Every year I pick out a team that could be a solid contender if only they had goaltending. Last year I picked the Ottawa Senators, a team that did not solve their goaltending issues and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.
My choice this year could not be more obvious. It is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa has the second lowest shots allowed per game at 27.1. They also have the worst goals against average in the league at 3.47. Their goaltenders Dan Ellis and Mike Smith have the two worst saves percentages in the league at .876 and .872 respectively.
Last week, I looked at the AHL scoring race. Dustin Jeffrey of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh`s farm affiliate) and Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears (Washington`s farm affiliate) were tied for the scoring lead. Since then both have been called up to the NHL. Jeffrey has two points in his one NHL game. Gordon hasn`t scored in his game. As a result of their call-ups, both of these players have fallen back in the AHL scoring race.
The current AHL scoring leader is Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa`s farm affiliate). Locke has 34 points so far this year. This is a two points more than anyone else in the league.
One of the debates in hockey circles recently is about whether rookies need to earn respect before they can show their personality. This comes on the heels of two events. On Friday night, Linus Omark of the Edmonton Oilers was in his first ever NHL game playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He won the shootout with a highlight reel goal where he did a spinorama before entering the offensive zone and scoring on Tampa goalie Dan Ellis.
About three weeks earlier, PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens was publicly denounced by the Philadelphia Flyers, led by Mike Richards for not showing the proper respect and instead trash talking the Flyers.
I have often said that it is easy to make a trade in the NHL, as long as you make a bad trade, where you give away far more than you get back. It turns out that even that isn’t true. Boston has been trying to trade Marco Sturm to Los Angeles for next to nothing. It was first reported that the trade had been made last week, but it fell through. It is reported as being complete today. The trade is Marco Sturm to Los Angeles for future considerations - pending a physical. The future considerations appear to be nothing more than salary cap space. Boston had to try for at least a weak to give a player away.
The trade is necessitated by Sturm returning from injury. He had been on longterm injury reserve since the season began and needed some salary cap space freed up to return. Instead of freeing up the space Boston gave him away for nothing.
It is hard to remain the worst regular in the NHL for any period of time. If you look too bad, you stop getting a regular shift. If you play better, you stop being the worst. The most recent player I selected as the worst in the league was Kyle Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings. He is a 19 year old rookie who is using the first year of an entry level deal and struggling in the NHL. There have been some good signs lately. He scored his first NHL goal last night and is up to two points in 22 games played. It’s not a good start in the league, but it appears he is making progress and is no longer the worst regular in the league.
To find a new selection, I do not have to go very far. He is another Los Angeles Kings who regularly dresses and gets very limited ice time. He is Kevin Westgarth.
A lot of press has been given to the Pittsburgh Penguins who are on an 11 game winning streak. With 42 points, they are in first place in the league. Sidney Crosby, their best player, leads the league with 50 points. This is a ten point lead over anyone else in the league and a 17 point lead over anyone not in the Southeast Division. Kris Letang is my pick for the Norris Trophy right now as top defenceman in the league. His 26 points place him second among defencemen in the league. His +16 +/- rating is second in the league as well. When a team has the best forward in a season and the best defenceman too, clearly things are looking good.
The organization’s success doesn’t end there. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are leading the AHL.
Ilya Kovalchuk has been one of the better goal scorers in the NHL thus far in his career; however he has not had the same success this year so far. He has played eight complete seasons before this one and averaged slightly over 42 goals per season. This season so far he has only scored five goals in 26 games as New Jersey has struggled. The Devils have been the lowest scoring team in the league with only 1.78 goals per game. This is due to several factors including injury to Zach Parise and bad luck, but many people have placed the blame on Ilya Kovalchuk’s failure to score and the effect on the Devils depth as a result of his contract.
A lot of Kovalchuk’s problems can be seen by looking at his shooting percentage over the course of his career.
When Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks scored 36 points from defence in the 2008/09 season, he looked like a star defenceman. He was 21 that season (he turned 22 in March of the season) and was in his third NHL season.
That hasn’t lasted. He dropped to 16 points last year and is yet to score at all this season. He has no points in 26 games so far this season. His -6 +/- rating is the worst +/- among San Jose defencemen. Vlasic is only 23 years old, but he has fallen off the path to stardom. What has gone wrong?
I last looked at the AHL scoring race about two weeks ago. Corey Locke of the Binghamton Senators (Ottawa farm team) was leading the scoring race with Andrew Gordon of the Hershey Bears (Washington farm team) on his tail. Since then, Corey Locke has cooled off. He has one point since then. Now Andrew Gordon and Dustin Jeffrey of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh affiliate) are the current AHL scoring leaders with 30 points each. Locke and two others are next in the race with 28 points each.
Gordon is having a strong year as the top offensive player with the Bears. He has been consistently improving in his AHL career. At age 24 (25 this month) he still has time to make an NHL impact. Will he be able to find a spot on the high scoring Washington Capitals?
One important way to gage how tough a player’s minutes are is by looking at their zone starts. We tabulate the number of faceoffs a given player is on the ice for by zone (offensive, neutral and defensive). A player who starts a large percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone is playing a tough defensive role with his team. This will hurt his offensive numbers, his +/-, his Corsi and almost every other statistic. A player who starts a large percentage of his shifts in the offensive zone has a great chance to score a lot of points. This will show up in terms of improved numbers (points, +/-, Corsi etc.). A player who has a lot of offensive zone starts is using a large number of his team’s offensive opportunities and better be scoring a lot of points. This player’s point totals will be increased as a function of his usage above and beyond the level he would have scored on his own without the beneficial usage pattern.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???