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The Puck Stops Here

Top Scoring Defenceman

Erik Karlsson has developed into a top defenceman with the Ottawa Senators.  He has 33 points in 37 games played.  This ranks him 26th overall in the overall league scoring race. 

Karlsson significantly leads the Sens in ice time.  He has played more than 200 minutes more than Jason Spezza, who is second on the team.  He plays against the toughest quality of opposition among all Senators defencemen.  He is usually used on the second unit penalty kill in Ottawa and hence is not among the team leaders in penalty kill ice time.  While Karlsson’s offence is a stronger part of his game than his defence, he is developing into a solid two-way defenceman.  His defence is not on the level of the top defencemen in the game (Weber, Chara, Lidstrom etc.) but there is hope that he may get there someday.  Karlsson has been the most important player to the Ottawa Senators so far this season.

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Malkin Makes Run At Scoring Title

Evgeni Malkin won the NHL scoring title in 2008/09 with 113 points.  Since then injuries have prevented him from playing a full season and hence taking another run at the scoring race.  It looks like he will be back at or near the top of the race this season.  Currently Malkin sits in third place in the scoring race with 42 points in only 29 games played.  An early season injury slowed his start to the season, but he is now healthy and playing very well.  He is the leading scoring in December so far with 19 points.  He has the best point per game in the league among players with more than ten games played (thus excluding Sidney Crosby).  I think he is the best bet to win the scoring title this season.

The scoring race so far this season has been led by unlikely players. Phil Kessel of Toronto led the race at the beginning of the season and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia is now in the lead.  Neither of these players has ever come close to winning a scoring title.

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Weakest Division In The League

The Southeast Division has been a historically weak division.  No more than two teams have qualified for the playoffs in any season since the NHL shifted to a six division format in 1998.  Five times only one team has qualified for the playoffs.  This season is no different.  The Florida Panthers lead the Southeast Division.  They have an 18-18 record with seven regulation tie points.  They sit in 14th place in the NHL.  Behind them is Washington in 22nd overall, Winnipeg in 23rd overall, Tampa Bay in 25th overall and Carolina in 27th overall (these rankings are all by number of wins).  I argue that ranking teams by wins is more meaningful than points because it reduces the value of regulation tie point.  If the season ended today only Florida would make the playoffs and they are the weakest of the division winners.

It is possible that some of these teams (most notably Washington) could improve in the remainder of the season.

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The Bruins Dominance

The Boston Bruins are currently third in the NHL with a league leading 23 wins and 10 losses.  They have one regulation tie point.  Both teams ahead of the Bruins in the standings have more games played and should Boston win those games they will have the league leading record.  Most impressively, Boston leads the NHL with 3.52 goals per game and with 1.88 goals against per game.  This gives them a league leading 56 goal differential. 

This Bruin team has looked better this season than they did at any point last season and they won the Stanley Cup last season.  Boston has dropped over 0.4 goals against per game since last season.  They have increased their offensive output by over half a goal per game.  This gives them almost an extra goal of advantage per game this season when compared to last.

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Brian Campbell’s Offensive Resurgence

One of the top scoring defencemen in the league this season is Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers.  He has 27 points in 35 games, which puts him third among defencemen so far this season.  27 points was his total last season in 65 games.  He has already equalled his offensive totals from last season with more than half of the year left to play.  Campbell was once a higher scoring defenceman.  In 2007/08, he split the year between Buffalo and San Jose and scored 62 points.  His offensive totals declined during his time in Chicago.

The decline is largely due to the defensive depth the Blackhawks had.  Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook appeared above Campbell on the depth charts.  This limited the quality and quantity of Campbell’s ice time.  Most significantly he was on the second unit of the power play.

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Sens Offensive Surge

Last season the Ottawa Senators were the second lowest scoring team in the league.  They averaged 2.32 goals per game and finished third last in the East Conference.  This season they have seen an offensive improvement.  They have improved to 3.03 goals per game, which puts them seventh place in the league.  This moves the Sens to eighth in the East Conference.  It does not solve all the Sens problems as they still allow a lot of goals, the second highest goals against per game in the league, but it is a significant step in the right direction.

Last season only two Sens players exceeded 35 points.  They were Jason Spezza with 57 points and Erik Karlsson with 45 points.  Those two remain the Sens top scorers at 37 and 31 points respectively.  As long as they stay healthy both should easily exceed last year’s totals.  Six more players are on pace to exceed the 35 point threshold.  This gives Ottawa offensive depth that it did not have last year.

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Top +/- So Far This Season

So far this season Ian White looks like one of the best free agent signings of the 2011 summer.  White signed with Detroit to a two year contract with a $2.875 million salary cap hit.  He has easily provided value in excess of that contract so far this season.  He leads the NHL with a +23 +/- rating.  He has 15 points in 28 games so far this season.  Those are numbers worthy of a position in the All Star Game.

It is quite likely these numbers are unsustainable.  Players with high +/- ratings usually benefit from a high team shooting percentage and saves percentage when they are on the ice.  White is a good example of this.  Detroit has an 11.22% shooting percentage and a .952 saves percentage in even strength situations with White on the ice.  This gives him a 106.4 PDO.  That kind of result is unsustainable.  The league average by definition is 100 and regression to the mean is essentially guaranteed.

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Preventing The Habs From Winning

In an ideal world, the only concern a team should have in making a decision is will it help the team to win.  This should be the bottom line around which all personnel and coaching decisions are made.  In Montreal they have recently fired coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with Randy Cunneyworth.  There is uproar in Quebec, largely among non-hockey fans, that it is outrageous that the Habs coach does not speak French.  This is an unnecessary distraction that keeps Montreal from winning.  Montreal needs to hire the best coach available regardless of if he speaks English, French or Japanese.

In responce to the uproar, Montreal owner Geoff Molson has affirmed this opinion and stated that Cunneyworth is an interim coach and that French is very important for their coach.

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A Great Start To A Career

It is interesting to try to identify Hall of Fame track players as early as possible in their career.  These are players who project to have Hall of Fame careers.  One player who appears to be on such a track that few have spoken of in this manner is John Carlson of the Washington Capitals.

Carlson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the late first round in 2008.  He was first noticed by most hockey fans in the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships.  He was an alternate captain of the gold medal winning US team.  He scored the gold medal winning goal in overtime and was named to the tournament all star team.  He made his NHL debut later in 2010.  By the 2010 playoffs he was fulfilling a significant role on the Capitals defence.

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Selke Trophy Leader

It can be tough to settle on a Selke Trophy leader in the first half of the season because defensive play is hard to quantitatively assess.  It is a tough judgement call to pick the best defensive forward in the league even when armed with a large array of hockey games watched and the best statistics available.  In the later part of November I picked Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars as the Selke Trophy leader.  Today my choice is Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders.

Nielsen is a very good Selke choice.  He is a relentless defensive player who plays a thankless role on the Islanders.  He spends well over two minutes a game on the penalty kill.  He plays against the toughest opposition players.  He has a significant number of defensive zone starts.  While doing this he is quite successful.  He is one of the few New York Islanders players with game changing ability.

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

Why am I blogging? I want to.

Why are you reading it? ???

Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com

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