The halfway mark is here, or at least it is for most teams (Catch up San Jose!). By this point we have a pretty good idea about who teams are and what we can expect.
Except for the Pacific Division, which remains entirely wide open from second through seventh. While the gap between the two spots was only three points some two weeks ago, a small gap has now developed. The division leading Kings sit 10 points above the second place Arizona Coyotes, who in tern sit six and seven points above the sixth and seventh spots in the division (And ultimately last and second to last in the conference).
There is not much separating a Matthews lottery draft from a playoff spot, and this very well may continue on into the later months of the season. For now, we’ve got storylines to cover from around the Pacific division.
The Kings broke open the proverbial seal on trades for this season. On Wednesday, January 6, Dean Lombardi made his splash by dealing a third round pick in the upcoming draft and in-oft used forward Jordan Weal to the Flyers for Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn.
From a Kings standpoint this is a deal that strengthens the bottom defensive pairing, but also could potentially strengthen the bottom six center position if Lecavalier can find his form. It has already been said by his agent that this will be Vinny’s last season in the NHL, so if he wanted one last shot at a cup this will be it. Is that enough to motivate him? We shall see. The Kings likely were not getting Luke Schenn unless they took on the salary dump of Lecavalier. However, while the duo have drawn ire from the Philly faithful, both are upgrades to what has been available for the Kings.
We have a limited number of looks at Lecavalier, so his analytics can be a bit spotty. His Hero chart reflects what we expect of older players who were once very good. Declining possession impact but still some capable offensive output.
However, take a gander at who he is potentially replacing in the lineup (Not Nick Shore, please Sutter.)
Andy Andreoff, who is one of the worst possession players on the Kings:
And by domino effect he could potentially force Nolan out of the lineup.
It is kind of difficult to be much worse than what those players are already putting forth on a nightly basis with the minutes they are given. Even if Lecavalier fails it is still a wash to some degree for L.A.
In Schenn they get a 5-6 defenseman to help stabilize an at times shaky platooned bottom pair of Ehrhoff, McBain, and the now AHL bound Derek Forbort. Time will tell if the deal pans out the way the Kings plan, but on paper it seems to makes sense.
Elsewhere in the division, the Canucks swapped a pick and a prospect for former Duck first rounder Emerson Etem. The speedy winger has yet to find his place in the NHL, and is hoping a rebuilding Canucks team may make a better home. He is just 23-years of age, but has just three points and no goals in 19 games this season.
Goaltending Battle No More?
Has it happened? Is the battle over? Has John Gibson finally taken over as Anaheim’s No. 1?
The 22-year old had a stretch earlier in the year, back in late November, where he was playing just about every night for the Ducks. After a rough outing against Carolina where he gave up three goals on 14 shots he was sat down for a few games. Since the 21st of December however, he has been back between the pipes with regularity, playing eight of their last ten games.
So far the former second round pick has been more than serviceable. He is holding a .929 save percentage and a .925 adjusted save percentage at even strength. The Ducks have also done a good job at keeping shots against low, as the young tender has faced an average of just 24 even strength shots a night and only about 3-4 high danger shots a game. If you pull goalies that have played at least 600 minutes this season at even strength, Gibson is currently in 23rd amongst those 42 eligible goaltenders. He is, again, facing the lowest shots against amongst that group.
With the emergence of Gibson and the acquisition of Dustin Tokarski from Montreal, it seems all but certain that upcoming free agent Freddie Andersen may be looking for a new home soon. Mind you, the Ducks already have Anton Khudobin and Matt Hackett in the AHL with San Diego.
Still Beating the Numbers
Arizona, how do you do it?
At this point the Coyotes may be the next best team possible in the Pacific to grab a playoff spot. That’s right, are we maybe looking at this season’s Colorado Avalanche or Calgary Flames? It is possible. Let’s compare and contrast some numbers.
The Blackhawks are put in their for sake of comparison to a team that was actually considered “Legit”.
But looking at the Coyotes, boy are they testing the whole “Beating the numbers” theory this season. Their goaltending is really middle of the road at best, their shooting percentage in almost all situations is top five, if not top three, and they trail considerably in almost every meaningful possession, shooting, and scoring chance metric. They simply score on fewer chances and shots for than most teams, while having their goaltending save just enough to win games. There is always that one team that does this to a considerable degree each year, and Arizona may be that team.
Life and Times of Taylor Hall
A burgeoning, 24-year old, winger and former first overall pick is having a remarkable year in Edmonton. Why is no one talking about him? Oh yea, because he plays in Edmonton. An Edmonton team that is on pace for another bottom of the league finish and making the NHL re-think its lottery system.
Hall is on pace for nearly 80 points this year, which would match his career high. He is on pace for over 30 goals for the first time in his career. He is one of only THREE regular forwards on Edmonton that possesses the puck more than the other team (The other two are his linemates). The same can be said about shots for, goals for, and scoring chances for. The goals for % relative to his teammates is double digits higher than the next forward line, and, oh yea, he is facing the fourth highest QoC (1st for a winger) on the team.
This is a perfect instance of having to separate and appreciate a truly great season from an individual player who is playing on a struggling team. People are doing that this season with Jack Eichel, but for Hall it is much more difficult because it is just another year with the Oilers. An Oilers team with XYZ number of first round picks and blah blah blah. Yes, it is true. They should be better. At least one player is living up to expectations and that is Taylor Hall. He has a linemate who is also proving to be incredibly capable, and that is Leon Draisaitl. Maybe once McDavid comes back the Oilers will celebrate a resurgence. They have had a lot of injury issues this season, and that might be the shot in the arm they need to crawl into semi-relevance. They certainly have a star winger playing like a star winger that deserves it.
Player to Watch
If you were holding your break and waiting for the sophomore slump to happen with Johnny Gaudreau, exhale. The 5’9 forward is on pace to obliterate his 2014-15 totals. He is on a point per game pace this year that may get into the 35-40 goal territory. He has been on a bit of a slump recently, with just one point in his last five games, but prior to that he had a ridiculous 17 point run in 10 games. He is starting to surpass 20 minutes a night on a regular basis, and is hope to many small players out there that size is not a negative factor in the new NHL.
Watch him on this play as he just quietly meanders his way into the highest of high scoring areas on this goal.
Flames are having a forgettable year, but he is not.