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Lightning lead NHL’s best special teams units


When it’s time for a power play, you’ll usually just see a quick graphic with a team’s percentages. If you’re lucky, the sound crew will play Super Mario’s powering up sound effect when it’s time for a home power play.

Flashing up those percentage stats give you a perfectly fine snapshot, but let’s dig deeper. Now, to clarify, we’ll still keep it pretty simple, as we’ll leave expected goals and high-danger chances to the Natural Stat Tricks of the world (for now? ominous music plays, probably from a Super Mario Bros. castle).

Allow me to re-introduce a stupidly simple study: special teams plus/minus. The formula is pretty simple, even if it takes some manual inputs (risking some human error) to actually put together the crude Google spreadsheets that power this list:

(Power play goals [PPG] forshorthanded goals [SHG] for) – (PPG against + SHG against) = special teams plus minus.

Generally speaking, deeper stats often reinforce what we already know, and this is the case here. What we already know is that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s power play was frighteningly effective, especially last season. Now we … uh, extra know that.

Cream of the crop

To keep this from getting too unwieldy, Part 1 of these two posts will feature the teams who had a “plus” rating for 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined, while Part 2 will include the teams on the negative side. You can see the full results in the chart at the bottom of each post. Interestingly, only 13 teams hit the “plus” side, at least for 2017-18 and 2018-19 combined.

Tampa Bay Lightning: +43 in 2018-19, +51 overall during the past two seasons.

The Lightning made history last season, and their special teams dominance stood as a big reason why. Not only was their power play deadly (74 PPG), it also took very little off the table, as Tampa Bay only allowed three shorthanded goals, behind only three other NHL teams. Remarkably, they tied the Devils for third-fewest power-play goals allowed with 40, and scored an impressive 12 shorthanded goals. The Bolts have the talent to be strong in this area once again in 2019-20, but we may not see many seasons like this one again anytime soon.

Other teams that were at least +20 combined the past two seasons:

  • Florida Panthers: +19 in 2018-19, +26 combined. The Panthers were the only other team to hit 70+ goals alongside Tampa Bay, as the Cats grabbed 72. They flipped shorthanded goals allowed (12) and for (three) with the Lightning, though. The Panthers will need to show that their special teams dominance wasn’t due to power play/assistant coach Paul McFarland, who was fired this offseason. The Panthers were among just five teams with 70+ power-play goals since 2009-10, so a dip should be expected — it’s likely a matter of how much.
  • Winnipeg Jets: +13 in 2018-19, +29 combined the past two seasons. You’d think this will be a consistent strength for Winnipeg, especially as Patrik Laine climbs the ranks … right?
  • San Jose Sharks: +12 in 2018-19, +36 combined. Seems safe to bet on continued competence, if not brilliance, in this area.
  • Colorado Avalanche: +9 in 2018-19, +23 combined. Improved depth could help Colorado after allowing 58 PPG this season.
  • Boston Bruins: +8 in 2018-19, +28 combined. The Bruins power play was deadly (65), but also high-risk, high-reward, with 15 shorthanded goals allowed.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: +9 in 2018-19, +26 combined. Penguins special teams sequences are frantic. Not only are the power play goals going both ways, but the Penguins scored plenty shorthanded (12 for) and allowed even more (15 against) last season.

Still positive, not as dramatic

Teams with at least 10+ (but less than 20+) combined during the past two seasons

  • New Jersey Devils: +5 in 2018-19, +18 combined. Should be fascinating to see how Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban might move New Jersey up the ranks.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs: +1 in 2018-19, +13 combined. Maybe trading away Nazem Kadri means more William Nylander on the top unit? Either way, a middling 46 PPG for and troubling nine SHG against is hard to fathom with all of that talent.
  • Vegas Golden Knights: +4 in 2018-19, +16 combined. Limiting shorthanded goals allowed (two) while scoring 11 shorthanded goals of their own, the Golden Knights were otherwise uninspiring on special teams last season. The Golden Knights have so much forward talent, they might want to experiment a bit; maybe try that whole five forward power play idea?

Remaining teams with positive special teams plus/minus over the past two seasons:

  • Calgary Flames: +14 in 2018-19, +8 combined. The Flames’ power play was rough in 2017-18 (just 16 percent success rate, 43 goals for and seven shorthanded against), accounting for the slip into mediocrity. An absurd 18 shorthanded goals for is what really pushed them into having one of the league’s most beneficial special teams last season, as they only scored three more goals on the power play (53) than they gave up on the penalty kill (50).
  • Minnesota Wild: +6 in 2017-18, +5 combined. Minnesota enjoyed some net benefits from special teams last season, but the difference was fairly marginal.
  • Arizona Coyotes: +15 in 2017-18, +2 combined. Darcy Kuemper was the main reason the Coyotes almost made the playoffs despite a slew of injuries, but effective special teams, particularly managing 16 shorthanded goals, helped Arizona stay in the mix, too. Can Phil Kessel help Arizona make special teams a net positive once again next season? It’s tough to ask Kuemper to repeat last season’s magic, that’s for sure.

Full list

Again, Part 2 will include teams that were in the minus – even marginally so – during the past two seasons combined. Here are the full 31 teams, sorted from highest to lowest in special teams plus/minus for 2018-19. You may note that some teams were positive one season and negative the other, so teams with recent strong seasons (Arizona, Calgary) could be interesting to monitor. The chart also includes: 2017-18 special teams plus/minus, the ST plus/minus for the past two years, and then to the right: goals totals for the four different special teams categories from 2018-19:

TEAM special teams +/- 2017-18 +/- two years +/- PPG SHGA PPGA SHGF
Tampa Bay 43 8 51 74 3 40 12
Florida 19 7 26 72 13 43 3
Arizona 15 -13 2 42 9 34 16
Calgary 14 -6 8 53 7 50 18
Winnipeg 13 16 29 62 7 52 10
San Jose 12 24 36 57 9 45 9
Colorado 9 14 23 63 5 58 9
Boston 8 20 28 65 15 49 7
Pittsburgh 8 18 26 56 15 45 12
Minnesota 6 -1 5 49 4 44 5
Dallas 6 -10 -4 45 2 41 4
Columbus 6 -15 -9 34 6 30 8
New Jersey 5 13 18 45 10 40 10
St. Louis 5 -13 -8 50 7 43 5
Vegas 4 12 16 39 2 44 11
Toronto 1 12 13 46 9 41 5
Carolina 0 -2 -2 44 8 44 8
Buffalo -1 -4 -5 46 9 41 3
Ottawa -3 -17 -20 46 8 45 4
Washington -6 -2 -8 49 5 55 5
Vancouver -6 -10 -16 43 8 48 7
NY Islanders -6 -11 -17 33 1 44 6
NY Rangers -11 5 -6 44 4 58 7
Nashville -12 9 -3 33 8 45 8
Edmonton -12 -20 -32 47 7 62 10
Montreal -14 -15 -29 31 4 46 5
Chicago -16 -8 -24 48 7 63 6
Detroit -17 -13 -30 39 7 56 7
Philadelphia -18 -7 -25 40 11 51 4
Anaheim -24 -2 -26 36 10 55 5
Los Angeles -28 11 -17 35 13 54 4

Yep, the Lightning have been living large on special teams lately.

MORE: ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Avalanche stay hot with win over Sabres

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The injury situation is not slowing down the Colorado Avalanche.

Their 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night was their fourth in a row and improved them to 12-3-1 in their past 16 games to help them keep pace in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference.

What makes this current run so impressive is the number of players they have out of the lineup, currently playing without Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Matt Calvert, and starting goalie Philipp Grubauer. It is a testament to the way general manager Joe Sakic and the Avalanche front office has improved the team’s depth over the past year.

That depth was on display on Wednesday night.

J.T. Compher scored the game-winning goal with just under nine minutes to play on Wednesday night, while 20-year-old Martin Kaut scored his first career goal earlier in the night.

The big star of the game for the Avalanche, though, had to be goaltender Pavel Francouz. He continued his outstanding season by stopping 31 out of 33 shots. He helped keep the Avalanche in the game early in the first period, and then made a handful of highlight reel saves late in the third period with the Avalanche trying to protect their one-goal lead. The 29-year-old has been a great find for the Avalanche and earned a two-year contract extension earlier this month.

As for the Sabres, this was their first game after a busy trade deadline that saw them add Wayne Simmonds and Dominik Kahun in an effort to play meaningful games down the stretch, and maybe hang around in the Atlantic Division playoff race. While their recent hot streak has helped bring them closer to the Toronto Maple Leafs for that third spot, they still have almost no margin for error the rest of the way. By failing to gain a point on Wednesday they remain eight points behind the Maple Leafs.


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

WATCH LIVE: Penguins visit Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After falling at Washington on Sunday afternoon for its third straight regulation loss, the Penguins head west for a California swing that has them at Anaheim on Friday and San Jose on Saturday. Prior to dropping its last three, Pittsburgh had gone 16-4-2 since Dec. 27 and has closed the gap on the first-place Capitals in the Metro.

Patrick Marleau is now on his third team in three seasons after spending the first 19 seasons of his career with San Jose. The Sharks drafted him second overall in the 1997 Draft (after Boston selected Joe Thornton), which was held in Pittsburgh, before Marleau signed as a free agent with Toronto in July 2017. He spent two years with the Maple Leafs before the Sharks picked him back up in October when he was a free agent. With the Sharks near the bottom of the standings, Marleau is now back with a contender as he searches for that elusive Stanley Cup after losing to his new team in his only Cup Final appearance.

The Kings are on the other end of the spectrum, as they sit last in the West and will miss the playoffs for the second straight season and fourth time in the last six years. This comes after a run of five straight playoff appearances from 2010-2014, which included two Stanley Cup championships (2012, 2014).

After finishing last season with the second-worst record in the entire league and worst record in the Western Conference, the Kings have continued to struggle this season. They once again sit with the second-worst record in the league and last in the West as they look set to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than a decade.


WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins at Los Angeles Kings
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 10:30 p.m. ET
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Penguins-Kings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.


Jason ZuckerSidney CrosbyConor Sheary
Bryan RustEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist
Patrick Marleau – Evan RodriguesDominik Simon
Jared McCannTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus PetterssonJustin Schultz
Juuso Riikola – Zach Trotman

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Adrian KempeAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloBlake LizotteTrevor Lewis
Trevor Moore – Gabriel Vilardi – Martin Frk
Nikolai Prokhorkin – Mike Amadio – Austin Wagner

Joakim RyanDrew Doughty
Ben HuttonMatt Roy
Kurtis MacDermidSean Walker

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Alex Faust and analyst Jim Fox will call the action at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom to miss at least 2 weeks

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Some tough news for the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night as general manager Jim Benning issue an update on the status of starting goalie Jakob Markstrom.

Benning announced that Markstrom underwent a “minor lower-body procedure” on Wednesday and that his return to play status will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

The Canucks are already playing without one of their top wingers, Brock Boeser, due to injury. They are currently in a fight for the top spot in the Pacific Division. Their next game is in Ottawa on Thursday night as they continue their current four-game road trip. They play seven games over the next two weeks and will rely on Thatcher Demko and the recently acquired Louis Domingue to take over the goaltending duties.

It is definitely not an ideal situation for the Canucks. Markstrom may not get a ton of attention league wide, but he has solidified the Canucks’ goaltending position the past couple of years and has been outstanding this season with a .918 save percentage in 43 games.

He is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and has certainly played his way to a significant raise on his next contract.

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

Avalanche vs. Sabres: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

With just more than a quarter of the regular season to go for Colorado, the Avalanche sit in a divisional playoff spot as they vie with St. Louis, Dallas and Vegas for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Avs have won three straight and are one of the hottest teams over the last month and half, having gone 11-3-1.

Though the defending champion Blues are on top of the West, both the Avs and Stars are right on St. Louis’ heels. For the second straight season, it appears the Central will come down to the wire (last season, the top three teams – Nashville, Winnipeg, St. Louis – finished the season separated by just one point).

Philipp Grubauer left the outdoor game at Air Force against LA on Feb. 15 with a lower-body injury and has not played since. 29-year-old Pavel Francouz, who made his first NHL start earlier this season, has started all 4 games since Grubauer has been out and allowed just 6 goals (3- 0-1 record, 1.46 GAA, .941 SV%). On the season, Francouz is 16-5-3 with a 2.27 GAA.

The Sabres enter this game having won two straight and five of their last six games. Although they sit in sixth in the Atlantic, this run has managed to close the playoff gap between them and Toronto (third in Atlantic) and Florida (fourth) over the past two weeks, with each of those clubs struggling (Buffalo eight points back of Toronto).

At the beginning of the month it seemed the Sabres would be sellers at the trade deadline and looked to be headed towards another offseason without a playoff appearance. A strong two-week stretch has shifted things a bit as Buffalo is within reach of a playoff spot and did not approach Monday’s deadline as a sell-off.


WHAT: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. ET
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Sabres-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.


Victor OlofssonJack EichelSam Reinhart
Jeff SkinnerMarcus JohanssonWayne Simmonds
Jimmy VeseyCurtis LazarMichael Frolik
Zemgus GirgensonsJohan LarssonKyle Okposo

Brandon MontourRasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabeHenri Jokiharju
Rasmus DahlinColin Miller

Starting goalie: Carter Hutton

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonValeri Nichushkin
Tyson JostJ.T. CompherJoonas Donskoi
Vladislav NamestnikovPierre-Edouard Bellemare – Martin Kaut
Mark BarberioVladislav Kamenev – Logan O’Connor

Ryan GravesCale Makar
Samuel GirardErik Johnson
Ian ColeNikita Zadorov

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will have the call from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.