O’Donnell: Atlantic thoughts – Tampa Bay, Rask and Reimer

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’s Dynamic Duo

After two straight seasons of depending on Carey Price to carry the team in front of him, the Montreal Canadiens have turned things around and have become one of the best possession teams in the entire league. They are currently tied for 5th in terms of score adjusted Corsi For percentage, which is a big difference from the 25th that they rank from 2013-2015.

A big part of that possession dominance is the incredible play of Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty, who are arguably the best winger duo in the entire league. They each have a CF% over 59.0% (top ten in the league for skaters with more than 100 minutes played) and they each have a RelCF% over 8.5% (top 15 in the league).

Not only are they driving the bus when it comes to possession, they’re also producing. Both players have eight goals and eight assists for a total of 16 points in 18 games.

Here comes the craziest part; Pacioretty is 26, and under contract until the 2018-2019 season. He is arguably one of the best wingers in the NHL right now, and carries a cap hit of only 4.5 million dollars. Brooks Orpik, Cam Ward, Dan Girardi, Dave Bolland, David Clarkson, and R.J Umberger all make more than Max Pacioretty, and the Canadiens have him under contract for another three years.

Gallagher’s deal is even crazier. The young winger is 23 years old, and is signed through the 2020-2021 season with a cap hit of 3.75 million dollars per year. Gallagher is clearly a top line winger at the NHL level, hasn’t yet hit his prime, and carries a cap hit of less than four million dollars per year. Marc Bergevin is a genius.

Ottawa’s Possession Concerns

The Ottawa Senators are tied for the second worst possession numbers in the entire league, as only the Colorado Avalanche have a lower CF% than Ottawa’s 46.2%. The Senators, unlike the Avalanche (or the Flames, the other team in the league with a 46.2% CF%), have a winning record, and sit near the top of their division, not near the bottom.

Constantly getting outshot at even strength isn’t a recipe for success, and one has to assume that the Senators are going to see their luck turn eventually. They have one of the league’s higher PDOs (101.7), and even then, they only have an overall goal differential of -2. Ottawa is winning hockey games right now, but they don’t look like a good team while doing so, and it’s likely that the wheels could fall off the bus soon.

Is Tampa Overrated?

The Tampa Bay Lightning have looked like a good team at the start of the 2015-2016 season, with a 51.4% CF% that puts them at tenth in the league. For Tampa, however, being a “good” team is underperforming. This is a team that it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and then returned almost their entire roster. The expectation for the Bolts this season was to dominate the league possession wise, and make another run at the Stanley Cup. Right now, they don’t look capable of doing either of those two things.

Most of the expectations for the Lightning from a possession standpoint stem from their success at controlling 5 on 5 play last season; they finished second in the league with a 53.9% CF%. Looking back, however, that performance may have been a bit of a fluke. After dominating at the start of the season, Tampa fell to a level of play similar to where they’re at now.

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Here’s their 20-game rolling average of CF%. Near the end of last season, Tampa was around 52%, and this season, they’re around 51%. Seeing as there are no teams trying to blatantly tank this year, it’s reasonable to assume that Tampa is playing close to the level they were playing at near the end of the 2014-2015 season. Maybe their possession dominance has been overstated, or, maybe their possession issues aren’t just a problem from this season; the drop-off in 2014-2015 is really prevalent around February of 2015.

What’s up with Tuukka Rask?

The Boston Bruins are playing good hockey. Despite not having the great defensive corps like they had in the past, the team is still playing good possession hockey (12th in the league with a 50.1% CF%), and winning games; they stand at 4th in the Atlantic with an 8-7-1 record, and a +3 goal differential.

This is all despite the fact that Tuukka Rask only has a save percentage of .896% in all situations which is well below the league average. Some of that has to do with poor luck, as Rask’s .700% SV% while shorthanded is incredibly low, and penalty kill situations usually aren’t indicative of goaltender skill, as they are influenced strongly by the team in front of the net minder.

Some of it is just Rask not performing at the level of play he’s demonstrated in the past. His 5 on 5 SV% is .915, which is well below the numbers he posted in the past. From 2012-2015, Rask’s 5 v 5 SV% never dropped below .930%.

Despite the rough start, it’s likely that Rask bounces back, as his SV% since the last week of October is .928% (h/t to Greg Balloch for pointing this out). Though the rough start has caused some concern, Rask is still a high-end NHL net minder, and it would be surprising if he didn’t turn things around this season.

Datsyuk’s brilliance

Though everyone likes to talk about the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, the 43-year-old Czech may have an eventual challenger in Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk is 37-years-old, and still playing at a high level of play. He averaged more than a point per game last season, and though he’s only played two games so far this season due to injury, his impact can already be seen.

Here’s Detroit’s two-game rolling average for CF%. Datsyuk missed the team’s first 15 games, but returned for their most recent two. It’s very obvious to see when Datsyuk returned to the lineup.

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Detroit, who had been having possession issues at the start of the season, is probably going to start turning things around. Datsyuk will be a big reason why.

Buffalo’s chance at history

The Buffalo Sabres are playing solid hockey right now, with a 49.3% CF% that ranks 16th in the NHL. This has resulted in them having a 8-8-1 record, which is a decent start to the season, and one that can be improved on.

The team is also currently missing Evander Kane and Robin Lehner due to injury, and could improve even further when those two return. If they get some bounces, the Sabres could be a threat to make the playoffs this season, which would be an incredible turnaround from the last place finish they experienced last season.

That type of turnaround doesn’t happen often, and hasn’t happened since the Philadelphia Flyers finished last in the league in 2006-2007, and then made the playoffs in 2007-2008.

Brandon Pirri’s poor puck luck

Last season, Brandon Pirri burst onto the scene as one of the Panthers’ best goal scorers, netting 22 goals in 49 games. This season, the young winger hasn’t been putting the back of the net as often, with only three goals in 17 games.

Part of last season’s impressive totals was Pirri’s 15.4% personal shooting percentage, but the 24-year-old also generated shot attempts at an impressive rate. This season, Pirri is 34th in the league with an individual shot attempts per 60 of 16.79, so he’s still firing pucks off consistently, but his SH% has fallen to 7.5%. Given Pirri’s talent and history, a reasonable range for him to be shooting is 10%, so expect to see him start putting the puck in the back of the net more often.

Reimer looking good again

During the 2012-2013 season, James Reimer posted a .923 SV% as the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs, and took the Boston Bruins to seven games before collapsing in the third period of Game 7.

The success didn’t continue, however, and Reimer posted save percentages of .911 and .907 in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons. Headed into the 2015-2016 season, it was assumed that Reimer would be backing up Jonathan Bernier for most of the season.

Reimer was the backup to start the season, but took over after Bernier went down with an injury, and hasn’t looked back. The 27-year-old’s SV% is back up to .925%, and is much better than Bernier’s .895%.

Seeing as the Maple Leafs aren’t doing very well this season, Reimer could become a trade chip later in the year, especially if he continues to perform wel

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