O’Donnell: Atlantic analysis – Montreal’s Moneypuck player, Sens shootouts and Sabres luck

Each week, noted Florida Panthers enthusiast and Atlantic Division analyst for Hockey Prospectus Shane O’Donnell will take a look around the Atlantic in search of notable stats and interesting storylines. Follow Shane on Twitter @shane1342o

Montreal Canadiens

Tomas Fleischmann signed a one-year, $750,000 deal with the Montreal Canadiens during the offseason, after coming into training camp on a PTO. Fleischmann had played the last four seasons with the Florida Panthers (though he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks at the end of the 2014-2015 season), and went from being the team’s top line winger to being one of several players who rotated in and out of the third and fourth lines.

This didn’t mean he didn’t have anything left in the tank, however. Just because a player isn’t producing or playing like he used to doesn’t mean he’s not effective anymore, and this is a lesson that I think NHL GMs really need to learn. In 2014-2015, Flash had a points per 60 of 1.89 and a Corsi For percentage of 52.5%, with a relative CF% of -0.1. Those numbers peg him as a solid third line player with the ability to even fill in on a second line if needed.

There was still tons of value to be found in a player like Fleischmann, but every other team in the league besides the Habs passed on the 30-year-old veteran. He now has 11 points in 16 games for Montreal, and though it’s unlikely he continues to score at that pace, there’s no denying that he’s been a valuable depth addition for the Canadiens.

Ottawa Senators

Despite the fact that the NHL made the switch to 3-on-3 overtime during the offseason, the Ottawa Senators have somehow managed to reach the shootout in five games this season; the rest of the league has only gone past 3-on-3 OT eight times.

Seeing as they’ve played in three shootouts already, we’ve had ample opportunities to see Ottawa’s shooters in action, and one guy in particular has caught my attention. Mika Zibanejad is 2 for 3 on the season, and has scored both of his goals using a similar move.

This move is incredibly similar to the one that Jakob Silfverberg (a former Ottawa Senator) uses on his shots. Silfverberg, who now plays for the Ducks, is 2 for 2 on the season.

In their careers, Zibanejad is 11 for 22, and Silfverberg is an incredible 16 for 25, which is well above the league average of 35% (give or take a few percentage points). My mind is instantly drawn to this wonderful piece by Jack Han, in which Han hypothesizes that keeping moves simple, and creating a 50/50 situation is more ideal than leaving all options open. Zibanejad and Silfverberg don’t do much, but they are wildly effective in the shootout. Maybe other players around the league should take notes.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning are not having a good season, and it’s not the percentages that have led to their 7-7-2 record. Last year, the team put up a 53.9 CF%, the second highest total in the league. This year, that number has fallen to 51.0%.

There are a myriad of reasons for this; the Triplets are nowhere near as good as they were last season, Jonathan Drouin is hurt, and they have played 11 of their 16 games on the road.

The most concerning aspect of the team’s decline, however, has to be the way the defense has deteriorated. Matt Carle went from being an effective top-four defenseman to being a healthy scratch (went from 54.0 CF% last season to 46.3% this season), Braydon Coburn carried his 49.9% CF% with the Bolts over from last season, and even Nikita Nesterov went from 55.2% to 47.4%.

That type of huge drop off from the bottom portion of the defense would be rough for any team to handle, and it’s clearly had a massive effect on Tampa. Jon Cooper and Steve Yzerman have a tough problem to address, but the two also have a history of success; it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Boston Bruins

There are several intriguing storylines surrounding the Boston Bruins, with the first being the fact that the team is somehow 7-6-1 despite the fact that Tuukka Rask has a .891% save percentage. Seriously, any team that has their starting goaltender post a SV% below .900% usually doesn’t win many hockey games, and the Bruins somehow have a winning record.

The next is the incredible play of Loui Eriksson, who leads all Bruins’ forwards with a CF% of 56.5%. The kicker here is that Eriksson isn’t playing on Patrice Bergeron’s line; the veteran winger is dominating possession while playing alongside David Krecji (who is good, but not as good as Bergeron).

Sure, there’s some usage involved, as Bergeron takes the toughest assignments, but Eriksson has had the 4th highest quality of competition on the team, and the 5th lowest relative zone starts percentage. The 30-year-old is putting together a really strong season, and hits the UFA market during the offseason, assuming the Bruins don’t sign him (the Bruins really should sign him).

Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have a CF% of 46.8% and a PDO of 102.1. Things are going to get ugly when their luck runs out, and this might be the year that they finally miss out on the playoffs.

I say that, but I’ve been saying that for the past two seasons, so they’re probably going to turn things around and cruise to the third spot in the Atlantic Division. We’ll see.

Florida Panthers

Vincent Trocheck is one of the most intriguing players on a young Florida Panthers team, as the young center put up great possession numbers in the 70 games he played over the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons. Though his deployment was slightly more offensive than the rest of the team’s, Trocheck managed to put up a CF% of 52.3% and a RelCF% of 2.7%; an impressive feat for any 20/21-year-old playing in the NHL, regardless of usage.

This season, those numbers have taken a nosedive, falling to a CF% of 45.0% and RelCF% of -3.6%. The poor two-way play has been hidden behind an 11.1% shooting percentage in all situations, so Trocheck does have 10 points in 14 games this year. Still, he can’t maintain that SH% all season, and eventually, the poor possession numbers will catch up to him.

My first thought was that the switch from center to winger affected the former OHL player of the year, so using Micah Blake McCurdy’s forward lines tool, I pulled data for games where Trocheck played center, and separated from the games he played at winger. The data showed that this wasn’t the case, however, as Trocheck had a 54.4% CF% on the wing in 2014-2015, and a 53.1% CF% at center. This season, Trocheck’s CF% on the wing is 42.6%, but at center, it’s up to 47.5% (the Panthers haven’t been a good possession team this season, so 47.5% is about break-even in terms of RelCF%).

That’s when the answer became rather clear, as the 22-year-old forward started the season playing on Dave Bolland’s wing. Then, Aleksander Barkov went down with a hand injury, and Trocheck was moved back to the middle of the ice. I looked at the WOWY’s, and sure enough, Trocheck’s raw CF% with Bolland stands at 37.6%, and at 48.0% without him. The problem can’t entirely be placed on Bolland, however, as Trocheck has gone from being a positive possession player to a break-even guy. There’s enough of a red flag here that it’s worth seeing how the young center performs now that he’s separated from Bolland.

Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have actually looked solid this season, as new players such as Ryan O’Reilly, Cody Franson, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart have helped the worst possession team of the past decade go from a sub-40% CF% to a CF% of 49.5%.

Unfortunately, the team has a PDO of 96.0. The loss of Robin Lehner in the first game of the season really stung, but the Sabres also just haven’t been able to score; their SH% of 5.5% is the third lowest in the league. It’s safe to assume that the Sabres will have a PDO slightly below 100, based on their poor goaltending and mediocre shooting talent, but percentages are weird. Maybe they’ll go on a tear and a PDO north of 105 will lead them to the top of the Atlantic. Who knows?

One bright spot for the team has to be the play of Sam Reinhart, who has a CF% of 54.4%, a RelCF% of 3.9%, and a P/60 of 2.08. The possession metrics are third among the team’s forwards, and the P/60 leads the Buffalo skaters. When Eichel and Reinhart fully develop, the Sabres are going to have the best center group in the entire league; keep in mind that O’Reilly is only 24-years-old.

Toronto Maple Leafs

One of the things that Mike Babcock did so well with the Detroit Red Wings over the past couple of seasons was restrict scoring chances against. From 2012-2015, the Red Wings had the third lowest rate of scoring chances against per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 ice time in the league, despite not really having a great defensive roster.

Babcock is doing the same in Toronto, though the terrible roster he has to work with isn’t as effective as the Detroit teams. Last season, the Maple Leafs were second to last in the league with 31.3 SCA/60. This season, that number has plummeted to 24.3, and if it weren’t for a PDO of 97.3 and a 0-3 record in the shootout, the Leafs might actually be close to .500. They have a CF% of 49.5%, which is tied for 15th in the league.

Given the low talent level on the roster, we can assume that they’re probably going to finish the year with a PDO below 100, but not as low as 97.3. Babcock is proving that coaches do have a significant effect on teams, and it will be fun to see what he can do when the management group in Toronto gives him a strong roster.

(All statistics taken from war-on-ice.com, and stats.hockeyanalysis.com. Data is from 5 on 5 situations and score adjusted unless mentioned otherwise).

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