NHL.com goes Behind the Numbers to identify key statistics for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Under the Return to Play Plan, 24 teams will compete for the Stanley Cup -- 12 in the Eastern Conference, 12 in the Western Conference. Dates and the two hub cities have not been announced. The top four teams in each conference will play a round-robin in the Qualifiers to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Today, a look at the teams in the Eastern Conference who will benefit the most from having those who were injured before the pause available to play.
The Penguins were fifth in points percentage (.623) in the Eastern Conference despite having various injuries to forwards Sidney Crosby (core muscle), Evgeni Malkin (lower body), Patric Hornqvist (lower body), Bryan Rust (hand), Nick Bjugstad (back) and Jake Guentzel (shoulder), and defensemen Kris Letang (lower body), John Marino (broken cheek), Justin Schultz (lower body) and Brian Dumolin (ankle).
Guentzel hasn't played since Dec. 30 and had shoulder surgery the next day, but he said he's hopeful to be ready to play against the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers whenever it gets underway. Guentzel was leading the Penguins with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games when he was injured. With Guentzel in the lineup, the Penguins ranked seventh in goals per game (3.44) but without him fell to 17th (2.97). They also saw a decline in shot attempts differential from plus-169, which was eighth in the League with Guentzel, compared to minus-54 (20th) without him.
Though Crosby and Malkin are known as the top producers for the Penguins, Guentzel has emerged as one of their most valuable forwards and could significantly help their 5-on-5 play and scoring.
Dougie Hamilton didn't play after he broke his left fibula Jan. 16, but the Hurricanes finished sixth in the East in points percentage (.596). At the time of his injury, Hamilton was fourth among NHL defensemen with 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games behind John Carlson of the Washington Capitals (58 points), Roman Josi (47 points) of the Nashville Predators and Victor Hedman (41 points) of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hamilton was also tied for second among defensemen in goals (14) with Josi, behind Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets (15).
Hamilton was second in SAT (plus-243) behind Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore (plus-243); for scope, the Hurricanes led the League in SAT (plus-424) up until Jan. 16, but without Hamilton they were plus-89, which was sixth in the NHL. Carolina's 5-on-5 save percentage (.903) after Hamilton was injured was last in the League. Prior to his injury, the Hurricanes had a 5-on-5 save percentage of .917, which was tied for 17th with the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens.
Getting Hamilton back should increase offensive production, but it could also provide a spark for Hurricanes goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. With Hamilton healthy, Reimer was 10-6-0 with a .917 save percentage, including a .927 even-strength save percentage; after the injury, Reimer was 7-4-2 with a .908 save percentage and his even-strength save percentage was .907. Mrazek was 17-12-2 with a .904 save percentage, including a .912 save percentage at even strength; without Hamilton, he went 4-4-0 with a .907 save percentage and a .910 save percentage at even strength.
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Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets had numerous injuries during the regular season, including goalie Joonas Korpisalo (knee surgery), forwards Cam Atkinson (ankle) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (ankle), and defensemen Seth Jones (foot) and Werenski (shoulder). But rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins emerged as a viable option, and scoring depth was provided from forwards Gustav Nyquist, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Nick Foligno to keep Columbus afloat.
Jones' injury proved to be more significant; the Blue Jackets had the sixth-most points (69; .616 points percentage) in the NHL through 56 games before winning three of their final 15 games without Jones, the fewest of any team over that stretch. Columbus led the League in 5-on-5 save percentage (93.5) with Jones in the lineup, but saw it fall to 90.3 percent, which was tied for 28th in the League with the Penguins, without him. The penalty kill also fell from ninth in the League (82.9 percent) to 22nd (76 percent) after Jones was injured. Jones led the Blue Jackets in shorthanded (2:25) and even-strength time on ice per game (20:17), which suggests there is a direct correlation to team success when he is healthy.