The Wild, Wild West

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It seems the WC playoff race is now down to 12 teams, what with the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers both doing a face plant to start the season.

The Coyotes have been dreadful, giving up 3.60 GA/P, the worst in the entire NHL. For an offensively challenged team that has previously been getting by with a strong D and superlative goaltending, you would have to think that Dave Tippet, not Randy Carlyle may be the first coaching victim this season.

The Oilers, despite have a very favourable schedule with a plethora of home games and EC teams, are pretty much where they were a year ago as they head out on their annual rodeo road trip. Worth noting that last season the Oilers gave up 3.26 GA/G (30th in the NHL) so the team braintrust went out and acquired journeymen defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne as well as adding goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth.

How is that working out for you MacT? The Oilers are giving up 3.46 GA/G. That’s what you call progress folks.

The Oilers are scoring at a slightly higher rate this season but not enough to compensate for their leaky D. With Taylor Hall out for an indeterminate time, even that Pyrrhic victory is likely in jeopardy.

So, what do we make of the remaining dozen teams?

The plucky Calgary Flames remain in the mix through their never say never attitude and work ethic and attitude. That they have kept their heads above water despite a devastating series of injuries is certainly a testament to their team game and coaching staff. Could they be this year’s Cinderella team? They might be.

Among teams that are currently out of a playoff position, I haven’t been impressed with Colorado or Winnipeg who both seem to be limping their way to mediocrity, Dallas needs shore up their D in a hurry and the Blackhawks just don’t seem to have lift off yet, although I expect that won’t last long.

But let’s turn to the top of the standings where 4 teams have been superlative in the early days of this season.

The Anaheim Ducks have been nothing short of spectacular so far but the Minnesota Wild have been even better.

While the Ducks sport a gaudy 9-3 record, their underlying numbers are nowhere near as good as the Wild. The Ducks are out shooting their opponents by less than 1 shot per game while the Wild routinely out shoot their opponents by more than 10 shots/game. The Wild have been killing the possession game thus far and have the 3rd best offensive production in the league at 3.40 GF/G and now that they have finally got their power play working (2 goals last night) I expect you’ll see the Wild rise to the best record in the NHL very shortly.

Nashville and Vancouver have also “surprised” some observers with their early season success but there are a couple of cautions applicable to both teams.

While Nashville has an outstanding 6-2-2 record, it should be noted that they are actually being outshot by 28.2 to 28.5 S/G.  I would bet they’ll have a tough time maintaining that success unless they can turn around their shot differential.

The caution with the Canucks is that their success thus far has been based on a relatively poor level of opponent. They’ve beaten the hopeless Oilers 3 times and, while they’ve played well in all of their games, the are soon going to face the road trip from hell when they play, in succession, the Sharks, Kings and Ducks.

That those games also constitute a 3 games in 4 nights scenario, things may not look so rosy a week from today.

The St. Louis Blues seem to have achieved ignition helped in no small measure by the emerging superstar Vladimir Taranseko who has 5 goals in his past 3 games and, when TJ Oshie and Paul Statsny return to the lineup soon, I expect the Blues will give the Wild a dog fight for the top spot in the standings.

A week from now, we could see some movement in the standings and that both the Oilers and Coyotes will have been pronounced officially DOA.

As of today, Sports Club Stats has the Oilers with a 17.3% chance of making the playoffs while the Coyotes are pegged at 11.3%.

I expect both will be in single digits a week from now.

 

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