Five numbers that tell the tale of the 2017-18 regular season so far:
The Tampa Bay Lightning, sitting atop the Eastern Conference and vying for first place overall, lead the NHL with an average of 3.59 goals per game entering Saturday’s action. Thanks to their deep and deadly attack, the Lightning have won more games (48) and lost fewer games (22 combined losses and overtime/shootout losses) than any other team in the league. Tampa Bay boasts a Vezina Trophy-contending goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, a Norris Trophy-contending defenseman in Victor Hedman, and a stellar supporting cast on the blueline led by Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh. But it’s the high-octane offense, fueled by first-line superstars Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, that Tampa Bay has used to torch opponents this season.
The Nashville Predators, the team the Lightning is battling for first place overall, have the best goals-against average in the NHL, giving up 2.38 goals per game. No big surprise here, as the ‘Big Four’ blueline features a pair of Norris Trophy hopefuls in P.K. Subban and Roman Josi, as well as almost-as-elite Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. It hasn’t hurt that Pekka Rinne has turned in another superlative season, joining Vasilevskiy as the leading masked men in the Vezina Trophy race. Rinne has reached 39 wins with 11 games remaining in the regular season, so it’s unlikely – but not completely out of the question – that he ties the all-time single-season wins record of 48 (shared by Braden Holtby and Martin Brodeur).
Before the start of the season, 45 might’ve been the number of points you would’ve guessed the Vegas Golden Knights would put up in their expansion season. Instead, it’s the number of wins the fairytale first-year team has amassed with 11 games remaining, in what can only be described as the most incredible debut in the history of North American professional sports. The Golden Knights are on track to win the Pacific Division and claim the No. 2 seed in the West. They’re fast, they forecheck ferociously, William Karlsson leads a surprisingly potent attack, they’re deep in dependable defensemen and Marc-Andre Fleury has posted Vezina-worthy stats since returning from injury in mid-December. Can they keep the magic going in the playoffs? We’ll find out next month, but it’s already been a first-year ride for the ages.
That’s the combined special-teams efficiency of the Winnipeg Jets, the only team in the league to rank in the top five in both power play and penalty killing. The Jets are third in PP efficiency at 23.6 percent, and fourth on the PK at 83.2 percent. Special teams can play a huge factor in the playoffs, the difference between winning and losing a series. The Toronto Maple Leafs (fifth on the power play at 22.4 percent, ninth on the penalty kill at 82.2 percent) are the only other playoff team to reside in the top 10 in both the PP and the PK.
That’s the league-worst combined special-teams efficiency of the Edmonton Oilers, which helps to explain the team’s step backwards this season. For all their firepower, the Oilers have the NHL’s worst power play (14.9 percent) as well as the second-worst penalty kill (74.6 percent). Edmonton’s special-teams goal differential is minus-28 (26 PP goals, 54 PK goals against), by far the worst mark in the league. The silver lining, if you can call it that, is that Edmonton has scored nine shorthanded goals this season while giving up just four, improving their special-teams goal differential to minus-23. Something to build on for next year…