Sergei Bobrovsky

NHL Power Rankings: The quiet dominance of the Capitals

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Maybe it is because we are so used to seeing them at the top of the NHL standings.

Maybe it is because they already won their Stanley Cup and there is no longer any pressure on them to shake their postseason disappointment label.

Or maybe it is because there are so many other intriguing stories around the NHL that are dominating headlines (Edmonton and Vancouver off to surprising starts, the Islanders winning 10 in a row, Boston and St. Louis looking like they can get back to the Stanley Cup Final).

Whatever the reason, it seems like the Washington Capitals are getting a little overlooked this season and it is kind of amazing given just how dominant they have been. Entering the week they are 13-2-3 for the season, are one of the highest scoring teams in the league, have the best points percentage in the league, and have recorded at least a point in 11 consecutive games (10-0-1). What stands out the most about this start is they are doing it while getting mostly sub-par goaltending from Braden Holtby. If he gets back on track there is the potential for another championship parade in Washington D.C..

Because of all of that the Capitals climb to the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does every other team sit this season?

To the rankings!

1. Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin at 34 years of age is off to the second best goal scoring start of his career. He just keeps going and completely disregarding the normal aging curve of players.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending champs were 3-2-3 after eight games and lost their best player for what will probably most — if not all — of the regular season. All they have done is go 9-1-0 in their past 10 games. Lot of overtime luck in there, but they are building themselves a nice cushion.

3. New York Islanders. After starting the year 1-3-0 they are entering the week on an 11-0-1 run, with the only loss coming in overtime after surrendering a three-goal third period lead.

4. Boston Bruins. Eventually somebody other than David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand will have to start scoring some goals. They have time to figure it out.

5. Philadelphia Flyers. Very quietly the Flyers have one of the top points percentages in the NHL (sixth best) and have won five out of their past six. Five of those six games have gone to overtime or a shootout so they are not really decisive wins, but their underlying and possession numbers paint the picture of a team that might have the right process.

6. Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl are doing exactly what is expected and exactly what they always do. The big difference-makers this season, though, are Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen playing great in net. Those two are the players that will determine what this team is able to do.

7. Colorado Avalanche. They slumped recently but am going to give them the benefit of the doubt due to the injury situation. When healthy they showed they can dominate, and they showed against Nashville and Columbus they can still score goals even without Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins. Just when it looked like they were starting to get fully healthy Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist all exited the lineup with injuries. They are still playing extremely well despite all of the players they have been missing but the absence of Crosby will be a huge test.

9. Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber can still be a great player and change a game when he is healthy.

10. Florida Panthers. If Sergei Bobrovsky would start playing like the goalie they paid him to be they would really be on to something this year. There is still plenty of time for him to turn it around and if/when he does this could be a sneaky dangerous team.

11. Nashville Predators. Filip Forsberg has five points in five games since returning to the lineup. The offense has been great, but they need more from the goalies, specifically Jusse Saros.

12. Dallas Stars. Ben Bishop got back on track and so did the Stars. They still need to do something to find some more offense because no goalie is great enough to allow one goal every game.

13. Winnipeg Jets. Paul Maurice deserves a lot of credit for keeping this team competitive given the state of the defense. But do you know who deserves more credit? Goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. They are starting to show some signs of getting back on track, but something still seems a little off here.

15. Toronto Maple Leafs. Everybody wants the Maple Leafs to change the way the play, but what if the change they need to make is to become more aggressive offensively, and not less?

16. Calgary Flames. They are starting to get back on track after a slow start. Matthew Tkachuk is the engine driving this machine right now.

17. Arizona Coyotes. They are definitely on the right track but still need to learn how to finish games.

18. Vancouver Canucks. The offense has gone cold during their four-game losing streak, but there are still a lot of encouraging signs here with this team.

19. Vegas Golden Knights. They have lost five out of six and still have not found a competent backup goalie to give Marc-Andre Fleury some rest. That is an under the radar problem that is going to need to be addressed.

20. Carolina Hurricanes. I still believe when all is said and done this season they will be a contender in the Eastern Conference, but they look out of sorts right now across the board.

21. Buffalo Sabres. The competition has started to get tougher and the losses have become more frequent. Not a good sign. After starting the year 8-1-0 the Sabres are 1-5-1 since with the only win coming against a lousy Detroit Red Wings team.

22. New York Rangers. Adam Fox has been the most impressive rookie on this team. That is not a knock on No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, just a statement on how good Fox has been.

23. San Jose Sharks. Starting to show some signs of life, but how far are they really going to go with that goaltending?

24. Chicago Blackhawks. They are finding ways to collect points every other game, but there is not really anything impressive about their play.

25. Ottawa Senators. They may not have a ton of talent but they play hard and are not throwing in the towel on this season.

26. Anaheim Ducks. If John Gibson and Ryan Miller are not flawless this team has no chance. Both goalies are having outstanding years and the team is still trending toward the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

27. New Jersey Devils. Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, is starting to look more comfortable.

28. Minnesota Wild. Their big rally against Arizona was a nice break from the overall disappointment that has been the 2019-20 season.

29. Columbus Blue Jackets. My sleeper team for the season is turning out to be exactly what everyone thought it would be.

30. Detroit Red Wings. After losing 12 out of 13 they managed to beat Boston and Vegas in back-to-back games. Even with those two wins they are still just 3-11-1 in their past 15 games. That is bad. What is not bad? Robby Fabbri scoring two goals in his first game with the team.

31. Los Angeles Kings. Time to start selling off whatever they can.

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.

The Buzzer: Sharks keep sinking; Jets, Byfuglien to arbitration?

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Saturday’s been such a busy — and violent/scary — night in the NHL, that it feels acceptable to commandeer the beginning of The Buzzer for some developing stories before we get to the three stars, highlights, and factoids.

Choppy waters for the Sharks

If you can zoom out a bit, it’s fair to remember that the Sharks sent a bucket of pucks Connor Hellebuyck‘s way on Friday, only to lose. They were probably a little tired on Saturday, and also maybe feeling a little bit like they wouldn’t get the bounces that come from whatever hard work they could squeeze out.

(It’s worth asking if a team that also leans so much on older players might be especially prone to weak efforts on the second half of back-to-backs.)

Those caveats out of the way … yikes.

The Sharks’ 5-2 loss to the Canucks represents San Jose’s fifth loss in a row, and the Sharks have only won once in their last eight games (1-6-1 stretch), pushing their 2019-20 record to a deeply worrisome 4-10-1. When the Sharks decided to extend Erik Karlsson, it felt like the right move now, even if there’d likely be pain down the road. That pain instead took the express lane.

More than a few people wonder if Peter DeBoer will lose his job, among other changes. That’s a situation to watch, whether things heat up this weekend, this week, or further down the line. Either way, it’s pretty shocking, even if it’s early.

Arbitration for Buffy?

The latest episode of “As the Buffy Turns” comes from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who reports that the Winnipeg Jets might have to go to arbitration with possibly retiring defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. It kicks off around the two-minute mark:

This seems less optimistic than Bob McKenzie’s update from earlier this week on NBCSN. The gist of the disagreement can be broken down in two basic phases, via Friedman’s report:

  • The NHL/Jets argue that Byfuglien was deemed “fit to play” at an end-of-season exit physical. Byfuglien’s side notes that it was well-known that he played hurt through the playoffs, and tried to take the summer to heal. Once his ankle acted up again, he reportedly decided it might be time to retire. Thus, on Byfuglien’s side, they argue it’s a legitimate hockey injury.
  • Once Byfuglien underwent surgery, a broken foot was discovered. At least, that’s Byfuglien’s side; there are arguments over when that injury might have happened.

It ultimately seems like this may come down to whether or not Byfuglien will be paid while he’s on the shelf — possibly without ever returning. But we’ll see.

*Phew*

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers

If you only look at the exhilarating game-winner, you’d think Leon Draisaitl was the one who stole the show from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Overall, though, it was Mike Smith.

The Penguins peppered Smith with 52 shots on goal, including 13 high-danger chances at even-strength alone, according to Natural Stat Trick. Smith only yielded a single goal, stealing a win for the Oilers. Read more about that game in Adam Gretz’s three takeaways.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames

While Smith nabbed a remarkable 51 saves, it was “Big Save Dave” who finished Saturday night without a single blemish. Rittich pitched a 43-save shutout to help Calgary beat the Blue Jackets 3-0.

I’m giving Smith the edge because he faced so many dangerous chances, but Rittich’s night was plenty impressive in its own right.

3. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets entered the third period against the Golden Knights down 3-1, closing off a back-to-back in Vegas, one of the toughest buildings to snag such a win in.

Winnipeg wouldn’t be denied, and Connor was a big part of a comeback win. He collected two primary assists to help push the game into overtime, then baffled Malcolm Subban after Subban made a tremendous save earlier in the period. Getting the OT winner, plus two primary assists, helps push Connor just a bit ahead of the pack.

There were some other great performances, including David Pastrnak posting another three-point night (1G, 2A).

Highlight of the Night

The Devils got a much-needed win by beating the Hurricanes, and Nico Hischier scored a much-needed goal:

Factoids

  • The Islanders are on a nine-game winning streak, tied for the second best streak in franchise history. You can read more about that here, but Isles Blog points out another impressive stat: the team is 14-1-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets under Barry Trotz.
  • NHL PR notes that the Kings have scored 41 OT goals since the 3-on-3 format was introduced in 2015-16, six more than any team.
  • Speaking of highest marks since 2015-16 (also compiled by NHL PR), Sergei Bobrovsky holds the most shutouts with 23. That 23rd came on Saturday, and marks his first with the Panthers.
  • From Sportsnet Stats: David Pastrnak’s 27 points rank as the third-most through 13 games in Bruins history. Pastrnak’s only behind Phil Esposito (31 in 1973-74) and Bobby Orr (28 in 1974-75).

Scores

EDM 2 – PIT 1 (OT)
NYR 2 – NSH 1
BOS 5 – OTT 2
NYI 1 – BUF 0
FLA 4 – DET 0
TOR 4 – PHI 3 (SO)
NJD 5 – CAR 3
CGY 3 – CBJ 0
DAL 4 – MTL 1
STL 4 – MIN 3 (OT)
ARI 3 – COL 0
WIN 4 – VGK 3 (OT)
VAN 5 – SJS 2
LAK 4 – CHI 3 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Stunning numbers from first month of NHL season

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what stood out to us throughout the month of October. 

Carrying the offense, Edmonton edition: Let’s start with Edmonton’s insanely dominant duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl because right now there is nobody — NOBODY — in the NHL better than them.

Not only are they both among the top-five point producers in the league individually (again), they have (again) completely driven almost all of the offense for the Oilers. And when I say “all” that is not meant to be an exaggeration. There is almost no offense in Edmonton when these players are not on the ice. So far this season the Oilers have scored 42 goals. At least one of McDavid or Draisaitl has been on the ice for 33 of those goals, while they have both been on the ice for 31 of them. That means one of them has been on the ice for 79 percent of the team’s goals, while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every one of those goals they have been on the ice for. This is somehow even more top-heavy than last year’s team.

On this same date last year One of McDavid or Draisaitl was on the ice for 75 percent of the team’s goals, while one of them scored or assisted on “only” 68 percent of them.

Carrying the offense, Boston edition: The Bruins have their own dominant top line with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron carrying their offense. The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the big one here, having been on the ice for 28 of Boston’s 42 goals (66 percent) while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every goal with them on the ice.

Carlson’s start among the all-time best: With 23 points in the Capitals’ first 14 games John Carlson is off to one of the best offensive starts we have ever seen from a defensemen. Since the start of the 1979-80 season the only defenders with more points through their team’s first 14 games are Al MacInnis (27 in 1990-91) and Paul Coffey (24 in 1988-89). He is one of just 12 player to have at least 20 points through their team’s first 14 games, with the other 11 all doing it between 1980 and 1991 when the league was a goal-scorer’s dream.

No puck luck for Simmonds, Barrie: Toronto’s Tyson Barrie and New Jersey’s Wayne Simmonds currently hold the league for “most shots without scoring a goal.” Entering play on Friday Barrie has put 36 shots on goal without scoring, while Simmonds is still searching for his first goal after 34 shots for the Devils. No other player in the league has more than 28 shots without a goal, while Simmonds is the only forward with more than 25 without a goal.

Jonathan Quick‘s struggles are concerning: He is tied for the league lead in goals against with 36 entering Friday alongside Sergei Bobrovsky and David Rittich. For as much as the other two have struggled they have played in 11 and 12 games respectively. Quick has given up his 36 goals in only eight games. He has played 100 fewer minutes than Bobrovsky and more than 250 fewer minutes than Rittich.

Still the power play specialist: Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson still has one of the league’s most bizarre stat lines through the early part of his career, having scored eight goals in the first 19 games of his career (including six in 13 games this season). Every single one of those goals has come on the power play. Zero even-strength goals.

A very one-sided trade: Let’s check in on that James Neal for Milan Lucic swap. Neal has scored 12 goals in 14 games for the  Oilers. Lucic has zero goals and 18 shots on goal in 15 games for the Flames.

No lead is safe in New Jersey: Expectations were high for the Devils after a massive offseason, but with just two wins in their first 10 games they have been a pretty big disappointment. Things might be different if they could actually finish a game. Four of their losses this season have come in games where they held a two-goal lead at some point in the game, including a couple of third period leads. They can start the game, they just can not finish it.

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.

 

How worried should Panthers be about Bobrovsky’s bad start?

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After a summer full of splashy spending, the Florida Panthers find themselves in the murky middle, with a strange (and frustrating) record of 5-3-4.

For a franchise ranked only 14th in shootout wins (68) despite leading the league in shootouts since the format began in 2005-06 (162, losing 94, 10 more shootout losses than any other team), seeing four in that last category has to be frustrating.

But, really, the Panthers should probably find relief in the fact that, if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs began before Wednesday’s games, they’d be the second wild-card team. That’s an accomplishment because, frankly, it’s been a terrible start for their $10 million goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.

What’s this about, Bob?

You don’t have to dig too deep to see how rocky the start has been for “Bob.” It’s remarkable that he’s managed even a mediocre 4-2-3 record considering an abysmal .870 save percentage.

Things don’t get a lot better when you look at deeper stats. While discussing the hottest goalie starts to 2019-20, PHT frequently pointed to GSAA (goals saved above average), a metric that attempts to compare how a goalie performs compared to other goalies facing similar chances and situations. The flipside to over-performing goalies in that stat is goalies who’ve seemingly underachieved, and things look glum for Bobrovsky there.

By Hockey Reference’s standards, Bobrovsky’s GSAA is -9.71, the second-worst mark in the NHL behind only free-falling Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (-12.13). Things don’t really get better based on Emmanuel Perry’s measurements at Corsica Hockey, and you can see that Bob falls low on this Hockey Viz graph as well.

Less than half of Bobrovsky’s starts (.444 percent) are considered “quality starts,” according to Hockey Reference. Looking at Bob’s game logs, he’s been at or above a .914 save percentage in four appearances, and at .878 or below (sometimes drastically below) during his other six with Florida so far.

It’s important to remember that this is a small sample size, and it’s not as though Bob hasn’t managed the occasional wonderful save:

… But yes, it’s been a rough start.

Bumpy beginner?

It’s fair to wonder if Bobrovsky is simply one of those goalies who gets off to slow starts, like a bear making a big yawn (do bears yawn?) after hibernating through the winter.

Looking at Bobrovsky’s career split stats, you could advance an argument, scientific or not. During his career in October, his save percentage has been on average .903 (or .908 if you take out the disastrous month of October 2019), which would be his worse average of any month, though he’s struggled a bit in Februaries (.909).

If Bob’s past patterns hold, November could present a big turnaround, as that month is his second strongest (.924 career average, March is the highest at .933, and is the largest sample with 97GP).

Bobrovsky certainly got off to a slow start in 2018-19, with a .904 save percentage before the All-Star Break and then a .924 mark afterward. The Panthers have to hope that November wakeup call happens.

Nature vs. nurture

So, how much of Bob’s bad start is on him, and how much of this comes down to Florida struggling?

Looking at team numbers at Natural Stat Trick, we can see that the Panthers have been a strong team in puck possession measures like Corsi and Fenwick, along with simpler stats like shots and scoring chances for.

… But there’s a catch.

The Panthers have allowed almost 10 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes (9.97) while creating a bit less than eight of their own (7.94). Generating only 44.32 of the high-danger chances in their games makes for the fourth-worst discrepancy in the NHL.

More specifically to Bobrovsky, he’s faced 55 high-danger shots (or 5.5 per night) at five-on-five, giving him a troubling save percentage of .745 in those situations. Natural Stat Trick’s various stats indicate that he’s struggling relative to what other goalies might be expected to produce in those scenarios.

It’s not all bad for the Panthers defense, as they’ve seemed to keep rush attempts under reasonable control, yet the bigger picture makes it clear that they could probably do more to insulate their struggling, big-money puckstopper.

***

The most important thing to realize is that it’s early.

Bobrovsky is on a new team, in a new city, and that new team is adjusting to a new system being installed by a new coach.

He’s also had a history of slow starts followed by hot streaks. The big picture of Bobrovsky’s career is elite more often than not.

Of course, patience will only last so long, especially at Bob’s price tag. The Panthers face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, so if Bobrovsky’s the starter, he could get another chance to prove himself in mere hours.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Blue Jackets haven’t fallen apart without Panarin, Bobrovsky

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After Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all walked in free agency, outside expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t very high. Why would they be? Panarin was their most talented player and Bobrovsky was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. But through 10 games, they’ve found a way to keep their head above water.

The Jackets head into this weekend with a 5-3-2 record, which is good enough to put them in a Wild Card spot right now. Yes, we’re 10 games into the season, but that little factoid is important when comparing their work to the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Without Panarin, the offense has produced exactly the way you’d imagine. They don’t have anybody that’s scored more than six points in 10 games, but they have received plenty of contributions from different players. As of right now, nine players on the roster have scored at least two goals and 14 players have found the back of the net at least once.

Pierre-Luc Dubois leads in the team in goals, with 4, and he’s tied for the scoring lead with six points. That puts the 21-year-old on pace to score a solid 33 goals and 49 points this season. The only way to have success when your leading scorer is on pace for under 50 points is for everyone behind him to contribute too. So far so good in that respect.

The fight this team has shown has been nothing short of impressive. For example, in last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus found themselves down 3-1 after the first period. Thanks to goals by Ryan Murray and Sonny Milano, they managed to even the score before Cam Atkinson won it in OT.

“It was another opportunity presented to us as far as not blowing up starting that second period,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said after the game, per NHL.com. “We need to stay patient, not try to score. We just need to stay above the puck. It’s such a fast team over there.

“So we kept our patience, played above the puck and probably played, out of all the minutes we’ve put in this year, probably the fastest we’ve played as far as our transition.”

The other pleasant surprise is Joonas Korpisalo, who has done a good job between the pipes for the Jackets this year. The 25-year-old has won four of his last five games. If he can continue to keep them in games, they’ll be one of the teams fighting for a playoff spot near the end of the season.
It’s important to note that this is a small sample size, but 10 games isn’t insignificant either. Most of the hockey world may have been guilty of overlooking players like Dubois, Atkinson, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski coming into this season, so it’s up to them to continue to prove people wrong.
Even though the Blue Jackest are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to goals scored (16) and goals against (32), they’re finding the way to get the job done with a committee of contributors. That’s definitely not a the sexy approach, but if it’s effective enough to get them back into the playoffs, that’s what they’ll continue to do.
“I don’t know what we are yet,” Tortorella said via The Athletic. “It’s 10 games. You can’t say ‘You are this’ after 10 games, but we certainly have shown some resilience here.”

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.