Welcome to the first edition of our new series Around the Central Division. Every two weeks we will take a look at how the seven teams out in #ConferenceIII have performed and their story lines.
The Central Division is a tough division. The conference averages a league high 0.54 wins and 1.21 points per game. It is home to the NHL’s first, second, AND third best teams in terms of goal differentials. In fact, the Central teams add up to a goal differential of +95, and is the only conference not in the red. If underlying metrics are your cup of tea, #ConferenceIII sports a score-adjusted Corsi +/- of +798.3, the highest in the NHL. Only Colorado has held a negative differential all season long.
Score-adjusted Corsi (SAC) percentage has been shown to predict future team win% better than past records, and peaks around 20-30 games. Here is the rolling 25 game SAC for the Central Division:
St. Louis Blues
The team from Mound City wins our inagural first star. The Blues went an impressive 5-0-1, outscoring their opponents 27 to 11 and score adjusted Corsi percentage of 52.4 and an extremely impressive 58.9 score-adjusted estimated scoring chances (we’ll ignore that three of the games were Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Edmonton Oilers).
The Blues’ scoring success came on the back of David Backes with 13 points in six games, although Alex Steen, T.J. Oshi, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Alex Pietrangelo all posted a point or more per game.
The evidence is also starting to mount that maybe Brian Elliot really is one of the few exceptions in goaltenders who improve with age. The 29 year old netminder is on pace for his third above average season in the last four years, and a career 0.927 since playing for the Blues.
Not to be outdone by the Blues, the Predators post a nearly as impressive 5-1-0 over the last two weeks, while posting a +5 goal differential and 50.6 score-adjusted Corsi percentage. Two of Nashville’s wins came against divisional opponents Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild.
Colin Wilson lead the Predators with nine points over the six game span. Under the radar though has gone the work of Mattias Ekholm, a large and mobile defenseman who carried 59.2 Corsi while eating over twenty minutes of ice time per a game and scoring two goals.
One worry though for the Preds is how they will perform without the steady and reliable services of Peka Rinne, who is likely out for 3-5 weeks. Over the past two seasons combined, the Predators have saved 92.0 percent of shots with Rinne in the net, but only 90.3 without. Carter Hutton’s 0.907 save percentage though gives slightly more hope.
While the Preds possession stats have started to fall down to earth, Peter Laviollette still looks like an early favorite for the Jack Adams Trophy.
The Jets were the league’s busiest team with 8 games in the two week period. Despite the tiring and condensed schedule with two sets of back-to-backs, they went 5-2-1 with a score adjusted Corsi percentage of 51.9.
The Jets success has mostly come from the combined effort of multiple above average players rather than superstars.
There have been two stars though. The return of the defensive version Dustin Byfuglien saved the Jets through defensive injuries and has brought Big Buff his third All-Star nomination as a defenseman, although people still oddly want him as a forward. The other has been Michael Hutchinson, the rookie netminder who has held a 0.932 save percentage and started to take the bulk of the Jets available starts.
The Jets do show some possible holes. Matthieu Perreault -a severely underrated points per minute and Corsi player over the past few seasons- may possibly out for a long while after leading the team in possession metrics. In addition, the Jets have carried Mark Stuart and Jay Harrison as a defensive pair; when the two have been on the ice, the Jets have a 34.9 percent Corsi, a full 2 points worse than the Sabres average.
Prior to the start of the season, the Stars were a favourite pick for potential dark horse, but then the Stars faltered out the gates at the start. An impressive December though made it look like a possible comeback could be coming, although the team has cooled down since.
The Stars went 3-3-1 over the last two weeks, although they were robbed a winning record at the hands of netminder Ondrej Pavelec. The Jets did not look like a team deserving a win and were outshot 47 to 22, but Pavelec and the Jets fled Dallas with the win.
Tyler Seguin has driven the Stars success while leading the league in goals with 28 and second in point totals. This time scoring came as a committee with Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn posting six points, while Tyler Seguin, Ales Hemsky, John Klingberg, Cody Eakin, and Erik Cole tallied five.
Kari Lehtonen posting a career worst save percentage has been one of the leading causes for the Stars struggles. This is the first time since the start of the 2006-07 season that Lehtonen has posted a save percentage below 0.910.
The Wild have gone 2-4-1 over the two week span, although their 54.3 percent Corsi looks a bit more promising.
A combination of an ugly losing streak, falling shot metrics, terrible goaltending, and a well publicized brouhaha of a coach lambasting his team lead to rumours of Mike Yeo being the next NHL coach to get fired.
Instead the Wild went and improved their goaltending, acquiring the underrated Devan Dubnyk. Dubnyk has only gone one season where he has both played over twenty games and posted below a 0.910 save percentage.
Jared Spurgeon looks to be returning back to full health after a spot with the mumps, and has been playing well with defensive partner Ryan Suter. The two have posted just over a 60 percent Corsi while playing together. A promising sign for Wild fans.
The normally all-powerful Blackhawks have struggled as of late. Over this period the fell 2-4-0, including losing three games to divisional opponents. The Blackhawks posted a very middling 50.8 Corsi percentage during their losing skid. The Blackhawks have regained control over the Central’s top spot in 25 game rolling score-adjusted Corsi back from the Jets, although are far lower than where they were earlier this season.
While captain Jonathan Toews has led Chicago in scoring for the two weeks, Brandon Saad continues to make fans wonder why their team didn’t draft the 105 point winger. Saad posted an impressive five goals and an assist despite his team faltering.
Dan Carcillo single handily improved the Blackhawks’ future twice in one action, injuring division rival Jets’ fancystats star Mathieu Perreault while giving himself a six game suspension.
Also of note, the rising of Teuvo Terevainen has begun. While playing sheltered minutes, the young forward has posted an exceptional 63.6 percent Corsi and scored his first NHL goal.
Oh the Avalanche. We were told that Patrick Roy had fixed you?
Things have improved recently, with the Avs going 4-1-2 over the two weeks, although posting the league’s second lowest score-adjusted -40 percent- over the same period doesn’t lend much promise that the winning record will last.
One thing that has helped the Avalanche stay out of the race for Connor McDavid is excellent goaltending. While many claimed Semyon Varlamov was unlikely to repeat a 0.927 save percentage, he is still playing very well and is pacing at 0.922. In addition, rookie backup Calvin Pickard has been making a name for himself; passing fellow Central division rival and rookie Michael Hutchinson for the league lead in save percentage.
How long the Avs can continue with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla leading in point scoring for the team? Eventually the youth of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and friends need to takeover the team. Matt Duchene is the only other Avalanche skater over 2 points per sixty minutes.