E.J. Hradek and Bill Pidto preview the night ahead in the NHL.
E.J. Hradek and Bill Pidto preview the night ahead in the NHL.
Being sent back to the QMJHL after eight healthy scratches in the NHL obviously didn’t hurt Thomas Chabot’s confidence, as the blueliner busted out a remarkable shootout goal in the QMJHL.
Thomas Chabot’s season didn’t exactly start the way he would have pictured.
The Senators prospect blueliner stayed up in Canada’s capital for the first nine games of the campaign, saw a mere seven minutes of ice time and found himself scratched eight times in the first month of the season. He was then sent back to the QMJHL at the start of November, with not so much as a second crack at the Senators’ lineup.
Whatever damage that could have possibly done to Chabot’s confidence seems to be a distant memory, though. Since returning to the Saint John Sea Dogs, the 19-year-old defender has picked up three goals and 15 points in 10 games, and Thursday night Chabot scored an absolutely ridiculous shootout goal in the Sea Dogs’ 3-2 victory over the Shawinigan Cataractes:
That Thomas Chabot shootout goal though ... pic.twitter.com/eTvvkhzZXL— Saint John Sea Dogs (@SJSeaDogs) December 2, 2016
For those scoring at home, we think there’s about four moves in there, depending on what you count. As Chabot slowly weaves in, he pulls one quick head fake and shuffle of the puck, does a second, more exaggerated stick and head fake, moves to his left to fake the quick forehand shot and completes the fancy goal with a Forsberg finish.
Impressive, right? It’s easily one of the best shootout goals of the campaign in any league. Even more so when you consider that Chabot is a defenseman.
It’s almost unfair that, at some point in the near future, the Senators blueline will consist of Erik Karlsson and a youngster in Chabot who can shake goaltenders one-on-one like he’s a 50-goal forward.
Chabot, who is expected to be one of the top blueliners on the Canadian World Junior squad in December, is one of the brightest prospects in the entire Ottawa system, and it likely won’t be long before he’s patrolling the big league blueline.
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The Blue Jackets celebrate a goal in their 10-0 win over the Canadiens.
After 20 or so games, the playoff hunt is starting to get much clearer and as surprising as it sounds, expect the Blue Jackets to be in the post-season.
Each month is an end and a beginning for NHL teams. String a few good months together and it probably means a playoff berth. A couple bad months though and it'll cost you.
Every month we like to highlight three teams that are trending up and three teams that are trending down to get a better sense of the landscape of the league. These aren’t your typical trends citing best and worst records in the league because those things can be fickle over a single month of hockey.
Instead we’ll dig a bit deeper toward each team’s underlying numbers. We've got a projection model that assesses each player’s value that’s updated daily throughout the season that can estimate point projections and playoff chances. It’s based on the past three seasons of a player’s Game Score and it’s what we used for season previews for each team. These posts are a way to check in with how teams have progressed, comparing how good they were projected to be at the start of November and how that’s changed since.
Here’s which teams are playing better and worse over the last month, as well as a look at the current projected playoff picture.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs aren’t exactly tearing up the league right now, but they’re definitely not the bottom-feeder many expected. They’re currently playing at an 86 point pace – a huge improvement from last season – but may be even better than that with a projected point total of almost 92 points. That probably seems far-fetched to a lot of you, but they’ve got decent shot rates, their goaltending is trending up, and they’ve got one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Last year’s team was a mess that couldn’t score, but when you add a full season of James van Riemsdyk plus three of the league’s best rookies, you get an offensive powerhouse. Defense is still a big concern and that’s why their expected win percentage is around .500 and not higher. Still, that’s likely much higher than most would expect and I doubt many see them just above 40 percent to make the playoffs, which they just might be.
Remember just a couple weeks ago when everyone was worried about the Predators? They’re now playing how we thought they would. They had the biggest Corsi jump this month going from a 26th ranked 47.2 percent in October to a third best 54.3 percent in November. To go along with that, they also had the third highest points percentage behind only Chicago and the next team on this list. By my model, the Predators are a top five team, an almost lock for the playoffs and a legit Stanley Cup threat this season. That’s pretty much what most of us expected from them before a slow start soured some opinions. While that’s understandable, this team should continue rolling along now that they’ve ironed out whatever issues plagued them in October.
Columbus Blue Jackets
A team that many thought would be competing with the Canucks and Coyotes for last place is somehow a top 10 team this year in points. Go figure. Not only that, they’re absolutely destroying some very good teams in the process. No one saw them being this good (and they won’t continue being this good), but I was cautiously optimistic about their chances before the season started, pegging them as a bubble team. They’ve surpassed that so far and have seen the biggest playoff chance increase this month going from 41.5 percent to 73.3 percent. What’s most important though, is that it isn’t all a transparent PDO mirage, the Blue Jackets are playing really good hockey lately. They controlled 52.3 percent of the shot share in November, a modest jump from their 48.9 in October, plus they’ve got some talented scorers and great goaltending that can out-score their possession rate, too. Columbus isn’t a great team, not unless they keep their possession rates up a bit longer, but it’s safe to say they’re at least an above average one right now.
Tampa Bay Lightning
After talking about one team lighting up better teams, we now arrive at one of those very teams. Columbus trounced Tampa Bay 5-1 on Tuesday and there was never really a point where the Lightning were really in it, getting dominated 27-13 in shots through the first two periods. The team has now lost three straight and face St. Louis and Washington next, so things might get uglier before they get better. By their expected win percentage, the Lightning dropped from an elite powerhouse at .551 to an okay playoff team at .526. Part of that is losing Stamkos, but they also just haven’t played really well either. SB Nation’s Lightning blog Raw Charge goes into this deeper here, but the basic gist is that the team isn’t dominating play like you’d expect a team with this much talent to. They were a bottom 10 Corsi team in November. That’s not a good sign, but with their roster, and Anton Stralman coming back soon, they should be able to bounce back.
I was much higher on Philadelphia than most before the season started, and that’s been somewhat justified by their consistent top 10 shot rate this season, yet the team continues to flounder with an 11-10-3 record. All of it comes down to goaltending as Steve Mason looks more like the Columbus version of himself than the one who’s given Philadelphia respectable goaltending during his tenure there. This year, Mason ranks 42nd among goalies with seven or more starts with a .898 save percentage. In the three seasons prior (this time looking at goalies with 50 or more games) he’s 11th with a .921. Up until this season, Mason has been a borderline top 10 goalie for the Flyers, but he’s looked like a sieve on numerous occasions this year. With the Blue Jackets surging, the playoffs are looking more and more unlikely for the Flyers with each passing game. Mason looked terrific in a win against the Bruins Tuesday, so all hope is not lost, but he needs to start doing that on a consistent basis for the Flyers to reach the post-season.
New York Islanders
Woof. Has there been a more disappointing team this season? Probably not, as many people had them in a playoff spot. Instead they’re challenging for worst in the league. The biggest problem here is that the losses of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen have created some big holes that none of the young guys have been able to fill yet. John Tavares is practically on his own island as the lone good forward on the team. The Islanders rank second last in Corsi this season at 45.9 percent, ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes and have looked uninspired on most nights. It’s baffling that there hasn’t been a coaching change yet after their putrid start, especially considering some of the head-scratching decisions made by Jack Capuano. Among his most egregious decisions, he’s put Cal Clutterbuck on the first line, sent Ryan Strome to the press box, and placed Andrew Ladd on the fourth line. None of those moves make much sense, but the Islanders descent towards the bottom suddenly does.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
After 20 or so games, the playoff hunt is starting to get much clearer, but there’s still some teams that currently hold a spot that are likely to fall out, while the same is true for some of the teams on the outside looking in. Based on the games that have already been played, and what we think is likely to happen over the next 60 games, here’s how the playoff picture shakes out.
In the East, two teams currently in a spot – Ottawa and New Jersey – likely find themselves out of it by the time the season comes to a close in favour of two much stronger teams from the Atlantic: Boston and Florida. Yes, Florida has struggled, but they’ve had some big turnover and need some time to gel. They’ve also dealt with some big injuries early on. The next month or so will be critical in showing that the talent they’ve got on paper can translate onto the ice. In the West, everyone currently in a spot should stay that way, but there’s still a few teams that can make things interesting.
Virtual Locks (90 percent or more): Chicago, Pittsburgh, Montreal, San Jose, Los Angeles
Safe Bets (70-90 percent): Washington, Nashville, St. Louis, Rangers, Minnesota, Anaheim, Columbus, Boston
Squeaking In (50-70 percent): Florida, Edmonton, Tampa Bay
On The Bubble (30-50 percent): Winnipeg, Toronto, Philadelphia, Calgary
Fighting For Life (10-30 percent): Dallas, Ottawa, New Jersey, Detroit, Colorado, Islanders
Pretty Much Out (10 percent or less): Carolina, Arizona, Vancouver, Buffalo
Tony Bruns stopped 98 of the 110 shots he faced in a high school game
Morris/Benson Storm goaltender Tony Bruns faced 110 shots across 51 minutes of play and turned aside 98 shots. Bruns didn’t come even close to picking up the victory, but he did earn himself a pair of records.
Sam LoPresti holds an NHL record that is unlikely to ever be broken. On March 4, 1941, LoPresti, playing for the Chicago Black Hawks, stopped 80 shots in a 3-2 regulation loss to the Boston Bruins.
The thing about the record that’s hardest to fathom is exactly how a goaltender could face 83 shots against across 60 minutes, even with the most mismatched of teams. That’s more than one shot per minute, and there certainly had to be at least some lulls in the Bruins’ attack, right? Or at least enough time with the puck in the Boston zone that the Black Hawks could pot two goals of their own?
With that in mind, try and wrap your head around how on earth Minnesota high school netminder Tony Bruns, who plays for the Morris/Benson Storm, could have possibly made 98 saves on 110 shots in a 51-minute game on Nov. 26.
That’s nearly 2.2 shots per minute by the opposing Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Dragons in what was a 12-0 drubbing of Morris/Benson, and a game that would no doubt have been much worse if not for Bruns’ spectacular play.
“I was a little surprised,” Bruns told the Minneapolis Star Tribune Minnesota Hockey Hub’s Loren Nelson. “My whole career I’ve had a lot of shots, but never that many. I thought it was just like any other game.”
Bruns allowed just five goals against on 45 shots in the first period, surrendered only two goals on 41 shots in the second, but the dam broke in the third as he was beaten five times on 24 shots in the third. Morris/Benson posted only six shots to their opponents’ 110.
Bruns’ heavy workload is a bit easier to explain when you understand the situation Morris/Benson is working with. The Storm has 12 players on their roster, Bruns included, and three of the players are “new to hockey,” according to Nelson. Four players listed on the roster are considered both a forward and defenseman. It’s not a team that’s heading for the state tournament or prepared to play against top competition, so, as one could imagine, it has actually been quite the norm for Bruns, the team’s only goaltender, to see so many shots.
In fact, Nelson reported three other outings in which Bruns made at least 60 saves, dating back to November 2014, and almost one year to the day earlier against Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, Bruns stopped 75 shots in a 12-0 loss. Bruns’ outstanding 98-stop game is far and away the busiest he’s ever been, though. And it goes beyond a mind-blowing statistic.
Nelson reported that the previous state record was held by two goaltenders, River Lakes’ Spencer Theis in 2008 and Moose Lake Area’s Gage Mohelsky in 2012, who had made 76 stops in a regulation outing. The national record, Nelson reported, was held by Flint Northern’s Jamey Ramsey, who made 84 stops in a single game back in 1987 in Michigan. Those records now belong to Bruns.
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What can Vegas Golden Knight fans expect from their Year 1 roster? If they're lucky, they might end up with a player who makes an impact like these guys did.
Now that Las Vegas’ new NHL team has a name and a logo, hockey fans everywhere have begun speculating what their expansion roster will look like.
Historically, initial NHL expansion rosters have not been much to look at. They are usually pieces off the scrap heap that the rest of the league doesn’t want. However, there is usually a player that fans can gravitate to and be the “man” in that city, at least for a short time.
With that in mind, here’s an objective look at the best player from each modern-day expansion-team roster.
Pat Falloon, 1991-92 San Jose Sharks
Pat Falloon is most known as the answer to the trivia question: Who was drafted after Eric Lindros in the 1991 NHL draft? In that context, Falloon didn’t amount to much when you compare him to Hall of Famers Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, and Peter Forsberg who were all taken in the top six in that draft.
However, at the time, Falloon was the symbol of promise for the brand new Sharks. Coming right out of junior to the NHL, Falloon played in 79 games leading San Jose in goals (25) and points (59). At 19, everyone expected him to only get better. That didn’t happen as both those totals ended up being career highs.
Brian Bradley, 1992-93 Tampa Bay Lighting
Tampa Bay owner/GM Phil Esposito had no illusions about the quality of players he would be getting in the expansion draft. When he was asked if there are any superstars on the board he responded, “Are you blind?"
That’s what makes Brian Bradley’s first season as a member of the Lightning so surprising. Prior to being the 36th player drafted in the 1992 expansion draft, the 28-year-old center had been in the NHL for six years, splitting time with the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Toronto Maple Leafs, and never scoring more than 19 goals and 48 points.
In the Lightning’s inaugural season, Bradley took the NHL by storm by scoring 42 goals and 86 points. The following season, he scored 24 goals and 64 points, a step back but still better than anything he had done previous to getting to Tampa Bay.
Sylvain Turgeon, 1992-93 Ottawa Senators
It’s hard to find the best player on a 10 win team, but Turgeon was the closest to it in Ottawa’s return to the NHL. Turgeon had spent nine years in the league as a promising player with the Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils, and Montreal Canadiens.
Turgeon was a known commodity in Ottawa having come over from the Habs, he was third in Calder Trophy voting in his first year in Hartford, and had votes all-star team votes in 1986 and 1990. In what wound up being the twilight of his career, Turgeon led the Senators with 25 goals and 104 penalty minutes in that first year and played two more seasons before retiring in 1995.
John Vanbiesbrouck, 1993-94 Florida Panthers
Prior to being drafted first overall in the 1993 NHL expansion draft, Vanbiesbrouck had already established himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL. Within his nine full seasons with the New York Rangers, he had a record of 200-177-47, with a Vezina Trophy and a first-team all-star nod in 1986.
When he was exposed to the Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks, he was easily the best player available. In the inaugural Panthers season, Vanbiesbrouck posted a 21-25-11 record with .924 save percentage and a 2.53 goals-against average. That was good enough for him to be named a second-team all-star and was one of the Panthers representatives in the 1994 All-Star Game.
Guy Hebert, 1993-94 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
The Ducks, who were “mighty” at the time, were competitive in their first NHL season due to in large part to goalie Guy Hebert. Hebert, an eighth round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 1987, only played in a handful of games in St. Louis behind Curtis Joseph before he was exposed in the expansion draft.
When the Panthers took Vanbiesbrouck, Hebert was snapped up by the Mighty Ducks with the second pick. It was thanks to his play in the inaugural season that the Ducks finished just out of the playoffs, ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and the Edmonton Oilers. He set career highs in wins with 20 and GAA at 2.83.
Hebert became Anaheim’s first franchise goalie stayed there for eight of his 10 years in the NHL.
Sergei Krivokrasov, 1998-99 Nashville Predators
There were other players on Nashville who had more points that Krivokrasov that season, but this 24-year-old right winger was someone they were hoping to build around. Drafted 12th over by the Blackhawks in the 1992 NHL draft, Krivokrasov never scoring more than 13 goals.
With the Predators thinking maybe a change of scenery could help, they made a deal with the Blackhawks to acquire him for future considerations. In that first year in Nashville, the Predators looked like geniuses. Krivokrasov led the team in goals with 25 in 67 games and was the team’s representative at the 1999 All-Star Game. However, he reverted back to his old ways the following season only scoring nine goals in 63 games before the Predators traded him to the Flames.
Andrew Brunette, 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers
In Atlanta’s second coming in the NHL, everyone was excited about first overall draft pick Patrik Stefan. However, as the 19-year-old was still getting his feet wet in the NHL, it was Andrew Brunette who took the scoring mantle for the Thrashers. Brunette led the team in both goals (23) and points (50).
Brunette’s development into an everyday NHL regular was one of the lone bright spots in Atlanta as they went onto a league worst 14-61-7 record with 39 points. They finished 15 points behind the next worst Lightning.
Manny Fernandez, 2000-01 Minnesota Wild
Just like it was in Atlanta the year before, Minnesota was looking forward to an 18-year-old Marian Gaborik to develop. While he put up 18 goals to tie for team lead, the key cog in Minnesota’s return to the NHL was goaltender Manny Fernandez.
Fernandez made the Wild respectable, making sure they were in most games they played. He posted a 19-17-4 record with a decent 2.24 GAA and .924 save percentage in the 42 games that he played that season. He helped the Wild finish ahead of established teams like Anaheim, Florida, Tampa Bay, and the New York Islanders that season with 68 points.
Geoff Sanderson, 2000-01 Columbus Blue Jackets
Sanderson was already a known goal scorer through his 10 years in the NHL prior to being taken in the 2000 expansion draft by Columbus. He had reached the 40-goal plateau twice 1993 and 1994 in his time in Hartford and helped the Buffalo Sabres reach the Stanley Cup final in 1999.
So when Sanderson came to the Blue Jackets, he was easily their top goal scoring option. With that he scored 30 goals and 56 points in that first year and was veteran voice on the team until he was given a chance to play in the playoffs again by being dealt to the Vancouver Canucks in 2004.