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Ten stunning numbers from the first month of the NHL season

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The first month of the NHL season is already in the books, and it was an exciting one that was full of big offensive numbers, surprise teams, and great individual performances.

Each month during the season we will take a look at some stunning numbers, trends, or statistics that stand out.

So what stood out from the first month of the 2018-19 season?

Hurricanes on historic shot on goal pace — After registering 51 shots on goal in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night, the Carolina Hurricanes are now averaging more than 42 shots on goal per game this season. In the history of the league only one team has ever gone a full season and averaged more than shots on goal, and that was the 1970-71 Boston Bruins. Now, it’s easy to write this Hurricanes number off as “it’s early” and that number is probably due to come down at some point. But even if you just look at it as the first 13 games the Hurricanes are still putting shots on net at an historic rate.

Their 551 shots on goal at this point in the season are more than any team ever at this point in the season, including the 1970-71 Bruins (who had just 536 at this point). Only six teams in league history other than these Hurricanes and the ’70-71 Bruins have managed to top the 500 shot mark at this point in the season.

The difference between this Hurricanes team and that Bruins team? The Bruins finished that season as the highest scoring team in the league by more than 100 goals (399 … the next closest team had 291). These Hurricanes are only 23rd in the league in goals per game.

Coyotes shorthanded goals — Through their first five games of the season the Arizona Coyotes could not score at all, no matter what the situation was on the ice. That has drastically changed in the three weeks since as they are now on a roll, having scored at least four goals in six of their past seven games.

One area where they have excelled is in shorthanded situations, where they are not only only of the best teams in the league at preventing goals, but have already scored seven shorthanded goals.

Brad Richardson has a league best three of them. Free agent acquisition Michael Grabner has two.

As a team, their seven shorthanded goals are by far the most in the NHL and are already more than 14 teams scored all of last season.

Perhaps even more ridiculous: Their penalty kill has only allowed three goals this season, meaning they are somehow have a plus-four goal differential when playing shorthanded. Tampa Bay is a minus-one (three goals against, two for) and San Jose is a minus-two (six against, four for). Nobody else in the league is better than a minus-four.

[Related: Why there is reason to believe in the Arizona Coyotes]

The Elias Pettersson show — The Canucks’ prized rookie has helped make them one of the early season surprises, and his performance is just remarkable.

 

John Gibson is dominating — But it is still not enough for the Ducks.

He has a .936 save percentage through his first 11 starts of the season, and has won just four games. A goalie playing at that level should have more than four wins. Way more.

Since the start of the 1987-88 season there have been 18 goalies that have faced at least 350 shots in his team’s first 14 games and had a save percentage higher than .935. Gibson’s four wins are the fewest out of that group, while only Sean Burke as a member of the 2001-02 Arizona Coyotes won fewer than six games.

Alex Ovechkin is not really slowing down — The Capitals are not off to a great start, but Alex Ovechkin most certianly is. Not only is he off to a great start, he is off to one of the best goal-scoring starts of his career. His 10 goals in his first 11 games ties for the second best start of his career. The only time he scored more goals through his first 11 game was the 2009-10 season when he scored … 11. He also scored 10 during the 2013-14 and 2017-18 seasons. The only one of those seasons where he did not end up leading the league in goals was the 2009-10 season. What is remarkable about his play the past two seasons is that he is currently in his age 33 season. Players are supposed to be slowing down at that age and he … sort of isn’t.

Max Domi is scoring goals … against goalies — He has already scored six goals this season for the Montreal Canadiens. Why is this stunning? All of those goals have come with a goalie in the opposing net (meaning no empty-net goals). During the entire 2017-18 season Domi scored just nine goals … with only five of them coming with an opposing goalie in the net (four of his goals a year ago were of the empty net variety).

Kings’ offensive offense — Everybody in the NHL is scoring more goals this season. Everybody except for the Los Angeles Kings. Through their first 12 games they averaging just two goals per game, by far the lowest number in the league. This has been a dull offensive team for years now, even when it was winning, but when it comes to this season and the modern NHL the rest of the league seems to have lapped them a number of times.

Colorado’s top line — The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog is making a strong case for being the best line in the league. When they are together during 5-on-5 play, they are outscoring teams by a 14-7 margin (the Avalanche are 14-14 without any of them on the ice), while Rantanen and MacKinnon are in the top-two in scoring, having already topped the 20-point mark. Together, they have combined for 27 goals. Or … three more than the Los Angeles Kings have scored as a team.

[Related: Nathan MacKinnon on breakout season — PHT Q & A]

Vegas is getting PDO’d — I think most people expected some sort of a regression from the Vegas Golden Knights in year two because pretty much everything went their way in their debut season. What’s weird about this regression is the Golden Knights are actually doing a lot of things really, really well. They are one of the best teams in the league in terms of their 5-on-5 shot differential and  they are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to generating and preventing scoring chances. The problem is none of their chances are going in and their goalie can not stop anything. Injuries to Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, their two big offseason acquisitions are not helping, nor is the suspension to Nate Schmidt, one of their top defenders. But as of Saturday the Golden Knights have the worst 5-on-5 shooting percentage in the league (5.04 percent) and the worst 5-on-5 save percentage (only .886). Those percentages are crushing them. 

The Islanders’ goaltending is keeping them in it — The post-John Tavares era in New York is off to a far better than expected start as the enter the weekend tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division after a home-and-home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The driving force behind that early success is the play of their goaltenders, Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner. Together they have a .931 save percentage that is the third best team save percentage in the league (behind only the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks). It is surprising because their save percentages a year ago were .892 (Greiss) and .908 (Lehner). Goalies, man. They can change a team, and you never really know when one is going to go on a roll.

(Data via Hockey-ReferenceNatural Stat Trick and NHL.com)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hurricanes remain ‘hopeful’ for a Justin Williams comeback

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When Justin Williams announced in September he would be “taking a break” from hockey, he didn’t shut the door entirely on a possible comeback at some point this season.

“Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game,” wrote the 38-year-old Williams.

With the Hurricanes sitting in an Eastern Conference wild card and only two points away from a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division, adding a veteran goal scorer like Williams would only help. What he brings on and off the ice is immeasurable, and it was clear last season just how valuable he was to a budding young team. The team is hopeful he’ll return to play and are keeping the lines of communication open.

“We continue to talk with him. I think he’s working out a little bit more on his own right now,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell told the team website this week. “I think he’s going to start coming to the gym a little more. That’s a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we’re hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.”

Waddell isn’t the only one who’s unsure of a Williams return. Williams himself sounds like he’s been back and forth on what his future holds, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting closer to a time where if he doesn’t, then he’s not,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got to get in game shape and do all that, so there’s a time frame for that. There’s still time for that. … We talk quite a bit. We mostly talk about kids and how’s coaching going. I’ll ask if he’s staying in shape or getting in shape, and he’ll some days say, ‘Yeah,’ and then say, ‘Ah, maybe.’ So, we’ll see.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kessel returns to Pittsburgh trying to find his game for Coyotes

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When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in August (for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph) it gave them the type of player the organization had been lacking for years: a bonafide star forward, and one that was capable of scoring at a level that no Coyotes player had reached in close to a decade.

For a team that was just a couple of games away from the playoffs a season ago — despite an absurd season-long run of injuries that consistently decimated the roster — it was the type of move that could not only generate excitement within the fan base (it did, and they have the season ticket sales to prove it), but also give the team the last extra push it needed to get over the hump and end what is currently a seven-year playoff drought.

With Kessel set to make his first visit to Pittsburgh since the trade on Friday night, the Coyotes have put themselves in a great position to end that drought, sitting on top of the Pacific Division after 30 games thanks to their 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

What is perhaps most surprising about their current spot in the standings is they have done it while getting minimal offensive impact from Kessel, even with his two-goal effort in Thursday’s win.

The early numbers are kind of staggering given the high bar Kessel has set for himself over the years offensively.

  • His six goals are his fewest through 30 games since his rookie year in 2006-07 (five goals).
  • He has been held without a goal in 26 of the team’s first 30 games.
  • He has just one even-strength goal on the season, with the other five coming on the power play (including both goals on Thursday — one of which was also an empty-net goal).
  • He is on pace for just 16 goals over 82 games. If he does not improve on that it would be his lowest total since his rookie year (11) and the first time since 2007-08 (his second year in the league when he missed 10 games) he did not top 20 goals in a season.

Some decline in his overall production should have been expected.

Not only because he is another year older (32) and another year away from his prime, but because he went from playing on a veteran, star-laden roster in Pittsburgh that plays one of the most up-tempo styles in the league, to a young Arizona team that, while talented, does not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the middle of its lineup.

Even with all of that in mind this is still a pretty significant drop across the board, but it does not mean all hope is lost for him this season. Like any elite goal scorer Kessel can be notoriously streaky and score goals in bunches (this is not a knock on Kessel; it’s a reality for all players across the league), and it’s also not the first time he’s started a year slow. In his first year with the Penguins back in 2015-16 he had just nine goals through 30 games before getting hot in the second half, then catching fire in the playoffs on the way to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

While Kessel has not exactly lit the world on fire for the Coyotes, the trade has not exactly been a rousing success for the Penguins.

For all of Kessel’s flaws as a player, the Penguins absolutely miss his presence on a power play unit that been mostly dysfunctional this season. A lot of their power play the past few years ran through him, from his ability to gain entry into the zone (a problem for the Penguins this year), to his playmaking, to his ability to finish. Even with all of his struggles in Arizona offensively his five power play goals are more than any player on the Penguins.

They also have not received anything close to what they hoped they would from Alex Galchenyuk, which is starting to become a pretty big issue. He has just two goals through his first 20 games and has mostly been relegated to fourth-line duty. Even with the Penguins missing several regulars in their lineup he has not topped the 10-minute mark in three of the team’s past four games, while general manager Jim Rutherford on Thursday (via The Athletic’s Josh Yohe) that Galchenyuk is not a lock to remain in the lineup when everyone is back. Galchenyuk always seemed like a one-and-done player in Pittsburgh from the very beginning — Joseph is the key long-term piece — but they probably expected more than this.

The funny thing about all of this is the trade has not really done much for either team through the first quarter of the season, but both teams have still managed to put themselves on solid ground.

The Coyotes are healthy and in first place and still have the hope that a Kessel goal-binge is lurking somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

The Penguins are overcoming their injury issues, playing the way they want to play, and finding ways to collect points while they wait for their regulars to return.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Laila Anderson meets bone marrow donor

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Laila Anderson has made us shed a tear or two (or several) over the last year, and she was involved in another touching moment on Thursday night.

It was special to witness the 11-year-old’s journey. We got to see her ups with the St. Louis Blues and we also got to see the emotion behind her battle with a rare auto-immune disease, HLH. Last night, Anderson got to meet the person who helped her get better, as she got to interact with Kenton Felmlee, who ended up being her bone marrow donor.

“I felt a bond with her before we ever met. I think the second I look at her on the stage and saw her face,” Felmlee, who is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, said, per Fox 2 Now St. Louis. “Every emotion that I was feeling all exploded into so much more.”

As you can tell from the above video, their first interaction was incredibly emotional.

“I don’t care if we go to dinner or if we go to Disney World. I don’t care what we do, I just want to spend time with you,” Laila told her new friend on Thursday night.

And, of course, Anderson and Felmlee will be attending Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Calgary Flames sign deal for new downtown arena

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a deal for a new downtown arena, a 35-year agreement that keeps the NHL club in the city for that time.

The team, the city and the Calgary Stampede rodeo signed an agreement Thursday to replace the 36-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.

The 19,000-seat arena is to cost more than $417 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, just north of the Saddledome. The arena will be demolished between 2024 and 2025.

The project is part of a downtown revitalization. The building will become the home of the Flames and part of a planned entertainment district bordering the Stampede grounds.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flames, and the city will split the costs. The Stampede is a not-for-profit community group.