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Sizing up the NHL after October

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The first month of the NHL season is nearly complete and since there are almost no games on Sunday I figured this would be a good time to take a quick glance around the league. But rather than simply give you the normal standings that everyone else can read for themselves on ESPN or I had decided to post the Pythagorean standings by conference using team scoring in regulation.

OK, what am I talking about? If you look at NHL history if you simply look at how many goals a team scores and compare that to how many goals a team gives up the ratio of those two numbers is an extremely efficient predictor of the number of points that team will have in the standings. So looking at the ratio of goals for and goals against may give us a slightly different picture of the NHL than simply looking at the standings.

Now I need to address the problem of three point games. As you know since the adoption of the extra point for overtime losses this creates some problems in terms of calculating the Pythagorean standings because some games are worth more than others (3 point games versus 2 points games) in the standings. Therefore for this particular post I have chosen to simply exclude goals scored for or against in the overtime period or the shootout.

Why? Well for today's post I'm most interested in assessing the strength of each team in terms of their ability during regulation play, so the table below has two columns one for regulation goals for and the other for regulation goals against. And the final column shows each team's Pythagorean Winning Percentage.

Let's take a look at the Eastern Conference first.

BUF 50 27 .77
ATL 42 28 .69
OTT 32 23 .66
PIT 32 24 .64
TBL 30 27 .55
MON 33 30 .55
WAS 31 32 .48
NYR 37 39 .47
CAR 39 43 .45
NJD 27 31 .43
TOR 37 44 .41
NYI 23 30 .37
BOS 19 32 .26
PHI 19 42 .17

At the top of the list we find two teams that are also high in the official standings, Buffalo and Atlanta, but the other two elite teams using this approach are Ottawa and Pittsburgh which may surprise some. Ottawa still has the ability to score in bunches and they have been a bit unluckly so far such as their recent 2-1 loss to Boston. Over the course of a long season they should climb back up to the top of the conference. Pittsburgh is a more of surprise and I anticipate that both they and Atlanta will fall a bit with time. But clearly the addition of Malkin has increased their offensive skill level (3rd in the NHL in regulation offense) and they are getting better goal prevention from their net minders than they did much of last year (11th in goal prevention). As much as I love the Thrashers hot start I don't expect them of finish the season ranked 4th in the league in offense and 6th in defense--those ranking will likely slip as they face better teams in November.

In the middle we have the great mass of teams who will sort themselves out from one another as we move into November and play more games. But right now these teams are all fighting for playoff positions.

At the bottom we find Philadephia, Boston, and NY Islanders. The NYI don't surprise me at all because I think that team has many problems. I expected Boston to be better than this, so far the major additions of Chara and Savard have not generated major changes in the offense and defense, but it may be that the team hasn't had enough time to integrate fully. The Flyers are really a shocker. When I look at this roster I see some very talented players and yet this team ranks dead last in regulation offense and 2nd to last in regulation defense--wow. I've seen a lot of fingers pointed at Hatcher but he was on the team last year and they were not that bad, I find it hard to believe he slipped that much over the summer. Perhaps the defense misses Kim Johnsson more than they expected.

ANA 34 19 .76
DAL 33 21 .71
SJS 35 26 .64
EDM 33 28 .58
VAN 28 25 .56
DET 29 26 .55
NAS 33 30 .55
COL 33 31 .53
CAL 23 24 .48
CHI 32 37 .43
CBJ 19 25 .37
STL 21 28 .34
LAK 25 35 .34
PHO 28 53 .22

Out in the west we find three teams rising to the top: ANA, SJS, DAL and MIN. My favorite in the west is the Sharks they have two great goalies, two awesome scoring lines and some talented (but young) defensemen. The Ducks, Wild and Stars are at the top because of their strengths in the goal prevention department (they rank 2, 1, 3 in regulation defense). I wonder if Anaheim will have enough scoring, but then again Calgary has shown that if your defense is outstanding you don't need a lot of scoring to finish high.

Bringing up the rear in the west we find Phoenix, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Columbus. St. Louis was bad last year and they are extremely old this year which makes breakout seasons unlikely. Legace has kept them in some games early on. The Kings are rebuilding and have a strong long term outlook and a decent offense (13th in regulation), but that contract they gave Cloutier isn't really doing much to make them more competitive (29th in regulation defense). Columbus, Columbus, Columbus! If this season doesn't get Doug McLean fired I don't know what will. I expected the offense to at least make this team interesting to watch but so far they are tied for dead last in regulation goals scored and rank 28th in regulation goal for per game. They got Zherdev signed and Fedorov returns soon but they appear headed for another race for a lottery pick. Finally, we have Phoenix which has had poor goaltending (30th in regulation defense) with a weak offense (25th in regulation offense). Too bad the spent all that cash on Jovo in the off season. This team looks like it is closer to a major makeover than moving into contending anytime soon.