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Did You Know? Eric Staal could make plus-minus history

The “Did You Know?” series ties in the news of the day with some little-known hockey factoids and/or trivia. It’ll be fun. Trust me.

Plus-minus is one of hockey’s most contentious statistics. Traditionalists find it a valuable asset — heck, the league still hands out an annual plus-minus award — while those into advanced metrics find it somewhat useless.

Player ratings aren’t often dictated by the player, after all. Plus-minus is affected by team performance, so to use it as a player gauge means taking into consideration the defensive ability (or, inability) of the team as a whole.

With that clarification out of the way, let us now discuss Eric Staal’s minus-16 rating.

Staal is minus-16 through 14 games this year, the worst in the NHL. It ranks him 681st out of 681 skaters. Four players — Keith Ballard, Jan Hejda, David Booth and Derick Brassard — are tied for 680th with a minus-11 rating.

So not only is Eric Staal the worst-rated player in the league — he’s the worst by a fair margin.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Staal’s a very good player. The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t especially good (5-6-3, 13 points), but they’re not especially bad. Their goal differential (-12) is bad, but they’ve only been outscored 31-23 five-on-five. Staal’s regular linemates, Jeff Skinner and Chad LaRose, are minus-7 and minus-2 respectively.

Not even Staal’s coach, Paul Maurice, can figure it out.

“There is no explanation for it, or else we would have dealt with it,” Maurice told NHL.com. “He’s just trying to find chemistry with other people and he has taken that pressure of his offensive game completely to heart.”

Projections say Staal is on pace to go minus-94 this year. Let me repeat: MINUS-94.

That’s so bad it’s almost good. And should Staal somehow manage to do this, he’ll join elite company.

The worst plus-minus rating for a single season was set in 1974-75 by Washington’s Bill Mikkelson. He went minus-82. Let me repeat: MINUS-82.

The Caps played 80 games that year, which means Mikkelson was essentially minus-1 every night. For an entire season.

Mikkelson’s minus-82 is one of the NHL’s most unbreakable records. Talk all you want about Wayne Gretzky’s 92-goal season never being eclipsed — Mikkelson’s mark is equally unattainable.

[NB: 1974-75 was terrible for all members of the expansion Caps, not just Mikkelson. Jack Lynch went minus-69, Greg Joly went minus-68 and Michael Marson went minus-65.]

Mikkelson went minus-82 three decades ago, and nobody’s come close since. A handful of players have gone minus-61, but they all did it prior to 1982. The only recent player to get within sniffing distance of Mikkelson was Pittsburgh’s Rico Fata, who went minus-46 in 2003-04.

Staal probably won’t go minus-94 this year. In fact, I can all but guarantee he won’t. His rating will most likely revert to the mean and we’ll go back to ignoring the plus-minus statistic.

Which is too bad. Especially for Bill Mikkelson.

Goalie nods: Jones heating up, will start again for Sharks

Martin Jones, Brent Burns
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Martin Jones has rediscovered the form he showed this past spring.

Jones, who was arguably the Sharks’ MVP through their Stanley Cup Final run, will look to win his fourth straight start when when San Jose hosts Ottawa this evening.

It’s been a banner past couple of weeks for the 26-year-old. Things started with a 26-save shutout against New Jersey on Nov. 21 — from there, Jones won three of his next four starts, allowing just six goals over that span, to finish the month of November with a .924 save percentage.

On Friday, he kicked off Decmeber in similar style, making 31 saves in a tight 2-1 win over the Canadiens.

It’s a nice turnaround from the beginning of the season, when Jones was OK — but not great — and finished October at 4-3-0 with a .916 save percentage. Given how vital he is to the club’s success, it’s no coincidence San Jose has played well of late. The Sharks are 6-1 in their last seven and within one point of first-place Edmonton in the Pacific Division (the Sharks do have three games in hand, and could surpass the Oilers this evening).

For the Sens, Mike Condon gets the start in goal. Craig Anderson didn’t make the trip with Ottawa out west.

Elsewhere…

Devan Dubnyk makes career start No. 300 when the Wild take on the Leafs in Toronto. He’ll be up against Frederik Andersen, who projects to get a ton of work moving forward, given ex-backup Jhonas Enroth is now with the AHL Marlies.

— Tantalizing matchup brewing in Washington, as Braden Holtby and the Caps host Boston. Tuukka Rask, who has been busy lately, projects to get the nod as he was in the starter’s crease at the morning skate.

— The ‘Canes continue to roll with Cam Ward as they begin their three-game California trip in Anaheim. The Ducks will counter with John Gibson, after Jonathan Bernier was in for all eight goals in Sunday’s ugly loss to Calgary.

The Leafs need some wins, starting tonight against Minnesota

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 5:  Mitchell Marner #16, Auston Matthews #34, and Nikita Soshnikov #26 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a victory against the Vancouver Canucks in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on November 5, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canucks 6-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs had a decent road trip to Western Canada. They beat the Oilers, lost to the Flames, then probably deserved better in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Canucks.

But if these Leafs (10-9-5) want to stay in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to take advantage of their upcoming schedule. Starting tonight against Minnesota, they play six of their next seven at home. Their only road game is Saturday in Boston.

Mike Babcock’s bunch entered the day six points back of Washington for the second wild-card spot. The coach liked how his charges played Saturday in Vancouver, where they outshot the Canucks, 40-24, but could get only get two pucks past Ryan Miller.

“I thought we played well,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to give Miller a lot of credit, I thought he did a real nice job for them and kind of held the fort there. I was pleased with our effort. You’d love to get the other point, sure, but that was a good game for our team. I thought we really pushed hard as the game went on.”

Tonight in Minnesota’s crease, the Leafs will see one of the hottest goalies in hockey. Devan Dubnyk is 10-6-3 with a .946 save percentage. He’s been the Wild’s MVP this season, and it’s not even a debate.

“He has given us a chance every night, he has been spectacular, especially late in games,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Toronto Star. “We play so many close games he has to make saves to get us to overtime or to seal the game. I know we don’t get us much press as the people up here (in Canada), but he’s been as good as any goalie in the league.”

It’ll be up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and the rest of the Leafs to turn their solid puck-possession numbers into goals, while making sure not to give the Wild too many scoring chances the other way.

Defense has been an issue for Toronto this season. The running-and-gunning Buds have the third-worst goals-against average in the league (3.08), lower than only Dallas (3.22) and Arizona (3.16).

Following ‘disastrous’ effort, Stars lose Honka to injury

Lindy Ruff
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Dallas only surrendered two goals in last night’s loss to Calgary — not the markings of a terrible defensive night.

But in many ways, it was exactly that.

Head coach Lindy Ruff called the second period “disastrous.” The Morning-News wrote the number of high-quality chances Dallas surrendered was “almost shocking.” And Julius Honka, one of the club’s brightest young d-man prospects, suffered an upper-body injury that will force him to miss the next few games.

Tough times in Dallas.

The Honka injury will throw the defense into further arrears. Ruff has spent most of this season juggling the group, with mainstays like Dan Hamhuis and John Klingberg getting parked in the press box as healthy scratches. Stephen Johns has been in and out — which included a stint in the American League — while the likes of Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak have been platooned as well.

The Stars were forced to finish last night’s game with just five blueliners, though Honka’s injury isn’t believed to be serious. Dallas plays next on Thursday night at home against Nashville, then heads out for a back-to-back road set — Saturday in Philly, and Sunday in Chicago.

Related: What has happened to the Dallas Stars?

 

 

After a slow start, the Preds have really turned it around

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76), center, celebrates with Filip Forsberg (9), of Sweden, Kevin Fiala (56), of Switzerland, and Mattias Ekholm (14), of Sweden, after Subban scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The Nashville Predators are still outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, but they’re very clearly putting a slow start behind them.

The Preds beat Colorado, 4-3, last night in Nashville. They are now 9-4-1 since beginning the season 3-5-3, and they are winning with the kind of puck-possession game that many expected from them.

Via Puck on Net, here are the top 10 teams in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 10 games:

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That is some excellent company the Preds are not only keeping, but leading. The Blue Jackets, right below them, are the hottest team in the NHL. The Penguins are the defending Stanley Cup champs. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. The Sharks won the Western Conference.

Though strong puck-possession numbers don’t always translate into wins — just ask the Carolina Hurricanes — they typically lead to good results over the long run. The one thing that can sink a strong possession team is poor goaltending, but Pekka Rinne (11-5-4, .926) has been mostly solid this season.

The Preds are also getting good production from their big offseason trade acquisition, defenseman P.K. Subban, who has 17 points, including seven goals, in 25 games.

“I just try to do my job and just keep it simple, try to put the puck on net,” Subban told The Tennessean. “Sometimes you’ve got to get some bounces, and you only get those bounces when you put pucks at the net.”

The Preds are averaging 31.6 shots per game, the sixth most in the NHL behind Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and Philadelphia.

Next up for Nashville is a date with the Stars in Dallas tomorrow. That’s a huge game for both Central Division teams. The Stars lost again last night, falling 2-1 to the surging Flames.

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