Friday, November 4, 2016

A Lot Can Change In The NHL In Two Weeks

It seems like the go-to late-October post for NHL writers is "here's some things we didn't expect to happen" - and then they always seem to qualify it by saying that things will likely change and be exactly what we expected.

The early-season small sample size developments are always interesting, and there were a few of them to discuss just before Halloween. It's now four days after Halloween, and you can just go ahead and (print those columns out and) throw them in the trash.

The Pacific Division Playoff Race

As Of October 23rd: As we expected, the Kings and Sharks are battling for the top seed. But the overachieving Canucks are battling for the third spot with the Ducks and Oilers. The Flames and Coyotes seem to be in the bottom tier out West.

As Of November 4th: The Oilers have surged, and now find themselves in the mix with the Kings and Sharks. The Canucks have plummeted and now find themselves even below the Flames and Coyotes. And the Ducks, who many projected to win this division, are floating somewhere between those two groups.

What Is Real Life: The Ducks will probably jump up to the top group. The biggest question is whether or not the Oilers can remain there, and it's a legitimate question because their advanced metrics have been decidedly up-and-down. The only things we know for sure are that Mark Letestu is bad, the Puljujarvi/Maroon duo of wings has been good, and Connor McDavid is otherworldly (via HockeyViz).

Everyone In The Central Divison Is Good

As Of October 23rd: Well, everyone except the Avalache. The Wild, Predators, and Blues have separated themselves in the three playoff spots. The Blackhawks, Stars, and Jets are right behind them, fighting for the wild card spot (maybe even both wild card spots).

As Of November 4th: The 'Hawks are on a tear, and they are currently with the Wild ahead of the rest of the pack. The Blues and Predators are paired up several points back, and the Stars and Jets have been trending downward into their own fringe-of-the-playoffs group. The Avalanche are still bad.

What Is Real Life: God, I was hoping the Blackhawks were bad. But they aren't, they're going to finish head and shoulders above the Minnesota/St. Louis/Nashville group. The big question in this division is the Stars; their goaltending has been a little above average (Lehtonen) and a little below average (Niemi), but it hasn't been a trainwreck like last season. Yet Dallas is just 4-4-2, and they're in the middle of the pack in terms of goals scored.

The Montreal Canadiens

As Of October 23rd: They might win the Atlantic Division!

As Of November 4th: They might win the Presidents' Trophy!

What Is Real Life: The Habs are in the bottom third of the league in Corsi For Percentage (47.46%), but they're 12th-best in the league in Corsi For Per Sixty (they move up to 11th when you adjust for shot quality). They can afford to play high-event hockey because they have the best goaltender in the world in net. Through four games, Price's Expected Goals Against is 11.5. His actual goals against is 4. What the fuck.

Can Anyone Jump Into The Washington/Pittsburgh Group In The Metro?

As Of October 23rd: Probably not. The Capitals and Penguins are a handful of points clear of the rest of the division. The Flyers, Rangers, and Islanders will be competing for third place, as many people expected coming into the year.

As Of November 4th: Well, the Caps and Pens got better. They're still going to be the top two seeds in the division. The Rangers and the Flyers have established themselves as the pairing behind the top dogs. And the Devils, Islanders, Blue Jackets, and Hurricanes have kind of clumped together at the bottom.

What Is Real Life: The goddamn Penguins are going to win the division again, aren't they?

Here's the tweet that inspired these thoughts:

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