Kukla's Korner

The Puck Stops Here

If Only They Had A Goaltender

Periodically I have written a post entitled if only they had a goaltender.  Never before has it been truer than right now with the Carolina Hurricanes.  Carolina is in last place in the NHL with a 2-7.  Even with three regulation tie points this gives them only 7 points which is worst in the NHL. 

Carolina has more shots on goal than they have allowed.  They have taken 28.7 shots per game while allowing 28.1.  They are ninth best in the league in shots allowed.  That is a sign of a solid but not spectacular defence.  Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey and Jaccob Slavin are reliable defencemen.  They give the Hurricanes a solid core in their defence.

The problem is goaltending and it is a significant problem.  Cam Ward and Eddie Lack are failing.  Ward is posting a .882 saves percentage and a 3.33 GAA.  Those are numbers that would tend to get a goalie demoted to the AHL.  Eddie Lack has been worse.  He has a .857 saves percentage and a 3.99 GAA.  This is terrible goaltending.

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Habs Hot Start

Ten games into the season the Montreal Canadiens are in first place in the NHL.  They have nine wins and one loss.  The loss was a regulation tie so they have points in all ten of their games to date.  Their 19 points so far this season is four points ahead of any other team.

Montreal's biggest strength is in goal.  Carey Price might be the best goaltender in hockey.  Al Montoya played very well when Price was out early this season.  On defence, Shea Weber is the early Norris Trophy front runner.  Offensively, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher and Alexander Radulov are leading the way offensively.

Last year, Montreal missed the playoffs and many fans thought coach Michel Therrien should be fired.  This year that call seems to have stopped.  Therrien has suddenly become a good coach and may even be an Adams Trophy candidate if Montreal keeps up their top play.  This shows that most people have no idea how to evaluate coaching.  A good coach is merely a coach who exceeds expectations.  The coach of the year is the coach of the most improved team.  Therrien is a much better coach when he has Carey Price in net than when he doesn't - as in last season.  It is amazing how much a good goalie can make a coach smarter.

Montreal will likely not last in first place but as long as Carey Price is healthy, they should be a clear playoff team.  They will not be able to get points in all their games this season.  No team can do this.  Montreal is not the most talented team in the NHL.  They will have harder times as the season carries on.  Their fast start bodes well for the future and Michel Therrien is getting credit for it.  Most likely they won't stay in first place but their start is very good.

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Worst Regular So Far This Season

I find it interesting to try to pick the worst regular player in the NHL in any given season.  Often it shows a flaw in the way some teams are built.  There are players who remain in the line-up despite failure.  Usually these players are hard working grinders with limited ability.

I think it is reasonable to pick Trevor Lewis of the Los Angeles Kings as the worst regular so far this season.  In ten games played he has no points and a -9 +/- rating.  Lewis has had +/- problems in the past.  Last year he posted the 13th worst adjusted +/- in the league.  On a good puck possession team in Los Angeles, he has got away with this without being singled out by fans and the media.  Lewis's career best is 25 points in 2013/14.  He doesn't score much.  In 434 career games to date he has 89 points.  Despite being on a top team, he has had a negative +/- rating over his career. 

Lewis is played as a solid depth player in Los Angeles.  He is signed for $2 million a year.  At best he has been a replacement level player and so far this season he has been worse than that.  Probably Lewis will improve this season as he regresses to his established average level of play but he is unlikely to be an important member of the Los Angeles Kings.  In fact the Kings might improve if they can replace him with a solid NHL player.  Lewis is an example of a player who is well liked by fans and teammates and thus hard to pull from the line-up even when he struggles.  So far this season he has been the worst regular in the league.

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AHL Top Scorer

The top scorer so far in the AHL is Brendan Leipsic of the first place Toronto Marlies.  He has 13 points so far in 8 games and a three point lead on anyone else in the league. 

Leipsic is 22 years old.  He was drafted by Nashville in the 3rd round of the 2012 entry draft.  As a 19 year old in 2013, he led the CHL in scoring.  His offensive totals dropped in his final CHL season.  He was traded to Toronto along with Olli Jokinen and a 2015 first round draft pick (this pick was later moved to Philadelphia who picked Travis Konecny) in 2014 for Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson.  Last season Leipsic played six games at the NHL level scoring three points. 

Leipsic has been a solid AHL level player with 109 career points in 142 career games before this season, but he has shown no signs of being top scorer material.  Given his CHL past where he scored 120 points and won the scoring title between seasons of 58 and 91 points, there is evidence that he can be a streaky scorer.

I would be surprised if Leipsic wins the AHL scoring title in part because a rebuilding Toronto Maple Leaf team would give him an NHL shot if he succeeds at the AHL level.  I would also be surprised if he has the ability to keep up his scoring at this level - because he has not done so in the past - but its not entirely impossible.  I expect as we pull further into the AHL season other players will take over the scoring race.

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Top Goalie So Far

It is the end of October and the regular season is almost three weeks old.  There is a player establishing himself as the top goalie so far this year.  It is Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild.  He has just completed three straight shutouts to lower his GAA to 1.43 while posting a .952 saves percentage.

Dubnyk is a streaky goaltender.  On a hot streak when he first got to Minnesota he played so well to earn in a Vezina nomination.  Prior to that, he almost played himself out of the league as an Edmonton Oiler.  The real Dubnyk comes somewhere between those two extremes.  Likely over time he will regress from this outstanding level he has shown so far this season.  I would expect that he does not win the Vezina Trophy this year but he is off to a fast start and is the early leader.

Devan Dubnyk is a solid goaltender in Minnesota.  A hot streak has him the best goaltender to far this season.  Thus he is currently the top goalie in the league this season.  He may not stay at that level all season but so far he has been great in the Wild goal.

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MVP So Far

A couple weeks ago I made my first pick as the MVP at that point of the season.  I picked Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins.  He is no longer the MVP so far this season.  He has been passed by Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.  Through eight games played, he has 12 points to lead the league and is sporting a +9 +/- rating.

Two of the biggest stories so far this season have been Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.  These two players do not have a single full NHL season between them and have both been among the most valuable players in the league so far.  If they can keep this play going we are entering a new era.  Not even in 2005/06 when Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were both rookies had two players this young make as big an impact at the beginning of their careers.  We are still looking at a small sample size of games, so it is possible that they cannot keep up their play at this level all season, but we are seeing some tremendous play from teenagers in the NHL.

Connor McDavid is my pick for MVP at this point in the season.

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AHL’s Top Team

On Monday I wrote that the Albany Devils were the final AHL to to be defeated.  Since then, Albany (New Jersey's farm team) has not done so well.  On Wednesday they lost to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh's affiliate) 3-1.  Yesterday they lost ot the Toronto Marlies (Maple Leafs affiliate) 3-0.  Today they beat the Marlies 4-3 in a shootout.  This drops them out of first place in the AHL.  Moving into first place is their recent rival Toronto.  The Marlies have a record of 6-2 with one of their losses coming in today's shootout.  This gives them an .813 winning percentage.

The Marlies were the regular season champions in the AHL last year as well.  They are the highest scoring team in the AHL with 30 goals so far this season.  Brendan Leipsic is currently the top scorer in the AHL with 13 points.  Kasperi Kapanen has 9 points and sits in 4th in league scoring.  Toronto has some offensive forces.  Antoine Bibeau has been a solid number one goalie for the Marlies posting a .944 saves percentage and a 1.64 GAA in his six games played. 

The Toronto Marlies are the top team in the AHL right now.  They have several players who might interest their NHL affiliate Leafs.  It looks like the Toronto rebuild is on the right track so far.

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Early Lady Byng Leader

It is still early in the season but I think we have a leader in the Lady Byng race.  Our leader is a rookie who is tied for the NHL lead in goals and one point behind the NHL lead and has no penalty minutes yet in his NHL career.  Our leader is Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It is very rare that a rookie is good enough to be considered for an award other than the Calder Trophy but Matthews has been good enough so far to be not only the Calder leader but also the Lady Byng leader.  He is probably under consideration for another award or two though I don't see him as the current leader.  This is a phenomenal start to a career.  If Matthews keeps playing at this level over the longer term, he will go down in history as one of the game's all time greats.

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Early Season Top Defencemen

It is still early in the season but there has been enough time for one defenceman to separate himself from the pack this year.  Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens.  Weber has nine points leading all defencemen in the league.  With a +12 +/- rating he leads the NHL by three points over any other player.

Weber is a newcomer to the Montreal Canadiens.  He was acquired last summer for PK Subban. 

He has been a top defenceman in the NHL in the past.  He was runner up to the Norris Trophy in both 2011 and 2012.  In 2014 and 2015 he was a Second Team All Star on defence. 

At age 31, people thought Shea Weber was showing early signs of decline last year.  So far this season, he appears to be in his career prime.  It will be interesting if he can keep it up all season.  I would predict he slows from his current pace but may remain a candidate for the Norris Trophy when season ends. At this point he is the leader.

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Shea Weber And The Habs

This summer Montreal traded away PK Subban to bring in Shea Weber.  Most people looking at the trade (including me) said Nashville clearly won the deal.  Nashville won the deal because although both players involved are among the top defencemen in the game today, Subban is younger and less battle-worn and is almost certain to have a greater value in the years to come. 

It is early in the 2016/17 season and Montreal has looked very good.  Shea Weber has been one of their top players.  Going into tonight's games he leads the league with a +10 +/- rating.  This has some people saying wait a minute.  The pundits were wrong.  Weber is better than Subban.  Look at the results so far.

One big problem with that statement is sample size.  We have hardly had any games yet to draw a meaningful opinion.  However the bigger problem is that the games we have seen so far do not address the problem the pundits had with the trade.  The problem is Subban is a younger player.  He projects better as we look into the future.  It may be that he shows he is a better player now by the end of the year, but even if he doesn't it is almost certain that he will in the future.  He is further from the decline phase of his career than Weber.

Montreal may be off to a fast start.  Shea Weber may be a big part of that fast start.  None of that addresses the problem that Subban is younger than Weber and that will cost the Habs in the future.

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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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