The Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks both played game No. 34 of the season Wednesday night, and both teams continue to help set the pace near the top of the Western Conference and NHL standings.
By doing so, they were the first teams to reach 82 regular-season games played since the start of the 2012-13 campaign. Much of what was written last season came with the caveats about a shortened season and small sample sizes.
The 82-game benchmark is a good place to stop and admire the dominance of the Blackhawks, while trying to decipher if the 2013-14 Ducks are more like the team from the first half of last season or the one from the second half.
Chicago has now collected 128 points in its 82 regular-season games since the start of 2012-13. Only three teams in NHL history have secured more than 128 points in a full season -- the 1976-77 and 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens and the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (NOTE: those teams from the 1970s Montreal dynasty only played 80 regular-season games).
Certainly the advent of the shootout and the point gained for losing after regulation has helped inflate the Blackhawks' total, but teams in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s also had recent expansion teams to beat up on and no salary cap restrictions.
The Blackhawks could do something few franchises have been able to accomplish: finish first in the NHL standings and win the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons. No one has done it since the 1980-81 and 1981-82 New York Islanders.
|*Projected for an 82-game season
The table to the right has the list of franchises that have been able to do it. Chicago has the chance to join some select company.
As for the Ducks, they will be an intriguing team to watch. Last season, they raced to an amazing start trumped only by the Blackhawks, but while doing so several advanced statistics said they were due for a regression. It came near the end of the season (an 8-9-2 finish and then a first-round loss in the Stanley Cup Playoffs).
The numbers aren't quite as out of whack as they were around this point last season, but the Ducks do lead the League in shooting percentage and PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) at even strength when the score is close. Anaheim's Corsi and Fenwick percentage in those situations is middle of the pack, though the Ducks are seventh in shots on goal percentage.
How much will they regress, though? Combine last season and this one, and the Ducks have an impressive 115 points. They also have a very similar shooting percentage and save percentage in all situations.
The table below compares last season to this one for the Ducks. Their possession stats have improved slightly in 2013-14, and it is possible the returns of players like Francois Beauchemin, Jakob Silfverberg and eventually Sheldon Souray could help bolster them even more.
|Key: GF/game = goals per game, GA/game = goals against per game, SH% = shooting percentage, Sv% = save percantage, CF% = Corsi for percantage, CFclose% = Corsi for close (tied or within one goal) percentage, Pts pace = Points projected over an 82-game season
The Blackhawks have clearly been a dominant team. The Ducks continue to pile up points like one, and by the end of the season it might be hard to dispute it.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings, and will likely take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, the statistics and team records are through the games on Wednesday night.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (23-6-5) LW: 2
The Blackhawks responded to a three-game losing streak by scoring 19 goals in the next three contests. They've scored at least six on six occasions this season. Antti Raanta might just be the next great Finnish goaltender. If so, that's not fair.
MUST READ: The biggest flaw to this point for the Blackhawks has been the penalty kill, but there could be hope, writes Brian Hedger.
2. St. Louis Blues (20-6-3) LW: 4
The Blues went 0-fer in three recent games against the California teams, but in the past nine contests have also blasted the Dallas Stars, handled the Colorado Avalanche twice with ease, and defeated the Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins. They also have five games in hand on Chicago and Anaheim, and are second in the League in points percentage and goal differential.
MUST READ: Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail writes about how Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester have learned to share the puck while becoming one of the top defense pairs in the League.
3. Los Angeles Kings (21-7-4) LW: 3
Jonathan Quick, in the discussion for best goaltender on the planet, has not played since Nov. 12. Since that point, the Kings are 10-1-3. Ben Scrivens leads the League in save percentage, and can't get a game right now because Martin Jones has allowed three goals in four NHL starts. They dominate possession or their goalies make a lot of saves, or both. That's a formula for success.
MUST READ: Robert Paredez of Jewels From The Crown makes the case for Tyler Toffoli deserving more ice time with better linemates,
4. Anaheim Ducks (22-7-5) LW: 7
The Ducks just keep winning. Players are missing, the secondary scoring comes and goes and like the Kings it doesn't seem to matter who is in the net. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are having awesome seasons, and Dustin Penner is playing the Justin Williams role (puck possession fiend) on the top line quite well.
MUST READ: The Ducks played a critical role in starting a high-school hockey league in Southern California, and a couple of Teemu Selanne's kids helped one of the programs win a national title last season, writes Tal Pinchevsky.
5. San Jose Sharks (19-6-6) LW: 1
In case people haven't been paying attention, the NHL this season has basically become like high school sports in this country … lots of great players/teams in California. The Sharks have had trouble holding onto leads of late, and four straight losses have included two come-from-ahead defeats. They've outshot the past two teams by a combined 86-41 margin, including 42-18 when the score is close at even strength. They'll be fine.
MUST READ: The Sharks are really good at pressuring the puck handler in the neutral zone, writes JP Nikota of Pension Plan Puppets.
6. Boston Bruins (21-8-2) LW: 6
If the Eastern Conference's performance this season wasn't murky enough, now both the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have some serious injury issues to deal with (some in part that was inflicted on each other, obviously). Losing Loui Eriksson for an extended period of time could be a serious blow to Boston's chances of winning the Atlantic Division or the top seed in the East.
MUST READ: George Johnson of the Calgary Herald writes about Jarome Iginla's return to the Red Mile.
7. Phoenix Coyotes (17-8-5) LW: 9
If the season ended Wednesday, the Coyotes would not be in the playoffs. That's misleading though, because they had three games in hand on the Vancouver Canucks and Wild while sitting only two points behind both. They still need to be better defensively, and it says here that Dave Tippett will eventually get through to them on that front.
MUST READ: Outdoor hockey at Chase Field? Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic writes the new Coyotes' ownership group would like to make it so. Important question: Will the Diamondbacks be OK with the winning team celebrating in the pool?
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-10-1) LW: 8
The Penguins have been lauded for their young depth on defense for the past two seasons. Well, that depth is finally coming in handy with three of the team's top four defensemen out with injuries. If guys like Olli Maatta and Simon Despres continue to play well, the Penguins will continue their march to the first Metropolitan Division title.
MUST READ: Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes about the dietary habits of Brooks Orpik, who would like to remind all of us who ate heaping bowls of pasta before games in our youth that we were doing it wrong.
9. Colorado Avalanche (20-9-0) LW: 5
The Avalanche have now lost seven of their past 13 contests after an amazing 14-2-0 start. They also only have three regulation victories in that span, and are still first in the League in PDO at even strength (tied for first with Anaheim when the score is close). Semyon Varlamov's save percentage was .936 during the 14-2-0 start and is at .904 since.
MUST READ: The Avalanche could use some help on the blue line, but Adrian Dater of the Denver Post cautions against sacrificing too much future value to do so.
10. Minnesota Wild (18-10-5) LW: 10
The Wild have collected 28 points at home, which is tops in the Western Conference. Conversely, their 13 points away from home is tied with the Calgary Flames for last. Minnesota started a stretch of seven of eight games away from Xcel Energy Center with a 2-1 loss in Anaheim. Obviously the Wild are going to need to be a little better on the road to keep pace in the West.
MUST READ: Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey writes about why Corsi matters much more when the game is close than the overall numbers. From his charts, it is easy to see, for instance, that the Wild will likely have more success when winning the Corsi percentage battle when games are tied or within a goal moving forward and less likely to have as much success as they've had to this point when they don't (and the team above them on this list still has more regressing to come).
11. Vancouver Canucks (18-10-5) LW: 12
Just when it looked like the Canucks might be slipping into a problematic hole, Vancouver has won five straight and moved into the top eight in the West. The Canucks are not in the clear just yet, though. Ten of the next 16 games are against teams ahead of them on this list.
MUST READ: James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail investigates why Canada is no longer the premiere country for producing goaltenders.
12. Montreal Canadiens (19-10-3) LW: 11
The Canadiens went 11-1-2 in a span of a month, with the one regulation loss being a 1-0 defeat. Then they got steamrolled by the Kings. Max Pacioretty is doing a nice job of making his case for the United States Olympic team with nine goals in his past 11 games.
MUST READ: Chris Boyle of Sporstnet.ca writes about what is driving the improvement in Carey Price's game.
13. Detroit Red Wings (15-9-8) LW: 13
The Red Wings recently played a game without their top three centers. One of those guys, Stephen Weiss, hasn't been nearly good enough to this point. Goalie Jimmy Howard has struggled as well. And yet Detroit continues to hang around, and for all the struggles and injuries, the Red Wings could be two good weeks from the top spot in the division.
MUST READ: Gregg Krupa of the Detroit News writes about the constantly changing lineup for Mike Babcock because of the injuries.
14. Washington Capitals (17-12-2) LW: NR
Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos are often linked because they are the two best goal scorers in the NHL. They're also both known for scoring a specific type of goal from specific places on the ice during the power play.
Everyone in the building knows the Capitals are going to try to feed Ovechkin from their 1-3-1 alignment with the extra man, but as they proved Tuesday night against Tampa Bay it is still incredibly effective. Why? Though the Capitals often look pretty stationary in Adam Oates' PP system, they are able to move the puck around well and have gifted passers who can find Ovechkin.
He has a League-leading 11 power-play goals this season, and 27 in the past two years combined -- 10 more than the next-best guy (Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz).
Let's take a look at some of Ovechkin's power-play goals. The primary assist isn't always coming from the same place.
Ovechkin is going to set up somewhere on the left side of the ice. He and Stamkos are great at finding the soft spot against traditional PK defenses, and that means shifting around to await the pass.
Here's a good example of him sliding down to the faceoff dot for a one-timer against the Columbus Blue Jackets:
The Blue Jackets are giving him far too much space, but the other part of the equation on this play is always the pass. Mike Green, and when he's filling in, John Carlson, have both developed chemistry with Ovechkin and are adept at putting this cross-ice pass in place where Ovechkin can load up and let it rip. Carlson's ability to use the heel of his stick to one-touch the puck over to Ovechkin is particularly pretty when it works.
Here's an example of how the guy in the middle can impact the play against the Dallas Stars. Marcus Johansson was looking for Troy Brouwer in the slot, and while that didn't work the quick puck movement left the Dallas PK box a mess.
Ovechkin's other go-to scoring strike is off faceoffs, whether at even strength or on the power play. Here's one recently against the Nashville Predators:
Backstrom not only wins the faceoff, but effectively shields center Mike Fisher from being able to place any pressure on Ovechkin's shot. Go back and watch Eric Nystrom on the play. He immediately races toward the far point, because that's what the wing in that situation is supposed to do.
Teams need to adjust in that situation when Ovechkin is involved. Much like in basketball where rotating defenses have to worry about the ball first, the wing in Nystrom's spot should skate toward Ovechkin and let the center (Fisher, in this case) deal with the far point.
Here's Ovechkin's second goal of four from Tuesday night, and a fun wrinkle when the guy in charge of Ovechkin's area gets caught napping. Last season when Backstrom was down along the goal line and Mike Ribeiro was in his current spot, the Swedish center often looked for his buddy on the back door play.
Look at B.J. Crombeen's head. He's already beaten and he doesn't know it.
Here's another example of the back-door play, and this time Backstrom does set it up after he and Johansson switched places.
Ovechkin's not in the picture, but look at the eyes of the four penalty killers for the Wild. That's not going to end well.
Teams have tried shadowing Ovechkin on the power play, and a few have had success. The Lightning were trying to, but needed to commit more fully to it.
There are two options. Either have a guy shadow Ovechkin's every move and let the others play 4-on-3, or be very aggressive on Backstrom/Johansson/Green. To make another basketball analogy, sometimes the best way to prevent a pass into the post is to pressure the heck out of the guy trying to make it.
Teams that try to take a conventional approach with Ovechkin are asking to get burned.
MUST READ: Jonathan Willis of Bleacher Report writes about Ovechkin's surge and whether or not he can sustain it.
15. Dallas Stars (14-10-5) LW: 14
Shootout and overtime losses are just missed opportunities at this point for the Stars, who are seven points shy of a playoff berth. Rookie Valeri Nichushkin has 13 points in his past 16 games and is steadily playing his way into the Calder Trophy discussion, though Dallas is likely to sink or swim based on how they cope without a pair of key defensemen (Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley) for an extended period of time.
MUST READ: After a slow start to the season, Alex Goligoski has made some improvements at a critical time, writes Derek Neumeier of Defending Big D.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (17-10-3) LW: 15
The Lightning have dropped eight of 13 since Stamkos was lost to a broken leg, and they are 1-2-1 since the beginning of a prolonged soft spot in the schedule. They dominated the Capitals at even strength, but they put on a clinic of how not to handle Ovechkin on the power play Tuesday night.
MUST READ: Top prospect Jonathan Drouin is currently out with a concussion thanks to a hit from possible future Tampa Bay teammate Adam Erne. Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune writes about the relationship between the two players moving forward.