The Rangers, Sharks, and Lightning all made big strides in January while the Jets, Blues, and Wild are headed in the wrong direction.
With the end of the all-star break, the NHL season has reached it’s unofficial halfway point, making a great time to look at which teams have been hot (or not). Most people would take that to mean who got the most points during January, but with the NHL’s new numbers movement we can dig a little deeper than that. What’s more interesting to me is which teams actively improved (or degraded) their game regardless of results and identifying which teams are trending in the right or wrong direction. Most people generally use shot rates to measure that as they’re good indications of a teams true talent level. They do fluctuate a bit throughout the year and that movement is worth keeping an eye on. That’s what this trend report is all about because how a team is playing lately is usually a good indication of what’s to come in the future. With that being said, here are three teams that are going in the right direction, and three teams that are trending the other way.
All stats are score-adjusted and per 60 minutes via
New York Rangers: Over the first two months, the Rangers surged out of the gates to a 16-6-2 record thanks to some all-world netminding and the hottest sticks in the league. But the numbers crowd swiftly came in to ruin the fun while pointing at possession charts and chanting “unsustainable!” to anyone who would listen. Sure enough, the Rangers went 11-11-3 since the hot start as their PDO regressed from a sky-high 105.4 at the start of December to its current 102.5. But it looks like things have changed over the last month as the Rangers have been generating more chances than they concede over an extended stretch for the first time all season. They’ll need to keep that up if they want a decent chance of capitalizing on a Stanley Cup window that’s closing very soon. A great goalie alone can only take them so far. Add puck possession to the mix and this team can make some noise.
San Jose Sharks: It took a while for the Sharks to settle in under new head coach Pete DeBoer, but they’ve been playing like an elite team in 2016 and the results have shown. The Sharks went 8-2-2 in January vaulting themselves to second in the Pacific (although, that’s not saying much). The team was sixth in score-adjusted Corsi differential for the month on the strength of the third best shot suppression in the league behind just Los Angeles and Carolina. Defence wins championships and the Sharks are in good hands in that department considering DeBoer was a former coach of the Devils. What also helps is the return of Logan Couture. Very few teams in the West can match Thornton-Marleau-Couture down the middle and it’s no surprise the Sharks have started playing well once he returned from injury. If they can keep this up, they’re a dark horse in the West.
Tampa Bay Lightning: One of the biggest storylines from earlier in the season was “a team from Florida is dominating… no, not that one.” Tampa Bay’s struggles were very well documented to start the season as they simply weren’t playing to the level that everyone expected. Stanley Cup Final hangover? Steven Stamkos distraction? Injuries? There were plenty of reasons thrown around for what was wrong with the team, but whatever it was, it’s not an issue anymore. The Lightning didn’t make as big of an improvement to their underlying numbers as the Rangers or Sharks, but they were the third best team in the league for the month at controlling the puck. That’s more like what we expected from them. It’s not just moral victories in the form of shot attempts either for the team as they went 9-2-0 for the month, only behind the team that bested them in last year’s final, the Blackhawks. With the Canadiens floundering, Tampa Bay are in a good position to vault to the top of the division, especially considering that other team from Florida might not be as great as they seem.
Winnipeg Jets: After a surprising playoff appearance last year, expectations were pretty high for the Jets going into this season. Things haven’t exactly gone as expected as the Jets find themselves in the Central division basement, nine points back of Nashville for the final wildcard spot. According to the latest playoff forecast at
hockeyviz.com the Jets only have a 1-in-10 shot of making it and are much closer to the league’s bottom five than they are to a playoff berth. With the way they’ve been playing lately, a top five pick might be a reality as they’ve taken a huge slide in January. Over the previous two months, Winnipeg was a top 10 puck possession team, but they’ve experienced the second biggest drop of any team in the league and have been on the wrong side of the territorial battle. Considering their horrific special teams (not to mention poor discipline), Connor Hellebuyck likely coming back to earth and the recent shot rate slide, don’t be surprised if the Jets keep tumbling down.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues have been on the wrong side of this chart for most of the season, but this is their biggest drop yet and that may be cause for some concern. By month, the Blues have gone +15, +2, +3, and -4 in shot attempt differential. January was the first in the negatives and for a team that should be contending for the Cup that’s not a great sign. Almost all of the league’s elite teams have been in the plus column for every month this season. Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay have all done it, while Washington had a brief blip in December before bouncing back this month. Those five are probably the consensus favourites to take home the Cup this year and if St. Louis wants to be a part of that group they’ll need to show that their play in January was just a blip too. Otherwise, it’ll likely mean another first round exit this April.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild were among the worst teams in the entire league during the month of January going 3-7-3 and slipping out of the playoff picture (they do have three games in hand on the Avalanche though). Amidst the skid was a drop in their shot rate stats and although the drop wasn’t as bad as a few other teams, the -8 shot attempt differential was only better than three teams: Buffalo, Colorado, and Vancouver. That’s obviously not where the Wild want to be. What’s interesting, though, is how the Wild look from month to month: wildly inconsistent, ranging from pretty good, to outright terrible. By month, the Wild have gone +3, -11, +3, and -8 in shot attempt differential. The team likely isn’t as bad as they were in January or November, but they’re probably not as good as October and December either. The real Wild lies somewhere in the middle, which is likely still below average. They’re the NHL’s Jekyll and Hyde, and their fate in the playoffs – should they make it – depends on which one shows up. Here’s how the rest of the league looked during the month of January compared to the previous two months: