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Juuse Saros
Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Hockey Analytics

NHL ANALYTICS: Wild, Wild Card West

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: March 10, 2022, 1:36 am ET

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It’s just about that time, pre-NHL trade deadline and stretch run, consisting of a packed regular season schedule to end the season. Teams are going to be playing almost every other day which is sure to bring an added element of adversity in an already tight race for a playoff spot.

 

With NHL teams playing nearly every second day from March 1 to April 30, it's going to have an impact and I suspect we're going to get some sluggish hockey games down the stretch which is understandable. I worry about injuries. Depth will be tested on every team. https://t.co/CFLn5mgWZq

— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) March 8, 2022

 

The Eastern Conference is already showing some separation among teams solidifying the top three spots in each division, and the wild card spots are opening up double digit gaps to non-playoff contenders. Columbus, is already falling back with teams generally playing 56 or 57 games to date this season. The likelihood of closing that gap is not very good with three point games and a tight schedule.

But in the West, it’s wild.

Cliché aside, Minnesota and Dallas were tied for points (entering games Tuesday night) and with each win, they jostle between third in the Central division and a wild card spot. Tuesday night’s results changed that dynamic, as we shall see. St. Louis is not that far removed and could be knocked out of second in the division with any prolonged slump. Now is not the time to lose ground in any capacity.

In the Pacific Division, Calgary and Vegas sandwich the Los Angeles Kings (71 points). The Edmonton Oilers, floundering as they are, are only four points shy of the Vegas Golden Knights and seven behind the Kings. The Anaheim Ducks are five and eight respectively, and the surging Canucks all of a sudden under new coaching with Bruce Boudreau are one point shy of the Ducks.

The West is far from stabilizing their playoff picture. Here we are going to take a look at each of those teams seasons thus far using a ‘team at a glance’ visualization I had used for the McKeen’s Hockey Yearbook.

The data used to power these comes from moneypuck.com, and are used to indicate team’s percentile performance in a variety of offensive and defensive categories and on-ice situations, at 5v5, 5v4, and 4v5.

The statistical categories measure the percentile performance per 60 minutes – to normalize across teams that have a different amount of games played.

  • Shot attempts: CF60, CA60, CD60 – (Corsi Differential – CF-CA)
  • Expected Goals: xGF60, xGA60, xGD60
  • Quality Per Shot (the percentage of shots from medium and high danger areas of the ice in comparison to overall shot volume): QPSF60, QPSA60, QPSD60
  • Goals: GF60, GA60
  • Goals to expected goals differential: Goals Scored vs xG
  • Goals Saved vs xGF (expected goals – a defensive metric to show how many goals were saved based on expectation
  • Shooting and save percentages

We will start with the Pacific Division and the Los Angeles Kings, considering I recently wrote about their incredible season to this point. The values at even strength highlight their offensive capability this season, while their defensive metrics have lagged, despite receiving average goaltending. As well as Los Angeles has shown offensively, they need to tighten up that defensive game for prolonged success. They produce league average shot quality and allow too many quality shots. Special teams show a similar imbalance in offensive capability (5v4 power play), and defensive play (4v5 penalty kill).

lak

 

Chasing the Kings for second overall in the Pacific are the Vegas Golden Knights. In general terms, they have achieved league average results while excelling offensively, exemplified in their CF60 and xGF60. That scoring success at evens has made up for a dismal power play and average penalty kill. Producing decent shot quality based on their QPS60 metric isn’t balanced with a less than ideal percentile for defensive shot quality. Fortunately for them, losing 2-1 to Philadelphia on Tuesday night didn’t move the needle as the Ducks and idle Oilers didn’t gain any ground.

vgk

 

Right behind Vegas sitting in the third Wild Card spot entering play Tuesday night was the Edmonton Oilers. The recent slide and coaching change aside, their shooting metrics aren’t bad in comparison to other non-playoff teams. They’re in the top 25% in offensive categories – driven primarily by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. With an improved, albeit slightly less than average defensive metrics, the goaltending once again comes into question.

Getting save percentages in the bottom third of the league will exert pressure on the club to compensate offensively, leaving them potentially more open and vulnerable to defensive lapses only to make goaltending an even more difficult hot button item. The balance needed to be a playoff contender seems to have benefited the only other team in Alberta (Calgary), rather than the Oilers.

edm

 

Just behind Edmonton lurk the Anaheim Ducks, relying on veteran and inexperienced players alike. The 8-3 loss to the Blackhawks can be erased from memory, but these untimely losses put them in a more precarious playoff position. Management will have to make some hard decisions on impending free agents, and these next few weeks, should they fall further out of contention, could spell the end of some Ducks players returning. It will be a mixed bag of emotions this season. Everyone will remember the Trevor Zegras pass over the net to showcase his skills, but will we recall the overachieving arc the Ducks have put up in 2021-22?

Anaheim

 

Pushing the pace behind the Ducks are the Vancouver Canucks. And boy, have they had a season. They fired their head coach in early December, replacing him with Bruce Boudreau who has put up 20 wins in 32 games since stepping behind the bench. Even the 12 losses garnered four extra points to put them into playoff contention, with only a few points separating them and a prospective playoff spot.

While this team has written a remarkable turnaround story, including a revamped management, they are heading into the trade deadline with questions surrounding a roster that can make a run for the playoffs, or sell off a few assets with a short term hit for long term benefit.

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These metrics spotlight excellent goaltending courtesy of Thatcher Demko’s superb play, with a burgeoning defensive game, lacking some scoring punch up front. The penalty kill is simply atrocious, often giving up multiple power play markers, regardless of who was behind the bench. There’s definitely work to do here, but it may be prepped in the off season for 2022-23.

Vancouver

 

In the Central Division, the Blues are semi-entrenched in second spot overall, following an incredible turnaround from 2020-21, where they imploded. Vying for a playoff spot wasn’t likely expected upon season’s onset, but the Blues are doing it with defense and special teams.

Goaltender Ville Husso is sporting an impressive .936 save percentage, and St. Louis is rocking in the league’s 81.3% percentile. There’s some random scoring luck attributed to the offensive input, noted with a high shooting percentage and low shot attempts (CF60).

Special teams are certainly that, exemplified most by the league’s best quality shot per 60 metric, getting good shooting spots meaning an increase in proposed efficiency. Defensively sound, the penalty killing is just as remarkable.

The 4-1 loss to Ottawa closed the gap to within two points of the Minnesota Wild who have a game in hand to capitalize. We could see a different structure in the Central when that extra game is made up.

St. Louis

 

On the Blues heels are the Minnesota Wild, who beat the New York Rangers 5-2 on Tuesday to gain an extra two points to close the gap to within two and a shot at second in the division. The Wild are running hot with Kirill Kaprizov and Ryan Hartman leading the way offensively, while Matt Boldy showing he is capable of playing hard NHL minutes. But “Minny” is not just a scoring machine, they are very good defensively at even strength (5v5). Some uncertainty exists between the pipes, but they make up for it with strong defensive play and scoring support. Don’t sleep on the Wild catching up to St. Louis – and a potentially good run in the playoffs.

Minnesota

 

The top three in the division are held in check by a pair of wild card contenders that are one hot streak away from a run to oust the Wild or Blues from their lofty perch.

Sitting in the final wild card slot entering Tuesday night, was Nashville, but they jumped ahead of the Dallas Stars after a head-to-head game on Tuesday, ending in a Nashville 2-1 win. A vanilla season by Nashville, plodding along league averages on both sides of the puck, the Predators are propped up with exceptional goaltending from Juuse Saros. He’s posted an impressive .932 save percentage at 5v5 in 2021-22, but over the last two seasons has recorded the best save percentage (.939 minimum 2500 minutes played) barely beating out Hart Trophy candidate Igor Shesterkin (.932).

Special teams should be better, penalty killing in particular, coming up to a critical junction in the schedule to finish top three in the division or fight for a wild card spot and potentially more difficult opening round opponent.

Nashville

 

The Dallas Stars lost traction with a 2-1 loss to the Predators on Tuesday night, slipping underneath the Predators for the last wild card spot. Jason Robertson with two hat tricks last weekend sure took the headlines and highlights, however, Dallas has performed fairly well over the last 20 games. They’re 7-3 in their last 10, and haven’t lost consecutive games since mid-January.

Similar to the Predators, the Stars have generated close to league averages both ways, with good goaltending at even strength. They’ve feasted at 5v4, and kept pucks out at 4v5, their special teams are key to their success. Jake Oettinger has posted a solid .924 save percentage thus far in his career at 5v5, and 13th overall in high danger save percentage over the last two seasons.

A streaking Dallas causes more of a logjam in that wild card spot.

Dallas

 

There are a couple of weeks until the NHL trade deadline, but the competition in the West isn’t likely to play itself out until well after the deadline and potentially closer to the end of the season.

Buckle up, Western Conference Wild Card Race, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey