The story told by advanced statistics says that the Metro division is due for a shakeup sooner than later.
By Malcolm Campbell
Like many hockey fans you are probably thinking the New York Rangers are the team to beat in the Metropolitan Division this year. And after watching Henrik Lundqvist blank the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, it’s hard to believe otherwise. King Henrik has indeed looked like royalty this season, and his backup, Antti Raanta, has put up even better numbers. The problem for both of them is their ridiculously high caliber play is the only thing standing between the Rangers and a drop in the standings.
The story told by advanced statistics is that the Metro division is due for a shakeup. The three teams atop the table right now are separated by four points in a battle of the NHL’s second-most competitive group. The Rangers are riding a six-game winning streak heading into Thursday and have only lost twice in regulation this year. Right behind them are the Washington Capitals, with two more regulation losses than the division leaders, and rounding out the top three are the Pittsburgh Penguins, also four points back. While Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to be on the same level, the season is young, and it seems the Rangers are due for a regression. The only problem for the Penguins though, Washington isn’t.
The Rangers lead the league in shooting and save percentages at even-strength so far this season, meaning they also rank first in PDO. These are highly volatile stats, and generally when a team is above or below average, they eventually regress to the mean. For New York this is a scary proposition. While their shooting percentage is only about one point above league average, the tandem of Lundqvist and Raanta are posting a .965 save percentage compared to the league average of .915. Lundqvist is better than average to say the least, but his career .921 save percentage would still mean a hefty regression. To make matters worse, the Rangers rank 29th in possession with a Corsi For percentage of 45.6. On top of that the team has only two positive possession players, both of which are defensemen. Rangers fans may be happy now but once the team’s puck luck starts running out they may not like what they see.
The Capitals on the other hand are looking like the best team in the division. Sitting in third in possession throughout the league, they are below league average in shooting (8.1%) and just above average in save percentage (.918), placing them 16th in PDO. The Caps do have three players shooting 10 percent or higher, but Alex Ovechkin is on that list at 10.5 percent, which is actually two points below his career average, despite his eight goals so far. The Rangers, conversely, have twelve skaters shooting ten percent or higher, numbers that are just not sustainable.
Sidney Crosby may have put a gutsy performance in against the Canadiens Wednesday but the Penguins are exactly who we thought they were, though they’re due for some luck. While their possession numbers rank them 22nd they are shooting at well below league average, meaning they should start to see some bounces go their way. The Penguins goalies are going to need to pick up a lot of slack if this team is going to make the playoffs and have any kind of success. They only have seven skaters playing with positive possession numbers and five of them are forwards meaning the Penguins need some help on the back end.
Caps fans should be excited as their team looks to be positioned for a strong season and a deep playoff run. With the offseason additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, Ovechkin has the deepest, and best supporting cast he’s ever had. The Rangers still have a great team, and if they can pick up their play, may be able to weather the inevitable regression and reach a third consecutive Eastern Conference final. But don’t forget about the pesky Penguins who may be able to ride their offense, and a hot goalie, to first in the division.