NHL.com goes behind the numbers to examine the top five Stanley Cup Contenders in each conference. Statistics from last season were examined to see where teams can improve, and analyze what they can maintain for this season.
[RELATED: Pacioretty poised for better season with Vegas | Karlsson, Tavares among prominent players in new places | Maple Leafs' strong power play makes them one of favorites in East]
San Jose Sharks
Improve: The Sharks finished 13th in the NHL in goals scored last season with 247, and although it was their highest total since they had 257 in 2009-10, each team that made the conference finals (Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets) finished in the top nine. San Jose addressed that by acquiring defenseman Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 13. Over the past three seasons, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns (218 points in 246 games) and Karlsson (215 in 230 games) rank first and second, respectively, in scoring among NHL defensemen. The last defenseman teammates to score at least 70 points in a single season were Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov with the New York Rangers in 1993-94 (won Stanley Cup).
Maintain: The Sharks allowed the fewest power-play goals (34) last season and finished second in the NHL with an 84.8 penalty kill percentage, behind the Los Angeles Kings (85.0). A big reason for their shorthanded success was goaltender Martin Jones, who allowed 21 power-play goals, the fewest among NHL goaltenders with a minimum 50 games played.
Video: Sharks going all in for 2018-19 season
Improve: The Predators led the NHL with 372 penalties and 11:19 penalty minutes per game, were 24th in penalty kill percentage at home (79.2 percent), and tied for the sixth most goals allowed 4-on-5 (52) with the Ottawa Senators. The Predators can address this by giving more starts to backup goaltender Juuse Saros, who had a higher save percentage shorthanded (.903) than No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne (.868). Saros led the NHL with a .935 save percentage and was fourth with a 2.19 goals-against average from Nov. 4 through the end of the regular season (minimum 20 games played).
Maintain: The Predators allowed 120 goals at 5-on-5 last season, fewest in the NHL. Part of Nashville's ability to control play at even strength was finishing second in defensive zone (54.3) and neutral zone (54.0) face-off percentage.
Improve: Jets forward Mark Scheifele was second in the NHL in goals per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (.82; 14 goals in 17 games) behind Jake Guentzel of the Pittsburgh Penguins (.83; 10 in 12) with a minimum 10 games played. Scheifele scored three of the Jets' 10 goals against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final, and was the only Winnipeg skater with double-digit goals in the postseason; Paul Stastny, who signed with the Golden Knights on July 1, was second with six. Jack Roslovic, who had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 31 NHL games and was better than a point per game player (1.09) with Manitoba of the American Hockey League last season, could be relied upon to fill in for Stastny on the second line with Patrik Laine.
Maintain: The Jets had the best home record (32-7-2) in the NHL last season and were fifth with a .611 win percentage in one goal games (22-4-10). Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who had the best home record in the NHL (30-5-2), will be leaned on in a similar fashion after Winnipeg didn't sign either of their backups from last season (Michael Hutchinson, Steve Mason).
Video: EDM@WPG: Wheeler sets up Scheifele for PPG
Vegas Golden Knights
Improve: It's difficult to address areas where the Golden Knights can improve, considering they won the Western Conference in their inaugural season, but one area that can be improved is on the power play. Vegas was one of four teams (Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues) in the NHL that didn't have a skater reach at least 20 power-play points during the regular season, and their playoff power-play percentage (18.5) was the lowest among teams that advanced past the first round. Defenseman Colin Miller and forward Alex Tuch tied for the Golden Knights lead with three power-play goals in 20 playoff games, while their top line of Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith combined for four.
Maintain: Vegas acquired left wing Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 10, adding to a forward group that was third in NHL with 207 even-strength goals last season, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (215) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (210). Karlsson, who scored 43 goals, tied for the best shooting percentage in the League (23.4) with Alexander Kerfoot of the Colorado Avalanche (minimum 50 games played). Any regression that Karlsson might see in shooting percentage or goals now has a safety net with the addition of Pacioretty, who is tied with Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars for third among left wings in even-strength goals (112) over the past five seasons, behind Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins (118) and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (134), and has 55 power-play goals since he entered the NHL in 2008-09.
Video: Where do Pacioretty and Murray fit in fantasy hockey?
Los Angeles Kings
Improve: The Los Angeles Kings were swept by the Golden Knights in the Western Conference First Round, with all four losses coming by one goal. During the regular season, the Kings lost 11 one-goal games, and only the Pittsburgh Penguins lost more (12) and still qualified for the playoffs. Forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who signed on July 1 after spending the past five seasons with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League, should help change that. Kovalchuk led the NHL with 417 goals and was tied for fourth with 60 game-winning goals from 2001-02 through 2012-13.
Maintain: The Kings finished with the best penalty kill in the NHL last season (85.0 percent), a number that may be hard to repeat with the improvements within the Pacific Division (Karlsson acquired by Sharks, Pacioretty by Golden Knights). However, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick ranks fifth in the NHL in shorthanded save percentage (.883) among NHL goalies over the past eight seasons.
Video: Kovalchuk slips through the Vegas defense and scores