests, largely thanks to the heroics of goaltender Martin Biron, who has seen 671 shots on goal. That’s second in the NHL behind Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, who has faced 705, but played nearly eight periods more than Biron.
Boston, which is a surprising 13-8-2 after missing the playoffs last season, also is living dangerously. The Bruins are surrendering an average of 6.0 shots per game more than they take, up from a differential of minus-4.6 last season, when their 33.5 shots allowed per game was the most in the NHL. The Bruins have been outshot 17 times in 23 games, but are 10-5-2 in those games, mostly thanks to the play of goaltender Tim Thomas, who’s seeing more than 34 shots per game.
Teams win all the time when they’re outshot, often when they’re badly outshot. But over the course of a season, being outshot on a consistent basis is a tough way to make the playoffs. In the past two seasons, the only team to make the postseason while being outshot by an average of more than three per game is the Nashville Predators, who made it in 2005-06 despite being outshot by 3.5 shots per game, and last season, when the margin increased to 3.6.
Holding ‘em down -- One reason for the Bruins’ early success has been their early success in keeping the other team off the scoreboard. Through 23 games, Boston allowed just eight first-period goals, by far the fewest in the NHL. The Bruins haven’t been nearly as successful keeping opponents off the board after that: They’ve allowed 25 goals in the second period and 22 in the third.
Shutout swap -- One reason for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ improvement is that they have learned how not to get shut out. Through their first 25 games, the Jackets had a league-leading six shutouts, and, until Thursday night, were one of seven teams that hadn’t been blanked. It’s a big change from last season, when through 24 games they had been shut out six times, while recording just two shutouts.
Playoff bound? -- The Florida Panthers will be sorry to see November go. Florida finished the month 7-6-1, its first winning November since 1999-2000 — the last time the Panthers made the playoffs. The Panthers hope the improved showing is a good omen: Every time they’ve had a winning November, they’ve made the playoffs.
Two of the Panthers’ November wins came in shootouts, in which Florida is now 3-0 this season. That’s a huge change from last season, when the Panthers were 2-8 in the post-overtime breakaway competition.
Power outage -- One group that won’t be sorry to see November depart is the New York Islanders’ power play. The Isles have struggled offensively throughout the month, and the power play is a big reason why. Though the Isles scored once with the man advantage in Thursday’s game against the Rangers, they finished the month 5-for-46 (10.9 percent) on the power play, a huge drop after going 12-for-42 (28.6 percent).
Were it not for their three games against the Rangers in November, it could have been worse. The Isles scored one power-play goal in each of their three games against the Rangers — and just two against everyone else.
Two-man disadvantage -- As good as the Detroit Red Wings have been — they’re tops in the Western Conference — they’d be even better if they could avoid giving the opposition two-man advantages. The Wings have allowed just 12 goals in 109 chances when killing a 5-on-4 disadvantage, but have surrendered a league-high seven goals in 16 chances when the opposition is playing 5-on-3. Detroit has allowed as many goals playing 3-on-5 as the San Jose Sharks have surrendered playing 4-on-5.
Wizard of Oz -- The Tampa Bay Lightning must be happy the Red Wings and goalie Chris Osgood are in the Western Conference. Osgood was in goal Thursday night when the Wings knocked off the Lightning, 4-2, at Joe Louis Arena, improving Osgood’s career record against the Lightning to 16-0. It’s by far the best record of any current NHL goaltender against another team.