Before the Anaheim Ducks blasted the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night, they had played 48 games this season, which is obviously the same number as the entirety of the 2012-13 campaign.
Anaheim was 30-12-6 last season, good for third in the NHL standings. The Ducks were nine points better through 48 games this season and are setting the pace in the League, six points clear of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Are the Ducks better this season, or better yet, why are they better?
The goaltending has been almost identical. Anaheim's save percentage was .9169 in 2012-13 and it is at .9148 this season. Jonas Hiller had a .913 save percentage last season and is at .914 in 2013-14.
Anaheim was fourth in the League on the power play last year, but is No. 15 this season and that's after a 6-for-11 night against the Canucks. The penalty kill is almost the same (81.5 percent vs. 81.2 percent).
The Ducks are averaging nearly two-thirds of a goal more than last season, and improvement at even strength has been the biggest difference. They are a slightly better possession team to this point.
They are tied for ninth in the League in Fenwick for percentage (51.0 percent) at even strength, which accounts for all shots on goal and missed shots. Last season, the Ducks were No. 20 in that category at 48.5 percent.
What, or who, is different? Check out the table to see the biggest reasons for the improvement.
|Key: ES TOI = time on ice at even strength; FF% = Fenwick for percentage
Anaheim has replaced Bobby Ryan by committee, and the team's improved depth at forward is evident here. So too is Cam Fowler's breakout campaign, both in better possession and increased usage. The two kids on defense, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, are also not hurting the cause.
The Ducks are second in the League in PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage), and easily first when the score is tied or within a goal. That helps explain the team's 16-2-1 record in one-goal games ending in regulation or overtime. Anaheim had a very high PDO last season during its great start, then it regressed, as did the team's record, at the end of the campaign (the Ducks finished 8-9-2).
There will almost certainly be some regression between now and April, but the Ducks are by no means a complete fluke. They are a very good team, and they are better than the 2012-13 edition.
The difference between the top three teams in Super 16 this week is minimal. Ranking them 1A, 1B and 1C would be more accurate.
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. St. Louis Blues (32-8-5) LW: 2
Brian Elliott has allowed 11 goals in his past eight appearances, earning some extra work when Jaroslav Halak was unavailable. Elliott has great numbers this season (.925 save percentage, 1.86 goals-against average). Halak has been great in his two outings since returning, stopping 53 of 54 shots.
Have they done enough to keep general manager Doug Armstrong from adding another goaltender before the NHL Trade Deadline? This is the deepest team in the League, but Chicago has more star power and any of the Ducks, Los Angeles Kings or San Jose Sharks might have better goaltending.
MUST READ: Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has five reasons the 2013-14 edition of the Blues are better.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (30-8-11) LW: 1
The middle number of the records for each of these top three teams is the same. The Blues, Blackhawks and Ducks have all lost eight times in regulation. The number on the right of Chicago's record looks like an outlier, because it is. Chicago has lost more games in overtime or shootout this season than any other team in the League, They have six more post-regulation losses than the Ducks and that is the difference in the standings between the two teams.
Fun fact: There are 10 players on the ice for overtime during the regular season, and two for the shootout, neither of which will happen during the Stanley Cup Playoffs (unless both teams take a penalty, of course). Chicago went 5-2 in overtime games during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blackhawks are great by any measure when there are 12 players on the ice. Anyone who downgrades them for their post-regulation performance in regular season does so at their own peril.
MUST READ: Tyler Dellow wrote about Duncan Keith, how advanced statistics might not be accurately detailing his value and did some tinkering.
3. Anaheim Ducks (36-8-5) LW: 3
The Ducks have won 18 of 19 games, including impressive decisions against the Canucks, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings. Four of the eight losses came on one East Coast road trip. The Sharks are the only team to have beaten them in regulation since Thanksgiving. In short, they are on some kind of roll right now.
MUST READ: Jonas Hiller is having quite a contract year, writes Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-12-2) LW: 5
The largest margin of victory for a division championship in the No Ties Era (since 1999-00) is 38 points, set by the Washington Capitals in 2009-10. That Washington team clinched the division on March 12, with 14 games left on its schedule.
Pittsburgh is not likely to claim the inaugural Metropolitan Division crown by that large of a margin, but the second-biggest disparity (the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Southeast by 28 points in 2003-04) could be in play. The rest of the Metro has been better of late, but the Penguins are getting healthier and have a relatively light schedule between now and the Olympic break.
MUST READ: Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review writes that Beau Bennett's recovery from a wrist injury could have a big impact on how Ray Shero shops at the trade deadline.
5. Los Angeles Kings (28-14-5) LW: 4
Jonathan Bernier was a well-decorated prospect who rarely had a chance to prove his abilities at the NHL level. The Kings traded him for Ben Scrivens, a cheaper backup to Jonathan Quick, and added Matt Frattin and a second-round pick. Then, general manager Dean Lombardi flipped Scrivens for a third-round pick Wednesday, which allowed Martin Jones to return to the team.
One of the greatest tasks for the GM of a consistent Cup contender is to find creative ways to continue restocking the organizational depth, and going from Bernier to Jones while adding a pair of high picks and a low-cost role player is a pretty nice example.
MUST READ: The Kings are a better team with Tyler Toffoli, scoring slump or not, writes Robert Paredez of Jewels from the Crown.
6. San Jose Sharks (29-12-6) LW: 6
The Sharks are short key bodies up front, and the Ducks are starting to run away with the Pacific Division. San Jose is not in danger of falling closer to wild-card territory in part because of the team's recent shootout prowess. Anaheim has gone 11-1 since Dec. 21, needing overtime twice but winning nine times in regulation.
San Jose has collected three regulation wins in that span, but has a tidy 5-0 mark in the one-on-one format. Of course, the only way to avoid playing one of the four teams listed above them on this list is to win the division, which seems rather unlikely at this juncture.
MUST READ: San Jose leads the League in penalty differential, and Derek Tanabe of Fear The Fin looks into who is the cause.
7. Boston Bruins (29-15-2) LW: 7
The Bruins have always been a strong possession team during their recent run among the NHL's elite, and this season is no different ... except they are not always getting rewarded for it.
Possession stats can get out of whack when one team opens a significant lead. The trailing team is going to press for more offense, and the leading team is likely content to sit back and protect the lead. For that reason, paring down the data to Corsi or Fenwick Close, meaning the game is tied or within a goal, can help deduce who carried the play when the score was not affecting strategy or desire to produce more offense.
Boston has produced a Fenwick for percentage when the score is close of 60 percent or better 15 times this season. The Bruins have managed to win only eight of those contests. Check out the chart below, which shows the top eight teams in the Super 16 and their records when amassing an FF% Close of 60 percent or better at even strength.
One of those top eight teams has clearly deserved a better fate to this point.
MUST READ: The Bruins are scuffling, but Claude Julien is not concerned, writes Joe Haggerty of CSN New England.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (28-15-4) LW: 9
The Lightning have actually only won five of 10 games since reeling off five straight victories before the holiday break. None of the other top teams in the Atlantic are having any consistent success either. They've gained three points on the Bruins in that span and caught Boston (though the Bruins have a game in hand) with a victory at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
MUST READ: Jonathan Drouin leads the list of top 50 NHL prospects from Corey Pronman of ESPN.com.
9. Colorado Avalanche (29-12-5) LW: 10
The Avalanche have gone 6-1-1 to snap out of a long stretch of inconsistency. Their possession numbers aren't any better, but goaltender Semyon Varlamov has looked more like the guy from the first month of the season. It is pretty simple with the Avalanche: when Varlamov plays like an elite goalie, Colorado wins a lot of games. When he's just a good goalie, then the Avalanche look more like a playoff bubble team.
MUST READ: It is Colorado's turn to deal with a rash of injuries, writes Terry Frei of the Denver Post.
10. Vancouver Canucks (24-14-9) LW: 7
The Canucks racked up 69 penalty minutes against the Kings in a 1-0 loss and said afterward sticking up for each other was more important than the two points. The next game the Canucks racked up 77 penalty minutes and allowed nine goals for the first time in nearly 10 years. The Canucks are a pretty good but not great team, and they are certainly better at collecting points in the standings when they focus on their strengths.
MUST READ: Thomas Drance of Canucks Army dives deep looking for answers with Vancouver's struggling power play.
11. Minnesota Wild (25-15-9) LW: 15
The Wild have finally gotten better goaltending from someone not named Josh Harding and have won five of seven. They are far from safe in the Western Conference, and are about to face a tough six-game stretch against top-10 West teams. Four of those contests are on the road, and Minnesota has the worst record away from home of any of the top-10 sides in the conference.
MUST READ: Dany Heatley has helped Charlie Coyle find his game, writes Chad Graff of the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
12. Detroit Red Wings (20-16-10) LW: 15
Since losing at Michigan Stadium to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Red Wings are 2-1-1, all on the road, with a victory at Staples Center and a tough 1-0 loss at Honda Center. Should that be enough to move up three spots in someone's power rankings? Nope. Detroit's upside, though, is higher than the three teams which follow on this list -- if the Wings can ever field close to their full roster.
MUST READ: Dan Rosen talked to Mike Babcock about the guys from Grand Rapids who are helping keep the wounded Wings afloat.
13. Montreal Canadiens (26-16-5) LW: 12
The Canadiens are 7-7-2 since a five-game winning streak in early December. Only three of victories have come in regulation. Carey Price's save percentage by month is as follows: .939 in October, .934 in November, .916 in December, .901 to this point in January. He's far from the one who should shoulder the most blame, but that is a reflection of the team's play and a troubling trend.
MUST READ: Andrew Berkshire of Eyes On The Prize digs into the issues at hand for the Canadiens.
14. Dallas Stars (21-18-7) LW: 13
The Stars were scratching and clawing, taking one step forward and one back to try to stay with the other teams near the bottom of the top eight in the West. Then a six-game losing streak, all regulation defeats, happened. They're six points out and still have three games in hand. Of the top eight teams in the West, only Chicago has yielded no more than 118 goals. Dallas has conceded 137.
MUST READ: Tal Pinchevsky writes about Valeri Nichushkin settling in with the Stars and earning a spot on the Russian Olympic team.
15. Phoenix Coyotes (21-16-9) LW: 11
The Coyotes have lost 12 of their past 15 games. The reality is, if Pekka Rinne in Nashville and Stephane Robidas in Dallas were both healthy, Phoenix would likely be in 11th place instead of ninth in the West. If Paul Maurice turns the Winnipeg Jets around quickly, that could mean more competition for the final two playoff spots.
MUST READ: Carl Putnam of Five For Howling writes this current Coyotes' slide should not be a surprise.
16. Ottawa Senators (21-18-8) LW: NR
The Red Wings can't stay healthy, the Canadiens and Maple Leafs can't keep the puck out of their own end and don't look now, but here come the Senators ... maybe. Ottawa was 15-18-7 after getting crushed by the Bruins in the first game back from the holiday break, but the Senators defeated Boston the next day and have now won six of seven. They are three points behind the Leafs with two games in hand. They still give up too many shots on goal, but that hardly makes them an abnormality in this division.
MUST READ: General manager Bryan Murray did not the fact that he'd like to bolster the roster for a playoff run, writes Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press.