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The NHL Anti-All-Stars: Troubled teams, scoring droughts & creases in crisis

With the spotlight shining brightly on NHL all-star weekend, here's a look at some teams and players trying to find their way out of the darkness.

It’s NHL all-star weekend in San Jose, a time to celebrate the league’s best and brightest. In other words, don’t expect these anti-all-star topics to get much mention:

Power outage: You don't have to be Scotty Bowman to know that it's easier to score when you have more players on the ice than your opponent. But Montreal, Nashville and Philadelphia are not taking advantage of their man-advantage opportunities. The Canadiens, Predators and Flyers are clicking – to use the word loosely – at 13.0, 13.1 and 13.3 percent on the power play. By contrast, Tampa Bay leads the NHL at 29.5-percent efficiency, and the league average is 20.0 percent. The Flyers hit the all-star break with an NHL-low 19 PP goals, which is 30 fewer than the Lightning’s league-leading 49 PP tallies.

PK problems: Chicago and Los Angeles, who combined to win five of six Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015, are most decidedly not the league-champion penalty killers. The Blackhawks have the worst PK efficiency in the NHL at 74.2 percent, the Kings are a smidge better at 74.3 percent. The Arizona Coyotes haven’t won any Cups recently (or ever), but at least they’re frustrating opponents with an NHL-best 86.9-percent PK efficiency.

Home woes: One place where the Coyotes aren’t frustrating opponents, however, is at home. Arizona has the fewest wins on home ice, and their 9-12-3 record at Gila River Arena translates to a paltry .438 points percentage. On the flip side, the Coyotes are 14-11-1 (.558) when they play in non-Gila River-named arenas.

Road wreckage: You can lead the Devils out of the swamp, but you can’t make them win. New Jersey has just five victories in 25 road games (5-17-3) and they’re giving up four goals a game on the road. At least they’re 13-6-4 in the quaggy confines of the Prudential Center.

Get a goalie: Which teams have struggled the most in net this season? Well, there are more than a few clubs in Hardy Astrom territory. The obvious answer is Ottawa, with the Senators sporting a league-worst 3.72 goal-against average that skews even higher when 37-year-old Craig Anderson isn’t in the crease. There’s also Chicago, with a GAA (3.67) that’s almost as bad as Ottawa’s and with Corey Crawford sidelined indefinitely after sustaining another concussion. And then – of course -- there’s Philadelphia, who have trotted out seven different goaltenders so far this season, none of whom have started more than 13 games. Not to mention, Florida is struggling as age and injuries take their toll on Roberto Luongo, and Keith Kinkaid appears to buckling under the workload in New Jersey. And we haven’t even mentioned Edmonton yet…

He shoots, he doesn’t score: Get ready, because we’re about to mention Edmonton. The Oilers’ Tobias Rieder, who scored 13, 14, 16 and 12 goals during his first four NHL seasons in Arizona and Los Angeles, is still looking his first of the year. Rieder, a right winger who’s playing about 13 minutes a night, has taken 57 shots, more than other forward who has yet to score. However, Rieder isn’t the NHL player with the most shots and zero goals. That dubious distinction belongs to Chicago rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju, who has launched 62 shots without a red light to show for it. But, hey, give the kid a break. He’s a 19-year-old trying to fit in on a Blackhawks blueline that is, to put it kindly, a work in progress. Jokiharju was a first-round pick (29th overall) in 2017, and it’s not like he hasn’t scored at all this year – he had two goals at the 2019 world juniors to help Finland claim gold.

No plus, only minus: Let’s get this out of the way first – plus/minus can be a flawed statistic, no doubt about it. It is far from a perfect metric when evaluating a player’s worth. But at the same time, it does give us some insight into who’s on the ice a lot when the other team scores. Take Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau, for example. The Panthers left winger comes in at minus-23, the worst mark in the league. That’s surprising for a couple of reasons. One, Huberdeau’s a primetime player who’s averaging a point per game. Two, the Panthers as a team are only minus-18, meaning they’re plus-5 when Huberdeau isn’t on the ice. To be fair, Huberdeau isn’t the only Cat at the wrong end of the plus/minus spectrum. Florida defenseman Mike Matheson has the league’s second-worst mark at minus-21, and top-liners Aleksander Barkov and Mike Hoffman check in at minus-18. The biggest surprise at the minus end of things, though, is seeing Pittsburgh superstar Evgeni Malkin at minus-19, tied for fourth-worst in the league. Sidney Crosby, in case you’re wondering, is at the other end at plus-19. Because of course he is.

SoCal goal drought: It’s a good thing for California hockey that San Jose is putting up some offense – the Sharks rank third in the league at 3.60 goals per game – because Los Angeles and Anaheim are the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams by a significant margin. The Kings are averaging a league-worst 2.26 goals per game, the Ducks are only slightly better at 2.29. The next-lowest scoring teams are Dallas (2.57), Arizona (2.60) and Carolina (2.78), while Tampa Bay leads the NHL at a Kucherov-ian four goals per game.

So, Carolina’s goal drought: So many shots, and so little to show for it. Carolina leads the NHL in shots per game (35.8), yet the Hurricanes have the fifth-worst offense in the league. Talk about a shabby shooting percentage. Only 7.8 percent of the Canes’ shots are hitting twine, which reflects their lack of skilled forwards up front. Young guns Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and others are trending up, but the results can’t come fast enough.

East Coast bias: Yes, Eastern Conference powerhouse Tampa Bay is riding high atop the NHL standings, but the next four teams all reside in the West (Calgary, San Jose, Winnipeg and Nashville). Meanwhile, five of the seven teams at the bottom of the league standings play in the East (Ottawa, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit and Florida), with the Senators and Devils tied for last overall. So what does this mean, if anything at all? Do the Lightning have an easier playoff path to the Stanley Cup final – or is Tampa Bay’s record partially due to playing in a weaker conference, and perhaps they’re not as superior as they seem? All will be revealed, but you have to wait until June.


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