We are finally in the first days of November. Each NHL team has played eight or more games and RAPM, GAR, and xGAR are back up on the site; but be careful, it’s still wicked early. We’re in the peak part of the early season, where the takes are still spicy but have a tad more basis.
The Ducks fly (kind of) high
This is written before their game against the Coyotes, but who had the Anaheim Ducks starting the season off 5-4-0, including a win in Boston? Frank Vatrano currently sits tied with Alex DeBrincat for the league lead in goals with nine, and his linemates Mason MacTavish and Ryan Strome have also put 7 more goals in the back of the net as well. As a line, they’ve had a 53.3% share of expected goals and a 46.6% share of shot attempts. Thanks to a shooting percentage of 18.0% and save percentage of 95.8%, their goal differential is +7, scoring nine goals and conceding two. The Ducks other top line of Leo Carlsson, Trevor Zegras, and Troy Terry has shown similar underlying results but with far less “luck”, with a shooting percentage of 6.3% and save percentage of 90.3%, giving them a goal differential of -1.
Are the Ducks in the conversation for the playoffs? Definitely not yet. The end of season point projections still have them at a 1.1% chance of making the playoffs with 73.6 projected points. However, compared to last season, their start under new head coach Greg Cronin is a significant improvement. The growth of MacTavish, Zegras, Carlsson, and Mintyukov is most important, and right now, this is a much better environment for their development.
Systems. We’re talking about systems.
Something that feels completely out of control is the discussion revolving around the changes in the Edmonton Oilers defensive zone scheme. There was an excellent article on Sportsnet yesterday diving into the details. It’s great to see coverage on these things, but this has become overblown. The Edmonton Oilers have had some struggles early on in the season, which has been reflected in their 2-5-1 record. Many are pointing the finger at changes in the defensive zone system year over year. The Oilers currently allow 2.90 goals against per 60, ranking them 25th in the league. Not great, but not as bad as some other teams like the LA Kings (3.12, 28th) or New Jersey Devils (3.20, 29th).
Of course, we know goals can be a volatile thing. It’s one of the reasons we look at advanced statistics that offer us a greater sample size to evaluate results. Year-over-year, the Oilers are allowing the same rate of expected goals at a rate of 60 minutes (2.52), and are allowing 3.90 fewer shot attempts per hour, amidst a slight increase in expected frequency given the NHL’s new tracking standards. In fact, they allow the fewest shot attempts against per hour! The quality of the shots that the Oilers allow are the issue, but combined with the quantity of shots they allow, they are 12th in the league. Poor goaltending and finishing at the same time have amplified the issue at hand for the Oilers. However, this too shall pass. The Oilers will be back to playing like contenders before you know it.
Who is Other?
With 7:51 left in the second period against his former team, JT Miller won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly back to Quinn Hughes at the point. Hughes skated down to the hash marks where his now vacated winger once resided and threw a puck towards the net. However, the puck didn’t make it there as it hit linesperson Mark Shewchyk instead, ricocheting out of play.
The way that the NHL records blocked shots is in the following format: “[Shooter] BLOCKED BY [Defender].” However, in this case, the NHL recorded this as a block by other, as there is no player on the Rangers to assign this to. On Monday night, there was another “Block by Other” when Matthew Tkachuck took a shot towards the Bruins net. It is not clear how these were recorded previously, but it appears this is a new change from the NHL in their efforts to improve their data collection. Other changes, as we’ve discussed on the podcast, include “defensive deflections” for shots on goal that were deflected by an opposing player, or teammate block for shots that didn’t make it to the net that were blocked by a shooter’s teammate.
Here comes Erik Gustafsson?
Caught in the wild fire of July 1, when Twitter was broken during the first day of free agency, Erik Gustafsson signed a one-year contract worth $825,000. At 31 years old, the defenseman is entering the final stage of his career. The last three seasons, Gustafsson has signed one-year contracts, each with a new team. And twice out of the last three seasons, he has been traded at the deadline, once to Montreal and once to Toronto. He’s a misfit toy.
What makes Gustafsson such a misfit is that he is an offensive defenseman who generally hasn’t been able to crack the first powerplay unit. Without any penalty killing, playing less than 50 total minutes in 388 career games, he’s often replaceable to teams for better or worse. But what Gustafsson offers, and perhaps something the Rangers appreciated, is the rare surge in offense. Last season, Gustafsson’s 27 points in 70 games ranked him tied 30th among defensemen. Previous to this, Gustafsson scored 60 points wih the Blackhawks in the 2018-19 season.
You generally don’t know what you’re going to get with Gustafsson, but if you can ride the wave, he can bring you a ton of value. Right now, he is rocking 4 points in 9 games on the bottom pair and second powerplay unit. If he keeps it up, the offseason signing is going to look very good.
Jonas Johansson is working out just fine
When news hit that Andrei Vasilevskiy would be out long term for the Lightning, Tampa fans were worried. In an era where there is more split time between goaltenders, Vasilevskiy and the Lightning do not participate. The Russian goaltender was one of seven goaltenders to play 60 games last season. The Lightning have depended on him for years now, and they would be without their staple in net.
During the end of the preseason, no team wanted to put their third goalie on waivers with concerns that Tampa would pick them up. But the Lightning would end up moving forward with Jonas Johansson who they signed on July 1 to a two-year, league minimum deal. Previous to this season, Johansson had played sprinkles of games for Buffalo, Colorado, and Florida, where he didn’t have much success. But right now, he’s handling his own. In eight games, Johansson has saved 7.43 more goals than expected with his unblocked save percentage being 1.92% higher than expected. Maybe there’s a hint of luck to all of this, but he’s helped keep an underperforming Lightning team above water. Their 4-2-3 record looks a lot better than their 30th place xGF%, thanks in large part to Johansson exceeding expectations.