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Super 16: Hope is not lost in Philadelphia

by Corey Masisak

Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux said something Monday that was sure to generate attention.

"… we will make the playoffs," Giroux said. There was more at the beginning of the quote, about not being far off and taking it game-by-game, but those last five words were what stood out.

Giroux's team has lost seven of eight games to start the season and has scored a total of 11 goals. That equates to the worst start in franchise history and one of the worst starts in the NHL in the past 40 years.

So Giroux was joking, yes? Vincent Lecavalier went home and wrote in his diary, "Claude had a very funny joke today," right?

The Flyers captain was not joking. And as bleak as it appears for Philadelphia, his proclamation isn't quite as crazy as it seems on the surface.

Super16 4 Slow Starters

Team, year Points Playoffs?
Detroit, '75-76 62 No
St. Louis, '77-78 53 No
Washington, '94-95 52* Yes
Chicago, '97-98 73 No
Boston, '99-00 73 No
Columbus, '00-01 71 No
Florida, '00-01 66 No
Anaheim, '03-04 76 No
N.Y. Rangers, '07-08 97 Yes
Nashville, '09-10 100 Yes
Philadelphia, '13-14 ??? ???
* 48-game season

Without an easy way to track this based purely on record, let's use the Flyers' inept offense to find the worst starts of the past four decades.

Only one other team since 1970-71 has scored 11 goals or fewer in its first eight games (the Chicago Blackhawks in 1997-98), though the Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres did it this season. Ten teams have scored 13 or fewer in their first eight games since the 1973-74 season, and three of those clubs rallied to make the playoffs (see table on right).

The Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators actually fixed the offensive problems, finishing in the middle of the pack in goals for. The Rangers improved a little, finishing tied for 23rd, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made it stand up.

Those Rangers and Predators teams had something in common -- they turned it around in a hurry. New York won 10 of the next 12 games after the slow start, while Nashville won nine of 12.

So hope is not lost in Philadelphia, but the Flyers need to start winning, and scoring, soon. They could be set up nicely for such a run. Philadelphia had a full week off to work on the issues, and the eight games following that break include seven against teams that also did not qualify for the Super 16 this week.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is'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 likely will 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, statistics and team records are through the games Wednesday night.

1. San Jose Sharks (8-0-1) | Last week: 1

The Sharks are first in the NHL in goals and goal differential, second in Corsi-for percentage at even strength, third in goals-against, and in the top seven on the power play and the penalty kill. And they didn't sign Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract.

MUST READ: Fear the Fin and Craig Custance of on why the Sharks' fast start in 2013-14 is better than the one from 2012-13.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (6-1-2) | Last week: 2

The Blackhawks are taking the axiom "the NHL is a 3-2 league these days" a little too far. Chicago has played six 3-2 games already this season (though to be fair, four were 2-2 games after 65 minutes). The offense will trend upward soon enough, and if it doesn't, or if injuries become a problem, Chicago is one of the few elite teams that could have lots of cap space near the trade deadline.

MUST READ: Chicago general manager Stan Bowman's father knows a thing or two about repeating, so Tim Wharnsby of talked to him about it.

3. St Louis Blues (5-1-1) | Last week: 3

The Blues want to be where the Blackhawks have been, but emulating their issues with protecting third-period leads wasn't what they had in mind in the final game before a week-long break. If this were the NHL's version of the RPI, the Blues might be ahead of the Blackhawks, but it is not.

MUST READ: The Blues did some team bonding with four days in Charleston, S.C., writes Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Times-Dispatch. Hopefully someone told them about Sticky Bun Sunday at WildFlour Pastry.

4. Boston Bruins (6-2-0) | Last week: 6

The Bruins (and Colorado Avalanche) are the ninth and 10th teams to allow 12 goals or fewer in their first eight games since the 1973-74 season. Seven of the previous eight made the playoffs, with the Calgary Flames in 2001-02 as the lone outlier. The Bruins also managed to do it in 2010-11 and that season worked out pretty well for them.

MUST READ: Jarome Iginla is not a traditionally slow starter and is not playing the opposite of well, writes Erin Cozens for Stanley Cup of Chowder.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (7-2-0) | Last week: 4

The top line is great. The second line, and specifically Evgeni Malkin, misses James Neal. The goaltender has not been a problem. The defense has not been a problem despite Kris Letang's absence, in part because Olli Maatta is great (for a 19-year-old).

MUST READ: Pittsburgh's bottom-six forwards have been a long-standing problem, though getting Neal and Beau Bennett back might ease the issue for this season, Adam Gretz writes for Hockey Prospectus.

MUST SEE: Sidney Crosby, courtesy of Pensburgh and Alex Ovechkin, courtesy of Japers' Rink are ready for a trial with an English Premier League club. Crosby as Mesut Ozil and Ovechkin as Wayne Rooney seem about right, no?

6. Los Angeles Kings (6-4-0) | Last week: 7

Given his performance in the past two postseasons, Jonathan Quick was a slight favorite to be the starting goaltender for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics before this season began. He hasn't had the best start and not just because of that weird goal he let in from Manhattan Beach against the New York Rangers.

Quick has a 2.56 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. That's pretty average and especially un-Quick-like. He's actually fifth in save percentage among the five goalies (not counting 2013 World Junior Championship hero John Gibson) that were at the American Olympic orientation camp.

The Kings' top two centers, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, do not have a goal yet (but have combined for 14 assists). Quick has been OK. And the Kings still are 6-4. Buy low while you can.

MUST READ: Speaking of Quick, Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times writes about his ability to bounce back so far this season.

7. Colorado Avalanche (8-1-0) | Last week: 8

The Avalanche are a great story, with some combination of Patrick Roy and Francois Allaire helping Semyon Varlamov realize his potential and Jean-Sebastien Giguere remember his. They're young, they're exciting and they're winning.

They're also 25th in the League in Corsi-for percentage at even strength (though they are 17th when the score is tied or within one goal) and first in the category teams don't want to be, PDO, which adds the team's shooting percentage and save percentage. They are fun to watch, but the non-goalies are going to have to play better or the goaltending regression is going to send them tumbling.

Super16 4 Instant Impact

Player, season Points
Sidney Crosby, '05-06 102
Patrick Kane, '07-08 72
Jeff Skinner, '10-11 63
Matt Duchene, '09-10 55
John Tavares, '09-10 54
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, '11-12 52
Gabriel Landeskog, '11-12 52
Sam Gagner, '07-08 49
Steven Stamkos, '08-09 46
Taylor Hall, '10-11 42

Part of the excitement with the Avalanche is the play of Nathan MacKinnon, who has seven points in his first nine games. The first pick of the 2013 NHL Draft (anyone know where he grew up?) is not alone among players from his draft class who not only are playing but having success in the NHL.

Sean Monahan pulled a Jordan Staal and played his way into a full season with six goals and nine points in his first nine games. Defenseman Seth Jones might challenge Drew Doughty's mark for the highest average ice time by a teenager in the past 25 years. Aleksander Barkov quietly has seven points in 10 games.

Those four aren't going anywhere. Four other 2013 picks have made their NHL debuts, and decisions on their near-term futures are pending.

It was considered a deep and talented draft before the teams convened at Prudential Center and the players picked already are making impacts. Can the Class of 2013 be the most productive at the NHL level in the season following the draft in the salary-cap era?

The flood of players sticking in the NHL in their first post-draft seasons didn't actually start right away with the cap. Sidney Crosby (anyone know … OK, just kidding) was the only full-time rookie from the 2005 NHL Draft in 2005-06, and only Staal and Phil Kessel followed in 2006-07.

The 2012 group actually was the weakest since NHL general managers relented and started keeping more of these players, though Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk might have improved their production (and more might have made NHL rosters) had it been an 82-game season.

As for MacKinnon, he could find a place on the list of most productive players in the season following their draft. If Roy bumps him up to the second line and/or gives him more time on the power play, MacKinnon could challenge teammate Matt Duchene's 55 points in 81 games as a rookie in 2009-10.

MUST READ: PA Parenteau was a late-bloomer at the NHL level, writes Terry Frei of the Denver Post.

8. Detroit Red Wings (6-4-1) | Last week: 5

The Red Wings have been the gold standard in many ways for a long time in the League, and that's especially true with puck possession. Before Corsi and Fenwick started to creep into the lexicon for the average fan, everyone knew the Nicklas Lidstrom-led Red Wings kept the puck and didn't let their favorite team have it. From 2007-08 to 2011-12, Detroit finished first or second in the NHL in Corsi-for percentage.

Last season was the first without Lidstrom and the Wings slipped to sixth, but remained above 53 percent -- they didn't really get worse, other teams just got better. That's why it is weird to see the Red Wings in the middle of the pack (15th as of Wednesday), right around 50 percent. The lineup has been unsettled, but getting back to being the Red Wings is important for this team to be considered an elite one.

MUST READ: Lidstrom was a great captain. Henrik Zetterberg was a really good one in his first season. Here's Adam Proteau of the Hockey News on captains.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs (7-3-0) | Last week: 10

The Blackhawks toyed with the Maple Leafs (see, said the advanced stats-friendly crowd). Then Phil Kessel made everyone forget about a terrible first period against the Anaheim Ducks (see, said the not-so-advanced stats-friendly crowd). And the war wages on in Toronto.

To be clear, the Maple Leafs are living in Colorado's PDO territory but with even worse possession stats. They're also getting David Clarkson back, which might help.

MUST READ: James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail writes about the shooting percentage issue and the possession problems.

10. Anaheim Ducks (7-2-0) | Last week: 9

The Ducks are in the middle of an eight-game, 15-day road trip, and considering the way teams from the Western Conference have treated their pals in the East they could be higher on this list when they get home next month. The rest of the teams on this trip won't be trying to win the game for a recently deposed ex-Ducks coach, either.

MUST READ: Curtis Zupke writes about Saku Koivu's last bid to play for Finland in the Olympics, and possibly his last trip back to Montreal.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (6-2-2) | Last week: 13

Mike Ribeiro led all pending unrestricted free agents in points last season, successfully reviving his value in one season with the Washington Capitals. As of Wednesday, he was tied for the lead in points among UFAs who signed with new teams. He has all of his nine points in the past seven games and the Coyotes look like a strong defense-and-goaltending team that found a little extra spark on offense.

MUST READ: Rob Vollman stopped by Five For Howling to explain the Coyotes through player-usage charts.

MUST SEE: Oliver Ekman-Larsson is great, but Keith Yandle is really good too. He put on a passing clinic against the Flames on Tuesday (EXAMPLE 1 / EXAMPLE 2 ).

12. Montreal Canadiens (5-4-0) | Last week: 14

The Canadiens are a tough team to figure at this point. They've had some injuries and dropped games against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. Their schedule also hasn't afforded them any chances for big victories yet either. They haven't faced anyone in the top eight of these rankings, though that changes when San Jose comes to Bell Centre on Saturday.

MUST READ: Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail writes how players like Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk with magical hands actually have magical brains.

13. Vancouver Canucks (6-4-1) | Last week: 12

Speaking of teams that haven't beaten anyone of note yet, the Canucks are very much a work in progress. They have three power-play goals in 11 games and one in the past nine. They're not getting enough chances either -- less than two power plays per game isn't enough (17 in the past nine games), especially with the talent this team can put out there on the man-advantage.

MUST READ: John Tortorella's experiment with Ryan Kesler on a line with the Sedin twins didn't last long, but fear not, "Beastmodo" could return, writes Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province.

14. Minnesota Wild (4-2-3) | Last week: 11

The Wild are not going to shoot 4.2 percent as a team at even strength this season. They're also not going to stay at 59.1 percent in Corsi-for percentage (for reference, the best mark in the past five seasons was Detroit in 2007-08 at 58.7 percent). And they don't have the most trustworthy goaltending situation, given Niklas Backstrom's injury history and Josh Harding's injury history and illness.

Minnesota has found something though. The Wild have had at least nine more shots on net than the opponent in seven of their 10 games. Regression to the mean is going to be a net positive for them, unlike the collapse two seasons ago.

MUST READ: After years of searching for more shots on goal, the Wild have found them … but are waiting for more of them to go in, writes Dan Myers.

15. Nashville Predators (5-4-1) | Last week: NR

After losing three of four to start the season, things were trending upward for the Predators. The Seth Jones hype machine found a new gear when he played more than 53 minutes in wins on back-to-back nights against Montreal and the Winnipeg Jets. His goal to beat the Canadiens was a highlight for a 29-year-old forward, let alone a 19-year-old defenseman.

This team was starting to look like the third-best team in the Central Division, and worthy of being a few spots higher than this, but Pekka Rinne's injury puts everything into flux. Carter Hutton has been great in spot duty so far, but he's got a lot more responsibility now.

MUST READ: J.R. Lind of the Nashville Post wrote about the franchise's unparalleled stability between the pipes, which could be put to the test in the coming weeks.

16. Ottawa Senators (4-3-2) | Last week: 15

Picking between the Senators and any of those Eastern Conference teams that could be next in line (Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets or Washington Capitals) wasn't easy. Ottawa has had trouble keeping the puck away from the path of its goaltender. The Senators lost at home to Edmonton but did respond with an emotional win against the Red Wings and that guy on their team that used to play for them.

Would the Senators still be favored against any of those East teams (or Calgary or Winnipeg) in a neutral arena or a playoff series? Yep.

MUST READ: The Senators are getting plenty of shots as well, but Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun writes the team needs to put more of them on target.

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