October 30, 2011
At the close of yesterday's NHL action, 304 games of the 2011-12 NHL schedule had been played; the season is just over one-eighth complete.
At this point in the year, it's possible to look at some of the numbers without being completely dismissive, especially since some things are already the way they were always going to be: David Steckel is the league's top faceoff man; Zenon Konopka(notes) leads the league in penalty minutes; the Minnesota Wild have the league's worst goals per game average.
Still, some of the other numbers are bound to regress to something more reasonable. Let's look at five that won't last.
1. The Toronto Maple Leafs are first in the Northeast Division.
The Maple Leafs began last season strongly as well, but they had begun to tumble back to earth by the 10-game mark. This year's team, however, put in an impressive performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 10th game, winning for the 7th time this season.
Probably not, and I suspect even Leafs fans know the team will eventually regress. Still, the team has put together a nice cushion. A .500 record the rest of the way and the Maple Leafs would still finish with 90 points. A slightly better pace and the Leafs could find themselves in a playoff spot.
Through 11 games, the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman has 12 points (1 G, 11 A), tops among blueliners. He's getting a boatload of powerplay time (he's the lone d-man on Tampa's five-man unit) but Guy Boucher is also using him to drive the offense at even-strength: 8 of his 12 points have come 5-on-5. In short, Bergeron is gonna keep getting points.
It seems unlikely that he'll remain over a point per game for this season or that he'll continue to outscore the rest of the league's blueliners, but he'll still produce far beyond his one million dollar cap hit for this season and next. Even if Bergeron cools off, he's one of the league's best bargains.
This can't last, can it? Last season, Khabibulin's GAA was 3.40 and his save percentage was .890. Only Rick DiPietro(notes) had worse numbers. This season, Khabibulin has looked like, well, a different goalie, and the Oilers have ridden his stellar netminding to the top spot in the Northwest Division.
Will this last? Yes and no. Tom Renney has the Oilers playing stifling defense, blocking shots and collapsing around their goaltender at the earliest sign of pressure. This is definitely boosting the numbers, and the fact that they're playing some of the game in the opposition's end is helping too.
Khabibulin and the Oilers are still likely to regress somewhat, but don't expect them to drop back to last year's levels of ineptitude. This team appears much better than expected.
4. The Colorado Avalanche have the league's best powerplay; they're converting at a 30% rate.
Last season, the Avalanche powerplay converted 18.5% of the time, good for 11th in the NHL. Meanwhile, the league's best powerplay was successful 24.3% of the time. In short, don't expect the Avalanche to keep scoring on 3 of 10 man advantages.
But feel free to expect them to remain better than last season, as this powerplay is a much different and much better one. Erik Johnson(notes) is beginning to show that he's a natural powerplay quarterback and Kyle Quincey(notes) has refound his game after missing most of 2011 with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, David Jones(notes) is doing excellent work down low.
Mike Ribiero has won only 64 of the 167 faceoffs he's taken, good for a 38.3 win percentage. Among faceoff men with more than 80 draws, that's the lowest percentage in the league. When you consider that Ribeiro is the Stars' first line centre and he's taking 26.6% of the team's faceoffs, that's unacceptable.
Ribiero's faceoff numbers last season weren't good, either, but they were still nearly ten percentage points higher than his numbers so far this season. Expect them to improve.