Around the Metro: Life without Lundqvist, Crosby’s production and Prez Trophy Isles

And we’re back. Our bi-weekly look around the Metropolitan Division had to take a short break there, but we’re back to get a good look at what’s happening in the Metro as we enter the stretch run to the playoffs.

New York Rangers

As of Friday morning, the Rangers are one of six teams tied at the top of the league with 91 points. It’s going to be a good race for the President’s Trophy and it looks like there isn’t a team that’s going to flat out run away with the prize.

Among those teams, no one has a better record over their last ten games than the Rangers and they’ve done it all without the services of Henrik Lundqvist.

From the start of the season into January, the Rangers hadn’t performed well when they got below league-average goaltending. So, the absence of Lundqvist raised some concerns for me as to whether or not they could keep up their current pace with Cam Talbot taking the reins.

Well, they haven’t had to deal with below league-average goaltending with Talbot in net. Since the start of February he has a .932 Sv% and a .936 AdSv% at even strength. That’s 12th in the league over that stretch among goaltenders who’ve started at least six games. That sounds lower than it is because there’s been some stellar goaltending around the league in that time. Devan Dubnyk has been on fire, Carey Price has been lights out all year, Andrew Hammond has come out of nowhere to look like an All Star, and guys like Luongo, Crawford, Fleury,and Schneider have all been having solid runs.

Since February 1 the Rangers are 14-2-3. That’s not the best record in the NHL over that stretch, but it’s close and it’s got them on track to be a favorite for the President’s Trophy.

 

New York Islanders

While there’s a mess at the top for the President’s Trophy, the Islanders are knocking on that door with 90 points, just one point back of the top, as of Friday morning.

The Islanders have not played their best hockey over the last five weeks, going 11-6-3 since the start of February. It’s enough to keep them in the hunt, but not good enough to have them at the top unless they start to win a few more.

Tavares’ excellent season is maybe one of the best kept secrets from people who like to have discussions about who should with the Hart Trophy. His 3.1 P/60 in all situations on the season has him in the top ten in the league and he’s played most of the time without one of his usual linemates, Kyle Okposo.

But, after missing a stretch from January 19 to March 10, Okposo is back. That should have more people thinking seriously about Tavares chances at winning the Hart. If we look at their WOWY numbers you start to get a picture of how good they are together. Given, with the injury, Okposo has a relatively small sample without Tavares.

However, when they’re on the ice together this season, a total of 629 minutes and 12 seconds, They have a CF% of 56%. Tavares without Okposo: 54.8%. They’re arguably one of the more dynamic pairings in the NHL and Okposo’s return will mean a lot to the Islanders and a small bump in production for Tavares to finish the season could put him in Hart finalist territory.

Pittsburgh Penguins

There’s been a lot of talk about Sidney Crosby‘s production this season. Any sort of slide for the Penguins almost always stirs up a lot of talk about what he and Evgeni Malkin are doing and whether or not we’re able to blame them for the Penguins problems. (Which, of course, is just a knee-jerk reaction digging for a story because there’s nothing sexy in a story about the Penguins tendency to trade away prospects and picks or the struggles of a fourth line winger. Blame two elite players for the struggles of a team that has lacked depth for the last handful of seasons.)

It’s been talked about to the extent that The Score published a piece on Friday containing the phrase “What’s wrong with Sidney Crosby?” under the headline “Penguins’ Crosby says stats sometimes get overanalyzed.”

Is Crosby the Penguins’ big problem? No. Not even close. Is there reason to look into Crosby’s production? There definitely is. His G/60 and his P/60 are the lowest of his career at even strength. His A/60 ties the lowest mark of his career at even strength.

Part of the G/60 certainly has to do with him having the lowest even strength Sh% of his career as well. His 8.22 Shots/60 aren’t the lowest of his career, but it’s down there. Couple those together and you’re bound to see a step back.

However we’re talking about a player with a 55.9% CF%, which is +5.2% relative. He’s second in the league in assists. He’s a ways from being a major concern of the Penguins.

What is a good sign for Pittsburgh is that Crosby is 16th in the NHL with a 2.4 P/60 and Malkin is 10th at 2.6, which isn’t bad. But in all situations among players who’ve played at least 200 minutes (a low threshold) Crosby and Malkin are tied for first in the NHL with a 3.4 P/60.

Crosby is seeing fewer power play minutes this season, actually the lowest of his career as an average per game, but he’s shooting 19.1% on the power play, which isn’t even the best he’s done in a season. He’s taking shots at a solid rate on the PP as well, with 62.8 SF60.

Despite Crosby’s success on the PP, the teams’ power play has dropped off a bit recently and that may be a concern. With their front loaded roster, they need to be dangerous on the power play. From the start of the season until January 31 they posted a 59.2 SF60, which was fourth best in the league. Since February 1 it’s fallen off a cliff to 52, 20th in the league.

Crosby should rebound some and if I’m a Pittsburgh fan, I’m not panicking about their 11-5-2 record since the start of February. In that stretch they’ve beaten Anaheim, Detroit, St. Louis, Washington, and Los Angeles. It’s a team with blemishes, but a team that can win as well, with some of the blemishes being variance based.

Washington Capitals

A team I’d be more concerned about is the Washington Capitals. In the last 5-6 weeks they have shown some signs of weakness. They’ve gone 11-8-0 since the start of February and many of the games they’ve lost have been at home to playoff teams. They lost at home to St. Louis, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. They also dropped a game in Los Angeles and in Philadelphia (who isn’t in the playoffs, but has been on the fringe edge of the bubble.)

The Caps moved from having a 51.4% CF%, 12th in the NHL, through January 31st to a 50.4% CF%, 18th in the league, from February 1st until Friday. There are certainly enough games to get moving in the right direction, but they’re trending in the wrong direction at the moment.

Nine of their remaining 14 games come against playoff teams, which actually isn’t too bad when you see teams like Minnesota playing all but one of their remaining games against playoff teams. Nonetheless, the Caps have some tough competition in the final stretch that will give us a sense of whether or not they pose a real threat in the postseason.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers playoff hopes have been dashed. Hockeystats.ca has their playoff probability down to 0.1%.

They’d been making a strong push to be in consideration after being left for dead, but a 1-2-3 start to March put a pillow to the face of their playoff dreams. There wasn’t any room for error and errors have been made.

From January 20 through February 28 the Flyers had a 51.5% CF% after posting a 48.8% CF% in the season prior to that. They went 9-3-4 over that stretch and were starting to make people believe Claude Giroux when he told the press that they were going to make the playoffs. But we should have been wiser, seeing that over that stretch, impressive though it was, they lost to Columbus twice (one in OT), Buffalo (shootout), Carolina, and Toronto.

GM Ron Hextall was certainly smart to decide he was a seller at the deadline, even though it looked like they could try to make a run.

New Jersey Devils

The biggest mistake the Devils made in the offseason? Trading for Cory Schneider. That’s not because he’s not a good player. He’s the team’s biggest problem this year and it’s because he’s good.

The Devils are an aging team with not enough talent in the system. They traded away a pick to bring in a player who was going to make them just good enough to not get a high pick in this year’s draft. They’re the seventh from the bottom of the league as of Friday and that’s not terrible enough to get them into the range where they’re going to grab a franchise-changer in the draft.

At a .925 even strength Sv%, Schneider has the sixth best mark in the NHL. With the Devils’ 47.1% CF% ranking fifth worst in the NHL, they could have been a real contender in the draft. Instead, they have the third best team Sv% at even strength in the league, which isn’t going to bring in a team-changer like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, or even Noah Hannafin when you’ve got similarly terrible possession teams like Edmonton laying a .901 OSv% egg. Carolina is at .906. Arizona is at .910. The Devils are even far ahead of Buffalo who has a surprisingly decent .924. (Though Buffalo is countering that with an absolutely shocking -655 shot differential, which is the lowest number since the 2004-05 lockout by over 100 shots.)

Columbus Blue Jackets

I’m about at the point where I don’t think judging anything about the Blue Jackets is valid any longer. This team can’t catch a break. It seems like everyone on the team has been injured this season and now they’ve got something “flu like” running through the locker room.

On Friday morning the Blue Jackets had played 67 games this season. Only Ryan Johansen and David Savard have appeared in all of those. Only those two plus Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wenneberg, and Jared Boll have played at least 55 games.

Maybe more alarming is that Nathan Horton (traded away at the deadline), Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Boone Jenner, and Mark Letestu all played 39 or fewer games this season. That’s too many players drawing big dollars and/or players that the team depends on not on the ice. For Friday’s game they’re without Jack Skille (out for the season), David Clarkson (out 4-6 weeks), Matt Calvert (out indefinitely), Boone Jenner, Jeremy Morin, and Brandon Dubinsky.

At least they’ve got Sergei Bobrovsky back?

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are playing for a draft pick at this point and did a good job moving some assets for draft picks to restock the cupboards at the trade deadline. At this point it’s fair to start looking ahead, which, in part, means looking back at a season derailed. Most of us probably didn’t think they’d make the playoffs, but did you think they’d be this bad? I didn’t think they would be giving Buffalo a run for top pick.

Fortunately for management in Carolina, it hasn’t been all bad. Unlike for other teams in their position — Buffalo and Arizona in particular, Edmonton is showing signs of progress despite their record — there’s a lot that went pretty well.

I have grown to hate this argument as much as any, but we should take a look at their shooting percentage and their save percentage at even strength. Their 6.5% OSh% ranks 29th in the NHL. Their .906 OSv% ranks 29th in the NHL. Their GA60 is 2.5, 24th in the NHL. All bad signs working in tandem to give them a 28th ranked 97.1 PDO.

But look at the underlying numbers. 51.9% CF%, 9th in the NHL. 52.4% ZSO%, 8th in the NHL. 27.1 SA60, 8th in the NHL. 29.8 SF60, 11th in the NHL. They’re actually driving play fairly well, suppressing shots, and taking shots a decent rate. Even little things like winning face-offs — which have a very limited impact on game results, but do give in-play advantages — are going well for them with the Canes winning 52.3% of face-offs, 5th in the NHL.

That last paragraph is more consistent with numbers you see from a playoff team than a team that’s ranked 27th overall in the league. That OSh% and OSv% have certainly made a big difference in their season, but it may be for the best. The team is doing some things right systematically. If they can find a goaltending solution (easier said than done, with Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin on contract through next season) and bring in a top tier player through the draft, they could be well on their way to a stronger tomorrow.

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