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Game Notes: Quarter Mark Winners and Losers

The first quarter of the NHL season has provided many great individual and team storylines. The previous two Stanley Cup champs are once again very good, with the Washington Capitals leading the NHL with 36 points. The St. Louis Blues, along with the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins, are next with 29 points.

The Oilers sitting first in the Pacific is an early season surprise. Same with the Arizona Coyotes who have 28 points and are sixth overall. The Coyotes were a good defensive team last year, and they have continued that this season. Meanwhile, the Oilers improvement is mainly due to their penalty killing and overall defensive play.

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1. The Oilers have cut down their goals against by 0.57/game from last season, which is even more impressive when you consider goal scoring is up across the NHL. Games are averaging 6.2 goals/game, the second highest rate in the first quarter of a season in the past 23 years. Only 2006/2007 averaged more at 6.3. The Oilers defensive play has been a bit looser the past few weeks, so it is something to monitor, and if they want to remain competitive they will need to maintain their improved defensive play, and their ability to exit the zone effectively.

2. Here are some numbers courtesy of the NHL PR.

So far 27% of games (87 of 317) have gone to overtime. Last season 262 of 1,271 games (20.6%) required overtime, and in the first quarter 73 of 317 games (23%) went to OT. So far there are an extra 14 points in the standings. If the trend from last year continues and we see fewer OT games as the season progresses, then they will likely finish around 24% of games (around 305 games), which would still be about 40 more points in the standings, or just over one per team. Not a big difference, considering in 2018 the NHL had 296 games go to OT, and in 2017 there were 289 and in 2016 there were 269 overtime games. If the NHL maintained their 27% of OT games in the first quarter over the season, we’d finish with 348 OT games, which would be a massive jump from previous seasons. It is something to monitor, but I’d be surprised if it remained that high.

3. Comebacks are more prevalent than ever. So far, 44% of the games have resulted with a comeback victory. We have seen 66 third period comebacks so far this season, the most ever. There have been 45 multi-goal comebacks (second most in NHL history through 25% of the season) and there have been 21 multi-goal comebacks in the third period alone (most ever at this point). I’d have to dig into many things to try to figure out why. I do think the onus on puck movement has led to better transition, but also the games have been much closer this season so a chance to tie the game in the third increases as teams only trail by one. So far, 70% of games have been decided by one goal (this includes games with an EN goal).

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4. While the Oilers and Coyotes are two of the biggest positive surprises of the first quarter, the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the biggest negative surprises for many. They are 19th overall, but they are 23rd in P% as they have played more games than most teams. I thought the Leafs would make the playoffs, and still do, however, I didn’t think they would win a round, because they aren’t a good defending team and haven’t been one for a few years. They are built around puck possession, but they don’t have many great puck retrievers or players who can defend and separate the opposition from the puck. For years teams were considered a very good possession team if they had 53% possession, but that still means you don’t have it 47% of the time, and if you aren’t good at defending or able to get pucks back, then you will give up goals. The Leafs have too many of the same style of players. Skilled, but not overly rambunctious or aggressive. I think you still need a mix of skilled grit on your team and I think they lack that.

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5. Currently, six teams who missed the playoffs last season are in a playoff spot on the first day of the second quarter: Edmonton, Arizona, Vancouver, Montreal, Florida and Philadelphia. Tampa Bay has found their stride and they will start climbing their way up the standings in the East. I think San Jose and Nashville will do the same in the west. The Paul Byron and Jonathon Drouin injuries will make life a bit more difficult for the Canadiens.

6. At this time last season Las Vegas had 19 points in 22 games and were in 26th spot, while the Pittsburgh Penguins were in 29th place and the Blues were in 30th. All three rebounded to make the playoffs. I don’t see that happening with any of the bottom seven teams sitting below 20 points. I don’t think the Rangers, Blue Jackets, Devils, Kings, Senators, Red Wings and Wild have the depth or skill to pick up 70+ points in the final three quarters of the season.

7. This time last season, Connor McDavid was in second place in NHL scoring with 31 points, one back of Mikko Rantanen, while Nikita Kucherov was in 19th place in scoring with 24 points in 21 games. He scored 104 points in his final 61 games to finish with 128 points. McDavid and Patrick Kane had 85 points in the final three quarters, although McDavid missed four games. But Kucherov’s final three quarters of last season were incredible and we probably didn’t discuss it enough.

8. This year Kucherov has 18 points, but the Lightning have only played a league-low 17 games, while McDavid has 40 points. I don’t see Kucherov making up that much ground on McDavid this time. It is more interesting to see what McDavid does the rest of the way. If he matches last season’s final three quarters he will finish with 125 points, which seems low considering his great start.

Leon Draisaitl had 79 points over his final 60 games last season, and if he matches that this year he will finish the season with 122 points. Both looked poised to surpass 120 points and there is a very good chance one of them, if not both, will reach 130 points, becoming the first to do that since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1996.

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9. Here are my NHL player award leaders at the quarter mark of the season.

Vezina: Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. He’s been incredible for the Coyotes with a .937sv%, a 1.85 GAA and a record of 9-5. His .946sv% at EV is really impressive.

Norris: John Carlsson, Washington Capitals. He is one of only five defencemen in the history of the NHL to have 34 points in his first 23 games. He’s been outstanding offensively for Washington, has positive possession numbers and at 5×5 he is 26-16 GF-GA.

Selke: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators. He’s had a great start. He has 11-4-15 so far, with seven goals at 5×5. His career high is ten. He plays against the other teams best players more than he does their depth players, and he is 18GF-9GA at 5×5. The Senators are very young team, and it will be difficult for him to maintain this all season, but he deserves the recognition thus far.

Calder: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche. He has 22 points in 20 games, and ten points in his last five games. If he scores 55 points over his final 62 games he would set the NHL record for most points by a rookie D-man with 77. Larry Murphy had 76 points in 1981. Makar is such a smooth and effortless skater. The ease in which he skates reminds me of Paul Coffey and right now he is the front-runner by a large margin for the Calder.

Lady Byng: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. He plays fast, plays hard, and is still producing a lot despite injuries to Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. He is a marked man in Colorado, but he rarely retaliates, complains to officials or takes penalties.

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Hart: Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. We haven’t seen a first quarter like this since Mario Lemieux in 2002. Draisaitl has 15 goals and 43 points in 22 games. He has 29 even strength points and 26 at 5×5. MacKinnon is tied for sixth in NHL scoring with 29 points. Draisaitl has more EV points than every player has total points except Connor McDavid, Carlsson, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and MacKinnon. Draisaitl has been the best player in the NHL thus far and he’s a huge reason why the Oilers are tied for the second most points in the NHL.

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10. To tonight’s tilt. The Sharks have won six in a row and are within two points of the final wild card spot. They have started scoring again, producing 25 goals during the winning streak. Their GA has come down, allowing 17 over six games, but Martin Jones only has a .891sv% in the six games. Their penalty kill is still best in the NHL at 90.9%, killing off 70 of 77 penalties. They’ve only allowed a powerplay goal in six of their 21 games.

11. The Oilers PK is still very good at 87.7%, allowing nine goals on 73 kills and currently are on a streak of killing off 20 consecutive powerplays.

12. Joe Thornton doesn’t have a goal this season, and dating back to last year he is goalless in 30 games. Logan Couture has 21 points in 21 games, but only three goals. He has scored 21+ goals in eight of the past nine years (He had 15 in 52 game in 2016), so you have to think he is going to start lighting the lamp fairly soon. He has eleven points during the-six game winning streak.

13. A quick look at the Oilers goal scoring this year compared to last.

Top-5 forwards              Rest of Fwds               Defence
2019                54                                  9                              7
2018                47                                  9                              6

The top players are scoring more, while the depth forwards are still a big concern. They have shown more production over the past ten games and that must continue.

Overall point totals from this year to last.

Top-5 forwards              Rest of Fwds               Defence
2019                128                              24                              42
2018                 98                               30                              36

The depth forwards and defence have produced identical 66 points, although the defence production has made up for the dip in depth forwards production. The top-five scorers, however, have added 30 points. Draisaitl and McDavid providing the bulk of that. They’ve been amazing. At some point, the rest of the forwards need to wake up, or Ken Holland will have to look within or make a trade. If the depth forwards produced at even below average levels, not cellar levels like they are now, then the final 60 games could be quite fun for Oilers fans. Right now Kailer Yamamoto is the best option for a recall, as he has been very good in the AHL, but I sense Holland would like to keep him there until the New Year.

14. Edmonton’s good start means they only have to win half of their remaining 60 games to make the playoffs. If they go 5-4-1 in every ten-game stretch the rest of the way they will finish with 95 points. The advantage of a great start is the team just needs to be average and win half their games to make the playoffs.

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