The NHL’s best and worst special teams units during the 2010-11 season

1 Comment

The Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup run was impressive in many ways. One of the things that made it truly remarkable was that they raised the silver chalice even while dealing with some serious special teams issues, especially on their power play (at least in the first three rounds of the postseason). It seemed like quite a few teams struggled in that area in the 2011 playoffs, but over the long haul, strong special teams units usually lead to success.

At least, it would seem that way, but the only route to test that theory is to actually look at the numbers. So far on this stat-heavy Saturday, we took a look at Power Play Plus/Minus and Penalty Kill Plus/Minus for all 30 NHL teams in the 2010-11 season.

In order to put it all together, it might be best to look at Special Teams Plus/Minus. The formula is quite simple: take Power Play Plus/Minus (PP goals scored minus shorthanded goals allowed) and then subtract it by Penalty Kill Plus/Minus (PP goals allowed minus shorthanded goals scored). Let’s take a look at which teams had the best and worst overall special teams units, according to “ST +/-.”

Stat categories: special teams plus/minus, power play plus/minus, PP opportunities, PP goals, shorthanded goals allowed, penalty kill plus/minus, times shorthanded, PP goals allowed and SH goals scored.

Team ST +/- PP+/- PP Opp PPG SHGA PK +/- TS PPGA SHG
VAN 31 70 296 72 2 -39 312 45 6
CHI 13 60 277 64 4 -47 255 53 6
NYR 13 44 290 49 5 -31 257 42 11
DET 12 60 301 67 7 -48 300 53 5
PIT 11 43 311 49 6 -32 324 45 13
SJS 11 61 289 68 7 -50 274 56 6
ANA 10 60 285 67 7 -50 305 57 7
NYI 8 45 302 52 7 -37 310 52 15
CGY 7 53 318 62 9 -46 282 53 7
STL 7 51 279 52 1 -44 279 51 7
CAR 5 49 346 55 6 -44 272 51 7
LAK 5 41 292 47 6 -36 276 40 4
MTL 5 51 290 57 6 -46 327 51 5
TBL 5 53 336 69 16 -48 302 49 1
WSH 5 41 263 46 5 -36 299 43 7
BOS 3 38 265 43 5 -35 265 46 11
NSH 3 39 269 41 2 -36 272 41 5
PHI 3 44 295 49 5 -41 313 54 13
MIN 0 46 292 53 7 -46 308 53 7
OTT -1 41 257 45 4 -42 294 48 6
DAL -5 40 306 55 15 -45 277 55 10
FLA -7 30 267 35 5 -37 267 41 4
BUF -8 41 279 54 13 -49 300 51 2
NJD -11 26 237 34 8 -37 241 40 3
TOR -13 44 326 52 8 -57 275 62 5
ATL -15 43 289 53 10 -58 285 64 6
PHX -19 40 289 46 6 -59 296 64 5
EDM -24 42 304 44 2 -66 321 74 8
CBJ -25 31 301 42 11 -56 314 62 6
COL -29 38 265 49 11 -67 314 75 8

***

The Canucks enjoyed by far the best overall special teams play in 2010-11, which follows reasonable logic since they dominated the regular season. The only area where you can truly beat up the Canucks is in the amount of penalties they took, which some pointed out when GM Mike Gillis complained about the disparity in whistles during the team’s first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The eighth-ranked Islanders were the best non-playoff team (+8) while the Coyotes made the playoffs despite the fourth worst special teams (-19). Seven teams had a +10 rating or higher while seven teams rounded out the bottom of the pack with a -10 rating or lower.

Tin foil hat time

As a bonus, I thought I’d court the conspiracy theory-loving crowd by looking at the teams who enjoyed the greatest (or suffered from the worst) disparity between the power play opportunities they received and the penalties they took. For the sake of simplicity, those amounts are listed as “ST opp +/-” or special teams opportunity plus/minus.

Stat categories: special teams opportunity plus/minus, power play opportunities and time shorthanded.

Team ST Opp +/- PP Opp TS
CAR 74 346 272
TOR 51 326 275
CGY 36 318 282
TBL 34 336 302
NYR 33 290 257
DAL 29 306 277
CHI 22 277 255
LAK 16 292 276
SJS 15 289 274
ATL 4 289 285
DET 1 301 300
BOS 0 265 265
FLA 0 267 267
STL 0 279 279
NSH -3 269 272
NJD -4 237 241
PHX -7 289 296
NYI -8 302 310
CBJ -13 301 314
PIT -13 311 324
MIN -16 292 308
VAN -16 296 312
EDM -17 304 321
PHI -18 295 313
ANA -20 285 305
BUF -21 279 300
WSH -36 263 299
MTL -37 290 327
OTT -37 257 294
COL -49 265 314

***

Here are a few throwaway thoughts (feel free to share your favorite conspiracy theories in the comments).

  • As if the Hurricanes didn’t need more reasons to kick themselves for missing the playoffs … they received a staggering 74 more power play opportunities than penalties in 2010-11.
  • Interestingly enough, the top three teams (Canes, Maple Leafs and Flames) didn’t make the postseason. Their special teams coaches probably won’t link to this post on an online resume.
  • The Lightning might want to rank “special teams” right behind “defense” on their list of needed improvements for next season.
  • The Capitals suffered from the third-worst disparity, but the team’s transition can be seen in the fact that both categories are under 300.
  • The Bruins, Panthers and Blues were the only teams to have exactly the same amount of penalties and power plays in 10-11.

***

OK, so those two tables provide some interesting special teams bits to chew on. If you’d like us to delve into previous seasons a bit, feel free to let us know in the comments. (We’ll probably take a deeper look at that special teams opportunities bit, if nothing else.)

Click here for Power Play Plus/Minus.

Click here for Penalty Kill Plus/Minus.

Former Bruins coach Cassidy wins; Boston’s home streak ends

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

BOSTON — The Vegas Golden Knights made former Boston coach Bruce Cassidy’s return a success on Reilly Smith‘s score in the fifth round of the shootout, beating the Bruins 4-3 to end their NHL-record for home victories to open a season at 14 games.

The 57-year-old Cassidy was fired by Boston following 5 1/2 seasons in June after the Bruins were eliminated by Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs.

Eight days after he was let go, he was hired by Vegas.

In a matchup of two of the league’s top three teams, Western conference-leading Vegas opened a 3-0 lead early in the second period on two goals by Paul Cotter and the other by Jonathan Marchessault before the Bruins started their comeback when Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak scored just over six minutes apart late in the period.

They tied it on Taylor Hall‘s power-play goal 3:08 into the third when he spun in front and slipped a shot from the slot past goalie Logan Thompson.

Smith had the only score in the shootout, slipping a forehand shot past goalie Jeremy Swayman.

Cassidy took over as Boston’s interim coach on Feb. 7, 2016, before getting the head job that April. His teams made the playoffs all six seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost the seventh game at home against St. Louis.

Cassidy knows what it sounds like in TD Garden with The Standells’ song “Dirty Water” blaring after Bruins’ wins.

“Now that you brought it up, I’m used to hearing “Dirty Water” at the end of the game,” he said, smiling. “I’m glad I didn’t hear it tonight. The streak is irrelevant to me. It’s nice to come in and play well.”

Boston lost for just the second time in 12 games.

“This locker room sticks together, and we knew we were going to do something special tonight,” Swayman said. “It (stinks) losing, but we’re going to make sure we fix the problems.”

The Bruins’ home-opening streak broke the record of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

Before the shootout, Thompson made 40 saves. Boston’s backup Swayman had 21.

“This city meant a lot to him, and he was fired up ready to go,” Thompson said of Cassidy. “We went out there and tried to get him two points tonight.”

Cotter collected William Karlsson‘s pass inside the left circle and unloaded a wrister under the crossbar 1:36 into the game.

Marchessault stole Pastrnak’s attempted clearing pass, broke in alone and tucked in his own rebound to make it 2-0.

Cotter’s second came 51 seconds into the second period when he slipped a wrister past Swayman’s glove.

“We couldn’t get it done early, before the shootout. We had chances,” Pastrnak said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”

Vegas star forward Jack Eichel missed the game with a lower-body injury.

TRIBUTE

The Bruins played a video montage of Cassidy on the Jumbotron late in the opening period that ended with a picture of him and said: “Welcome back, Bruce.”

The crowd gave him a nice ovation and he waved thanking them.

“It’s a really nice gesture by the Bruins’ organization,” he said. “I appreciate it. I said all along that I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. I’m thankful they did it.”

FOR THE RECORD

Cassidy finished tied for third on the Bruins’ coaching list with Hall of Famer Milt Schmidt (1955-66) at 245 victories, behind Claude Julien’s (2008-17) 419 and Art Ross (1925-45) with 387.

EXTRA SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins entered the game ranked second in the league both with their power play (29.6%) and penalty killing (84.1%).

UP NEXT

Golden Knights: Host the New York Rangers.

Bruins: At the Colorado Avalanche.

Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

kris letang
Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

“It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

“I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

“This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

“The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

“We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
3 Comments

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

Kris Letang Penguins
Getty Images
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

“I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

“He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

“I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

“First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

“The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

“It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”