Pacific Snapshot (10/26/15)

Almost a tenth of the way so far, is this division as much of a tire fire as it appears?

Longtime Jewels readers may recall we had a little feature for the last couple of years called "This Week in Kings" , which gave you a week-by-week breakdown of the Pacific Division. Unfortunately my increased work schedule makes that kind of commitment difficult for me to give consistently- those articles took hours to write, believe it or not- so instead this season I'm replacing it with a feature called Pacific Snapshot. Basically, at certain milestones of the season (read: when I have time to do it) we'll take a look at the Pacific Division standings and how each individual team is doing. And since all the teams in the division but one have played at least 8 games, basically a tenth of their way through the season, now seems like a perfect time to take our first look.

Below you'll find the current Pacific Division standings. I've thrown five fancy stats in at the end- Corsi For % (shot attempts), Fenwick For % (unblocked shot attempts), PDO (save % plus shooting %), the % of scoring chances, and the % of high-danger scoring chances. All stats are at even strength and come courtesy of War on Ice.

Team GP W L OTL Points ROW GF GA Diff Home Away CF% FF% PDO SC% HSC%
1. Los Angeles 8 5 3 0 10 5 16 17 -1 3-3-0 2-0-0 56.7 55.5 97.9 54.5 54.1
2. San Jose 8 5 3 0 10 4 23 18 +5 2-1-0 3-2-0 50.0 51.3 101.8 52.8 63.8
3. Arizona 8 4 3 1 9 4 23 19 +4
1-2-0 3-1-1 46.0 44.1 107.0 50.7 51.3
4. Vancouver 8 3 2 3 9 2 20 17 +3 0-2-3 3-0-0 47.9 49.6 100.6 46.4 48.9
5. Edmonton 9 3 6 0 6 3 21 27 -6 1-3-0 2-3-0 46.0 46.0 99.0 47.9 42.8
6. Calgary 8 2 6 0 4 2 16 31 -15 1-4-0 1-2-0 47.3 46.8 93.5 46.2 44.2
7. Anaheim 7 1 5 1 3 1 6 20 -14 1-2-1 0-3-0 51.9 49.3 94.7 45.0 45.6

Let's start at the top and work our way down:

1. Los Angeles: Obviously we should all be intimately familiar with the Kings' roller coaster-like start to the season. It began with a plunge downward, as the Kings lost their first three games in regulation by a combined score of 12-2. That's about as bad of a start as you can have, yes. But since then the team has turned things around, winning their next 5 games with a +9 goal differential along the way. That still makes them a -1 on the year of course, which looks funny with them sitting at the top of the standings so far, but you'd think that will continue to improve. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Los Angeles' turnaround is that it comes with a PDO still below 98%; Jonathan Quick has quietly improved his sv% on the year to .923 (it was right at .900 just a couple games ago, but Quick has been great since and we're still early!), but on the other hand the Kings are still only converting on 4.5% of their shots at even strength. That shooting percentage is the fourth-lowest in the league, and though the Kings are generally one of the worse teams in this stat, 4.5% is not where they'll finish the year (last year, for instance, they were at 7.2% by year's end, which still put them in the bottom third of the league). So the fact that the Kings are already winning games while their shooting percentage will continue to regress upward is a very good sign. Meanwhile, the club is in their usual rarefied air in puck possession, ranking 2nd in both Corsi & Fenwick at even strength (St. Louis leads them in both). Their scoring chance percentages look good so far too, with their high-danger chances percentage almost exactly the same as their full season mark from last year (54.2%) and their scoring-chance percentage up a little bit (53.2% last year). Basically, everything looks good for the Kings! It wouldn't surprise me at all if this was the year they finally were in the race for the division crown all the way to the end, based on both the strength of their own team and the weakness of the rest of the division (especially, uh, one team in particular).

2. San Jose: Like the Kings, the Sharks started with a bit of a roller coaster ride, except in reverse. It began with a 4-game winning streak, with a combined score of 14-2 (13-2 if you don't count a shootout bonus goal) in those victories. However, the Sharks then hit the skids with a three-game losing streak, dropping those games by a combined score of 14-4. San Jose turned things around on Saturday night by beating Carolina 5-2 at home, which tied them with the Kings for 1st in the division (the Kings have the ROW tiebreaker by one victory). The Sharks are controlling a surprisingly low 50% of all shot attempts at even strength so far; their unblocked attempts are a bit better but still not elite by any stretch. Their PDO is a bit high, suggesting they could be due for a little regression. On the other hand, they are controlling a solid 52.8% of all scoring chances so far and an absurdly high 63.8% of high-danger chances, so those numbers are obviously very encouraging for them. Basically, expect the Sharks to get at least a little better, if not significantly better, at puck possession once they get Logan Couture and Paul Martin back from injury (both important players went down not soon after the start of the year, which surely contributed to their losing streak), perhaps get a little worse goaltending than they've gotten from Martin Jones so far, and probably be about where they are now: battling it out for yet another division banner with the Kings all year long.

3. Arizona: They would be the biggest surprise of the division so far were it not for one other team, but if you're looking for this year's version of Calgary or Colorado, so far it's clearly Arizona. Their puck possession numbers are very bad so far, their PDO is the highest in the league (thanks to an 11.2 shooting percentage at evens and Mike Smith's .927 save percentage), and the Coyotes are thus far not the lottery team everyone expected. Of course, we've seen this story before: goalie has an exceptional year and/or team shoots the lights out, propping an expected-to-be-awful team all the way up to a playoff berth. Mike Smith has certainly done it before, helping the Coyotes win the Pacific Division in 2011-12 with a .930 sv% (his sv% in the years since: .910, .915, .904). So who really knows what's going to happen next with this team- they could keep this up all year long and sneak into the playoffs in a ridiculously weak-looking Pacific, they could crash-and-burn starting tonight, or it could be somewhere in-between. If you're looking for a bright spot in the Coyotes' advanced stats, they're doing a little better than break-even in scoring chance % so far and even better than that in high-danger chances, which suggests the team is at least playing structurally sound defense so far even as they're getting buried in possession (of course, the usual warnings about small sample sizes apply).

4. Vancouver: Is there a more boring team in the NHL than the Canucks at this point? They snoozed their way to a playoff spot last year, and on first glance may be overachieving their low expectations again this season (following an offseason that appeared to be disastrous). But while 9 points in 8 games looks okay, and maybe even looks great in this weak division, they still only have two ROWs in 8 games. That's pretty bad, actually, and is in fact one less than Edmonton has so far! The Canucks have subpar puck possession, average PDO, and are pretty bad at controlling scoring chances. They've lost their last four straight (including a loss to those same Oilers), and were it not for the fact that they grabbed the loser point in 2 of those 4 losses, we'd be talking about a Canucks team a point ahead of Edmonton for fifth instead of a point out of first place. As it is now, does anyone really take this Canucks team as a serious threat? About the only thing they have going for them is the simple fact that three teams in the Pacific have to make the playoffs, and unless you're a huge believer in Mike Smith there would certainly seem to be a third spot open for the taking.

5. Edmonton: The good news for the Oilers is that Connor McDavid has been as advertised so far; he's got 5 goals and 4 assists for 9 points in 9 games, and he's even managed to drag fellow 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov back to respectability (2-6-8 in 9). It would be nice for the Oil if their other first overall picks could contribute a bit more; Taylor Hall's got 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points in 9 games and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 3 goals and 2 assists. Those are OK numbers, but certainly nothing to write home about given the pedigress involved. Meanwhile, the team still can't possess the puck, is getting only slightly below-average luck, and has the 4th worst high-danger scoring chance percentage in the league, which all adds up to yet another losing record early on. Business as usual in Edmonton, I guess!

6. Calgary: Not to pat myself on the back too hard 8 games into the season or anything, but here's what Your Boy John wrote back in our standings prediction: "my prediction is that the Flames will finish worse than they did last year (I have them 5th and out of the playoffs), but be a better team than they were last year (their possession stats should see modest improvement, thanks to the additions of Hamilton & Frolik and continued progression from their young guns)." So far, the Flames have a 47.3% Corsi & 46.8% Fenwick, both numbers slightly better than their full-season totals last year (44.5% & 45.8%, respectively). They also have gone 2-6-0 for a grand total of 4 points, putting them near the bottom of an awful division so far. They have one of the worst PDOs in the league this year, with only Columbus & Buffalo getting less puck luck. Other than getting awful goaltending (Ramo has an .879 sv% and Hiller is even worse at .872), the Flames also have seen their shooting luck completely do a 180 on them. They are shooting just 6% at even strength so far this season (9th worst in the league), which is a far cry from last year's 8.7% (tied for 2nd and just .1% less than the league leading Stars). So the Flames are a little better this year, but they're doing worse. Sounds just like what we predicted! We're so great at predicting things huh?

7. Anaheim: Oh, yeah. The Ducks. So in that same predictions post, 5 out of 7 of us picked the Ducks to finish 1st in the division. Andrew & I were the only ones who didn't agree, as we had them all the way down at, uh, second. Meanwhile, the Ducks have 3 points through their first 7 games, have incredibly scored just 6 goals in those 7 games (Tyler Toffoli has 6 on his own, which you might be sick of hearing but I really need to reiterate because he is a person and they are a whole team of people and it is hilarious), and are suddenly looking less like a Cup contender and more like a team that will struggle just to make the playoffs. If they were in the Central instead of the Pacific, and thus 8 points out of a playoff spot instead of 6 (and chasing the Wild and Blackhawks instead of the Coyotes and Canucks), you would be forgiven for writing them off already. So, uh, what the hell has happened to the Ducks so far? Take a look at the following table (all stats at even strength):

Season Corsi % Shooting % Save % Scoring Chance % High-Danger SC%
12-13 47.9 8.7 .931 50.3 50.3
13-14 50.0 9.8 .925 50.4 52.3
14-15 51.2 8.3 .919 52.2 52.0
15-16 51.9 2.5 .921 45.0 45.6

I'm not sure if this is hyperbole, but the Ducks start to this season may be one of the most bizarre in NHL history. If you look at the above table, you'll see a team that, over the past number of seasons, generally has higher-than-average shooting %s, average-ish save percentages (or in the case of last year, .919 at evens was only good for 20th, so below average), and middling Corsi numbers. You'll also see a team that's improved steadily, to the point where their 14-15 team was their best at possession of this recent run, and they also did great at generating more scoring chances than the opposition. So far through 7 games- and again, yes, small sample sizes and all that- the Ducks have slightly improved in puck possession while cratering in shooting percentage. 2.5% is not just bad, it's horrendous. It's a full two points below the Kings' own, very awful shooting percentage at evens so far this year. Obviously they won't shoot that badly all year long, but what has to be more concerning for Ducks fans is they've shown no ability to generate scoring chances so far. Their 23.0 scoring chances per 60 minutes at even strength is 4th-worst in the league, ahead of only the Devils, Avalanche, and Red Wings. They do a little better at generating so-called "high danger" chances, as their 10.1 per 60 minutes of even strength play is 20th in the league (though so far they're also allowing the 8th most high-danger chances at the other end of the ice).

Basically, the Ducks are having a lot of trouble generating more scoring chances than their opposition, even with slightly better puck possession than last year. Obviously that doesn't entirely explain a 2.5% shooting percentage and some (or maybe even most) of their scoring chance woes likely is pure randomness and luck this early in the season, but there's also a chance here that the Ducks simply aren't as good as we all expected them to be. It's worth noting that the Ducks' three star forwards all just crossed that magical 30 line (well, Getzlaf & Perry are both 30; Kesler is 31) and are undoubtedly going to be declining going forward. They probably aren't "one point each and no goals through 7" bad, no. But their best years are clearly behind them.

And, more than anything else, maybe it's finally just time for the Ducks to have a down year. Maybe, after years of sky-high shooting percentages and/or wacky 1-goal-game records, this is finally the year for the Ducks to get some bad luck for a change. Maybe we finally live in a wonderful world where the Ducks don't get every break imaginable and cruise to a practically uncontested division title. Maybe!

I just wanted to write that all down, while I still could, before the Ducks win their next ten straight or something, because life isn't fair.

Anyway! That's what this division's looked like so far this year. It's basically a tire fire, but no one can call it uninteresting! Let's take a quick look at what all seven teams have coming up in the next week, with division matchups bolded (all times are Pacific):

Team 10/26
LA - @WPG (5:00) - - - vs.NSH (1:00) -
- vs.NSH (7:30)
- - @DAL (Noon) @COL (Noon)
ARI @TOR (4:30) @BOS (4:00) - - vs.VAN (7:00)
VAN - vs.MTL (7:00) - @DAL (5:30)
@ARI (7:00)
- @MIN (5:00)
- vs.MTL (6:00) - vs.CGY (7:00)
CGY @NYI (4:00)
@OTT (4:30)
- vs.MTL (6:00)
@EDM (7:00)
ANA @CHI (5:30)
@DAL (5:30) - @STL (5:00) - -
vs.NSH (5:00)

As you can see it's a lot of Pacific vs. Central coming up this week, which honestly probably doesn't bode well for any of the Pacific teams.

So that's it for today's Pacific snapshot! How about we do this again in a couple weeks? Sound good? Good.