NHL.com goes behind the numbers each week to use underlying statistics to look at trends in the game. This week, we examine the early-season success of Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson and Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton to determine if the numbers they are putting up are sustainable.
John Carlson leads the NHL with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 11 games. His average of 4.26 points per 60 minutes leads NHL defensemen and is second behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (4.75) among skaters to play a minimum of 10 games.
Carlson's points-per-60 metric is even more impressive considering he leads the NHL with 25:37 in average ice time per game (minimum 10 games) because the more minutes a player is on the ice, the more difficult it is to sustain per-60 production.
Though Carlson's high usage should lead to continued production, it's unlikely he can sustain his current points-per-game pace (1.82) because his shooting percentage is 21.7 percent, more than three times higher than his NHL career average (6.1). He's on pace for 37 goals in an 82-game season, but if his shooting percentage reverts closer to his NHL career average and he continues to average 2.09 shots per game, he'll likely score nine more goals, giving him 14 for the season. His NHL career-high is 15 goals in 2017-18.
Video: WSH@CGY: Carlson pots empty-netter for second goal
Carlson is on pace for 111 assists in 82 games, which would be the most in a season by an NHL player since Wayne Gretzky had 122 with the Los Angeles Kings in 1990-91. Carlson is tied with Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl for the NHL lead with nine primary assists this season. He is on pace for 67 primary assists, which would be nine more than McDavid had last season. It would be a stretch to predict a defenseman leading the NHL in primary assists, but because Carlson had 35 last season, it's plausible he will at least surpass Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, who led NHL defensemen last season with 39. It also doesn't hurt his case that he's the point man on the Capitals top power play, feeding one-timer passes to left wing Alex Ovechkin.
Carlson, who led the Capitals with 33 power-play points (three goals, 30 assists) last season when they had the 12th-best man-advantage in the NHL (20.8 percent), has six this season, putting him on pace to finish with 44; Washington is tied for eighth with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vegas Golden Knights on the power play (25.0 percent). To put that in perspective, consider that Burns led NHL defensemen with 83 points (16 goals, 67 assists) in 82 games last season but had 28 on the power play.
So although Carlson likely won't have Gretzky-like numbers this season, it's realistic to expect him to finish with at least 14 goals, 40 primary assists and 70 total assists and end up with close to 85 points, which would top his NHL career high of 70 set in 2018-19.
Carter Hutton is 6-0-0 with a .943 save percentage and two shutouts in six games. His save percentage is second-best among goalies to play at least six games, behind Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes (.944), and his two shutouts lead the NHL. Hutton was 12-6-1 with a .920 save percentage through his first 19 games last season, but Buffalo's defensemen are much different with the additions of Henri Jokiharju, Colin Miller and Brandon Montour, who is out with a hand injury. Jokiharju has the second-best SAT (plus-12) among Sabres defensemen behind Marco Scandella (plus-27).
The Sabres are 24th with a minus-23 SAT. Though there isn't a direct correlation between SAT and save percentage, it will be harder for Hutton to maintain a save percentage above .940 if Buffalo has a negative SAT. He has a save percentage of .914 for his NHL career.
The Sabres have the second-highest 5-on-5 save percentage in the NHL (.959) behind the Coyotes (.966). Hutton's .951 save percentage at even strength is second-best behind Pekka Rinne (.955) of the Nashville Predators, and jis goals-against average (1.65) is the lowest among goalies to play a minimum of six games. Hutton's win total also has been padded by the Sabres' 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 9.5, which is fifth in the NHL; they were tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for 27th last season (7.2). Their goal support is helping Hutton earn wins compared to last season, when they were tied with the New York Rangers for 23rd in goals (221), compared to fourth this season (37).
Buffalo ranks second in the NHL in shooting plus save percentage at 1054, behind the Colorado Avalanche (1059). Nine of the top 10 teams in that category made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. That bodes well as long as the Sabres' 5-on-5 play improves. It's realistic to project Hutton, who had 18 wins in 50 games last season, reaching 30 wins for the first time this season.
Video: BUF@LAK: Hutton stops 47, extends shutout streak