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Who’s good, who’s bad, and who’s faking it in the NHL so far

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A look at which teams in the NHL have started well, who haven’t, and who is hiding their real face behind a mask.

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Remember the start of last season when the Pittsburgh Penguins were just absolutely terrible? Or so they seemed. What you might have forgotten is that after only 10 games, it was the Washington Capitals who were well down in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference, and they did okay in the end.

Early runs of success are great because they don’t make you give the points back, but early runs of failure are also easily overcome — just as long as it doesn’t drag on too long.

Eastern Conference

As of October 26 (not including that night’s games) who is good, bad or faking it?

Pittsburgh leads the Metropolitan, Toronto the Atlantic and Washington is out of a playoff spot. The Metro is clumped up in the middle, the Atlantic at the top and bottom. That’s what the standings say, but digging a little deeper than that, who is good at five-on-five and winning games at the same time?

I looked at this year’s standings and then I looked at where teams are over or under expected goals for and against from Offside Review. For a rough guide on the power play, I mostly relied on shot rate (Corsi For per 60 minutes) which is a more reliable indicator than success rate.

Good

Tampa (3rd in Conference): They aren’t getting puck luck, and they also aren’t shooting with a very high quality, but they are using control of the shot share and pace of offence to win games. If they get luckier, they’ll be battling for the top of the Atlantic in no time. Their power play is ninth in shot rate, so they’re fine there too.

Carolina (7th): They are the Corsi kings of the east, and they finally have above-average goaltending. The only downside is that their overall shot quality is poor and they are underperfoming expected goals. Which just means they could get better.

Boston (2nd): They are outperforming expectations in both shooting and goaltending. Their power play needs work, and they have no depth scoring, but there’s no reason to think they won’t roll to a top three spot in the Atlantic.

Toronto (1st): They aren’t the best team at shot share, and they never will be. They’ve managed to string together a bunch of wins while getting barely average goaltending and nothing special on the team shooting percentage. Assuming those numbers will both go to above average over time, given the roster, the Leafs will continue to win a lot of games. The power play is the best in the NHL when you combine talent with shooting pace.

Bad

Detroit (16th): They are not as bad as they look, but they are still bad. They are underperforming expected goals for to a hilarious degree, but they are also really bad defensively. If their goaltending and shooting got better, they’d be better than Ottawa. Maybe.

Ottawa (11th): They are really bad and have been shooting well to partly disguise that.

Philadelphia (12th): They are super bad with bad sauce. They are performing dead on expected in goals for and against and goaltending! It’s amazing. No one deserves their scant points more, as they are a league average team in quality that gets outshot by a huge margin. They have a good power play, though. Something has to give there, and I think it’ll be behind the bench.

New York Islanders (13th): This team has the second lowest expected goals for in the NHL. Frederik Gauthier would up their offensive punch. They are, however, performing really well defensively, but they’d need a shutout every night to win a game. This is a masterful tank job.

Faking being good

Pittsburgh (4th): They are a low end of mediocre team that’s shooting the lights out right now while their goalie is struggling to get sorted out. One look at the roster says the underlying mediocrity is likely to change, but for now, they don’t really “deserve” their points.

Faking being bad

New Jersey (10th): No, really. They are faking being mediocre, if not bad, while getting solid performance, particularly offensively, excellent goaltending and no puck luck to speak of. They’ve played fewer games because of their early trip to Sweden, and when they catch up, the’ll be in a playoff spot. Their power play needs work, however.

Columbus (8th): They’re a good to very good team who are getting the worst goaltending in the NHL. It’s not even close. Sergei Bobrovski is single-handedly destroying this team. Lucky for them, if he rights the ship, they’re ready to roll.

Florida (14th): What is going on here? They should be around about where the Habs are in the standings (a wildcard spot or just below) and yet they’re in the basement. They are also being done in by a terrible start to the season from one goalie: James Reimer. They’ll bounce up when he bounces back or Roberto Luongo returns.

New York Rangers (15th): Yes, they’re semi-tanking, but their shooting percentage is laughably tiny. They’ll likely be a decently mediocre team if that improves.

Legitimately average

Washington (9th): They’re cup-drunk still, but there’s nothing in their results so far to be happy about. They’ve had good shooting, bad goaltending and meh everything else. Let’s see where they are in two months, though.

Montreal (5th): They have early numbers very similar to the Bruins, and they are not being carried by their goalie as many will assume. They have a blah sort of power play, and have good enough underlying numbers to be fourth in the Atlantic and stay there, but the Metro will decide who gets the wildcards. Their forward depth is not up to par for the long haul.

Buffalo (6th): They are the twins of the Habs this year, and could be fighting for wildcard playoff spots come spring. They aren’t great, but they are sort of okay.

The Metro teams seem to be destined to congregate around a similar points total just like last year and they may take both wildcard spots, leaving a couple of Atlantic teams out in the cold again.

Western Conference

Nashville leads the Central, Vancouver the Pacific (checks notes, huh, really?) and Vegas is out of playoff spot.

Good

San Jose (7th in Conference): They should be better, but they are the only team that can out-Corsi the ‘Canes. If they could shoot anywhere near what their expected goals for is, they’ll be leading the conference. If they get the sort of goaltending you should expect, they’ll be leading the league.

Minnesota (5th): They are underperforming offensively and making up for it with the goaltender. I think that’s just who they are. Their trouble will always be scoring enough goals to get anywhere.

Nashville (1st): They have everything working all at once. They are scoring without it looking too much like a luck spike; the goalies are good; the defence is excellent, and their shot share is well in the black.

Bad

Edmonton (11th): This team is both unlucky and bad. They aren’t bottom of the league awful, but they are such a poor team offensively, what’s the point of them? Their power play is worse than almost all others.

Calgary (10th): They have been performing at the league average in a way the Flyers can relate to, while also being bad defensively. They can get better if they get some better shooting, but they’re aspiring to be legitimately average here, not good. Their power play is better than the Oilers, which is all you can say for it.

Los Angeles (15th): They aren’t in last place by accident, but they’ve had to suffer one of Jon Quick’s (and his backups) worst downturns in a while. They decided to never score goals at the same time, and while their defence is okay, their expected goals for is terrible. Their power play has an okay shot rate and some terrible tactics. Nothing they do works.

Saint Louis (14th): No scoring talent and terrible goaltending is not a good recipe. They used to have good structure, but that’s gone too. If they fix some of that, they too could be average.

Anaheim (8th): I don’t care where they are in the standings, they may be the worst team in the NHL. They are if you take away John Gibson. They are last in expected goals for percentage, largely on the back of massive shot-share disparity and terrible offensive quality. Their power play is terrible. Their everything is terrible. I don’t even like this team, and I’m irate. Randy Carlyle is clearly the worst coach in the NHL, since every aspect of coachable play on this team is bad, and bad by such a massive margin, they’d be unable to beat their own AHL team if you gave them each an NHL-average goalie.

Faking being good

Colorado (2nd): We’ve all seen this movie. You take one scoring line, add in Semyon Varlamov on a tear, and declare them a contender. The difference is, they are getting outshot a bit not a tonne, so it might be repairable, but the roster looks too weak to me. The Central itself is weak outside the top few teams, so a playoff spot is not out of the question.

Winnipeg (4th): They’re structurally okay everywhere but near the net. Even if they were not underscoring their expected goals by a lot, they’re still getting outshot a lot, and that’s mostly down to a lack of offensive pace. No team that stacked up front should be so mediocre offensively, so I have a hard time believing this will last, but right now, they are lucky to have the points they’ve got.

Chicago (3rd): They win the shot battle and then give it all back on quality in the defensive zone. It’s been disguised by goaltending, but they are the worst team at expected goals against, even worse than the Ducks. Significantly worse than the Leafs!

Vancouver (6th): They lead their division from sixth place. They are terrible at offence, and underperform against expected goals for. They’ve had a nice run of good goaltending, but they’ll drop down the standings like a stone eventually.

Faking being bad

Vegas (12th): If it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have none at all. They are playing fine, just not scoring any goals or getting much better than average goaltending. If they’re bored waiting for their luck to change, they should work on their mediocre power play.

Dallas (9th): Their results aren’t bad right now, just sort of blah, and they shouldn’t be. They’re only ever going to get average goaltending (I’m not a Ben Bishop believer), but they should be scoring up a storm, and they aren’t. They should be at least a good team, but they have no depth scoring which will continue to be a problem even if the top lines score well. Their power play is scary good.

Arizona (13th): The Coyotes have had a great start! They’re outshooting and outplaying everyone for the first time after decades of lassitude. There’s just one problem: They never score goals. No team has a higher difference between expected and actual goals at five-on-five. Their power play is terrible, or maybe they’d be in less trouble, but they aren’t doing much wrong, they just have to wait for the puck to go in, and then we’ll be able to see if they’ve got the shooting talent to be good or great.

Legitimately average

No one in the west is merely average, although Calgary likely comes closest. It’s all one extreme or the other over there. It might be possible that the west is redefining what average and good is, but relative to the whole league, there are few genuinely good teams that aren’t suffering from some bad luck and a lot of bad teams legitimately in the bottom half.