December 14 2016 11:01AM
It's more of a 'Bottom to Top' but 'Top to Bottom' sounds better. This is an NHLNumbers monthly feature in which I'll do a dive into each team's underlying numbers to see if they match up with where they currently sit in the standings. Here's last month for reference. Stats via Hockey Analysis and Hockey Reference as of Dec. 12, 2016.
It's been two months. At this point, for the most part, if you're bad, you're bad, and if you're good, you're good. We know that Colorado and Arizona are terrible, and we know that Washington and Pittsburgh are good. But what about Columbus and Philadelphia? Are those hot streaks just a bunch of nonsense? How about Dallas and the Islanders? Are they going to go back to where they were last year? Since we live in a world where more than half of the teams in the league make the playoffs and losing can still earn you a point, we have a very muddy playoff picture loaded with teams that are difficult to differentiate.
30. Arizona Coyotes
9-14-5 (7th in Pacific), 43.9 GF% (27th), 44.7 CF% (30th), 99.9 PDO (15th)
This is the tank we had expected from the Coyotes last season. They blew it all up at the trade deadline for Connor McDavid, but ended up with Dylan Strome. They kept chugging for local hero Auston Matthews, but massively overachieved and ended up well outside the basement. Finally, two years later, they're the worst team in the league. Unfortunately, the 2017 NHL Draft likely isn't one that teams should be excited about. The Coyotes are bad, we expected that, but the truly disappointing thing this year is that none of their young players have been overly impressive at the NHL level. Last year, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair had excellent rookie seasons, Louis Domingue was surprisingly good in net, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson looked like a future Norris winner. This year? Meh.
Verdict: The second full season of Arizona's rebuild has been disappointing. We expected they would be bad, but there haven't been many, if any, performances worth talking about.
29. Colorado Avalanche
11-15-1 (7th in Central), 37.9 GF% (30th), 46.6 CF% (28th), 97.5 PDO (29th)
The Colorado Avalanche are a mess. They have been for quite some time, actually. But this year, for the first time, it’s really noticeable. For the past few seasons, they've been a team who’s overachieved its bad underlying numbers thanks to come combination of out-of-this-world goaltending or an unfathomably lucky shooting percentage. This season, the PDO magic hasn't been there. The Avs have the shot attempt numbers of a basement team and nothing’s been dragging them up. They boast a lot of exciting, high-level talent, but it doesn't seem to gel together very well. And now that the luck has dried up, it's very difficult to mask that reality.
Verdict: The Avs have been low-key very bad for years. They've relied a lot on unsustainable percentages to overachieve, making it difficult to notice. This season has made it clear that the team isn't moving in a positive direction.
28. Vancouver Canucks
12-15-2 (6th in Pacific), 40.6 GF% (29th), 48.8 CF% (21st), 97.6 PDO (28th)
It’s an ugly time to be a Canucks fan. You can argue all day and night that the front office should blow the team up and go into a rebuild, but it isn’t going to happen. They had the perfect opportunity to do it last year with Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata on expiring contracts, but they didn’t take it. Over the summer, they traded futures for Erik Gudbranson, and threw money and term at Loui Eriksson. Say what you like about either player, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is both players represent a win-now mentality for a team that's nowhere near good enough to win. Now the organization is in that awkward phase of being very bad, like many predicted, while still trying to validate the decision that they made to remain competitive.
Verdict: The Canucks haven't been the historically-bad team ESPN figured they would be, but they're nowhere near playoff contention. They also probably aren't bad enough to draft first overall, unless they get some lottery luck.
27. Buffalo Sabres
10-11-6 (8th in Atlantic), 45.8 GF% (22nd), 48.6 CF% (22nd), 99.3 PDO (21st)
This hasn't been the breakout season the Sabres expected it would be. They took a major step in the right direction last year, but they haven’t managed to build on it. Quite a bit of that can realistically be pinned on injuries, as Jack Eichel has just recently returned to the lineup after missing the first quarter of the season, and Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Dmitry Kulikov have all missed time. But that excuse can only go so far. If your team is totally unhinged to a point in which you're averaging 1.52 goals-per-hour at even strength through two months because a 20-year-old isn't in the lineup, there's a bigger problem. They shouldn't be written off yet, but save for a few players this roster hasn't looked very impressive this season. And I'm not sure if a healthy Jack Eichel can fix that.
Verdict: After taking a big step forward last season, the Sabres have remained stagnant this year. While some of that can be blamed on injuries, the excuse can only be taken so far before you accept that a lot of players aren't performing at the level they should be.
26. New York Islanders
11-11-5 (8th in Metropolitan), 50.0 GF% (14th), 45.8 CF% (29th), 100.4 PDO (10th)
Remember when the Islanders were, after two long decades of complete futility and irrelevance, a good, exciting, up-and-coming team with a seemingly savvy general manager and an excellent cap situation? Well, in less time than you can say First Playoff Series Win Since 1993, Baby, it all kind of went to hell. The Islanders let two of their best forwards walk over the summer and used the savings to invest over $13 million in grinders who produce virtually nothing offensively. And here we are! A nice little streak of winning-despite-being-outplayed has the Islanders creeping out of the basement, but their underlying numbers suggest that’s exactly where they belong. John Tavares and a couple of good goalies might have something to say about it, but this is a team that’s difficult to get excited about, and that’s a damn shame considering where they were just a year or two ago.
Verdict: The slow first month of the season wasn't an anomaly, the Islanders have regressed all the way back to basement dweller status. Still, though, there's talent on this roster, and you have to wonder if a coaching chance could turn things around.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs
11-11-5 (7th in Atlantic), 48.7 GF% (18th), 50.7 CF% (14th), 99.5 PDO (17th)
The second month of the season was much like the first for the Leafs. They’re young, skilled, and exciting, generate a ridiculous amount of offence, but, since they’re, well, young, skilled, and exciting, they give at all back on the defensive side of the puck. Their 60.4 shot attempts for per hour at even strength leads the league, but they rank 28th in shot attempts against per hour, resulting in a middling Corsi For percentage and, ultimately, a below-average record. This is exactly where they were one month ago, so the analysis will remain the same even though I was called out for having a Toronto Bias (despite not being from Toronto). Since they’re young and inexperienced, it’s easy to assume they’ll fall off a cliff during the dog days of winter, but there’s enough skill on the roster to not write them off. Besides, is saying 'Team X will compete for a playoff spot' in a league where more than half of the teams make the playoffs even much of a compliment?
Verdict: They probably won't make the playoffs, but the Leafs will push for a spot and remain relevant all season. There's a lot of holes on their roster, but they have the firepower to go up against just about anyone. Regardless, this season has given Leafs fans a reason to cheer in the short- and long-term.
24. Dallas Stars
11-13-6 (6th in Central), 47.4 GF% (20th), 49.0 CF% (19th), 99.2 PDO (22nd)
The Stars had a terrible time keeping the puck out of the net last season thanks to a combination of shaky defence and very, very bad goaltending, but they were able to compensate for it because they scored goals like they were playing in a goddamn video game. This year, that offence has completely dried up, but the combination of poor defence and horrid goaltending didn't go away. I wasn't sure after one month if it was just a slow start, but now it's pretty obvious that this is what the team truly is. They're scoring at a basement-level-team pace, averaging only 1.93 goals for per hour at even strength, and their unimpressive shot and scoring chance numbers doesn't indicate anything better on the horizon. They're still adjusting to not having Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers on their blue line, which is something that takes time. But after 30 games, can you really continue to use that as an excuse?
Verdict: The Stars took a major hit last summer in free agency and have had a very bad time dealing with it. There's still a chance this could be a 'new roster, slow start' thing, but it's more than likely an indication that the Stars should be focusing on re-tooling for next year.
23. Carolina Hurricanes
11-11-6 (7th in Metropolitan), 44.2 GF% (26th), 52.7 CF% (4th), 97.5 PDO (30th)
You know, the Hurricanes are actually the perfect team for anti-Corsi truthers to use to promote their analytics are bad and wrong argument. But nobody talks about them! The Canes, like last season, boast fantastic possession numbers, but it simply hasn't translated to any success in the standings. Poor goaltending is a reason why, as is the strength of the division they play in, but the Canes come nowhere near the success you'd expect to see from a team who consistently generates more shot attempts than their opponents. They rank towards the bottom of the league in goals for and shooting percentage, but rank in the top half in shots on goal, shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, and high danger scoring chances. Maybe the Computer Boys were wrong about everything!
Verdict: If this were any other team, I would suggest they're going to eventually start playing up to their underlying numbers. But the Hurricanes have been doing this for more than a year now, so there isn't much reason to assume it's going to change.
22. Nashville Predators
12-11-4 (5th in Central), 52.5 GF% (8th), 52.5 CF% (5th), 100.2 PDO (11th)
Last month, I pointed out that the Predators were underachieving because of their putrid shooting percentage and that things would turn around for them once the puck started bouncing the right way. Well, it did, but things haven't turned around for them yet. Why? Because the puck stopped bouncing the right way for them on the other side of the ice. Pekka Rinne was fantastic to start the season, helping the snake-bitten Preds stay above water. Since them, though, Rinne has struggled, and the Preds, who've found their footing on the offensive side of life, haven't made up much ground in the standings. But their underlying numbers suggest their play has picked up massively, as they've jumped from 18th all the way to 5th in the league in Corsi For percentage in just one month. That isn't all that surprising, considering they had to make sweeping changes to multiple parts of their system in order to adapt to P.K. Subban filling the spot of Shea Weber.
Verdict: The Predators have underachieved in the standings so far this season. While their record may not exactly show it, they've been slowly playing much, much better over the past month. There isn't much reason to worry about this team.
21. Winnipeg Jets
13-16-3 (4th in Central), 45.5 GF% (24th), 48.8 CF% (20th), 99.3 PDO (19th)
The Jets got off to a solid start this season, but crashed down this month, posting a forgettable 5-9-2 record. That's, uh, that's a lot of air miles. The Jets certainly weren't very good last month, and their plummeting underlying numbers and record both indicate that. But maybe we should cut them some slack, considering 16 games in 30 days is a ridiculous amount of hockey to play. Also, someone needs to tell the Jets to chill. They currently lead the NHL in power play opportunities and (well, obviously) power play goals against, which isn't a very good recipe for a team who already isn't playing all that well at even strength. This isn't just some anomaly, either. The Jets were the league's most penalized team last season and it cost them.
Verdict: I think the Jets of the first month of the season are a better representation of this team than last month's Jets. It feels wrong to make a generalization on their play after such a ridiculous schedule.
20. Detroit Red Wings
13-12-4 (6th in Atlantic), 49.5 GF% (15th), 46.9 CF% (26th), 100.7 PDO (7th)
The last time we looked at the Red Wings, they had just dropped five-straight games immediately after winning six-straight right out of the gate. Things have settled down a little bit, and the Wings have settled into being consistently mediocre rather than very good for a week and very bad the next. A big reason for their success when they've had it has been the incredible play of Jimmy Howard. Howard, who was viewed as a possible cap dump last summer thanks to the emergence of Petr Mrazek, has posted a .945 save percentage through 14 games and has been pretty much the sole reason the Wings, who get outshot on a regular basis, are still in the running to extend their never-ending playoff streak.
Verdict: The Wings have been kept above water by incredible play from one of their goaltenders this season. But if that comes to an end, watch out. This team could fall in the standings very quickly.
19. Florida Panthers
13-12-4 (5th in Atlantic), 44.7 GF% (25th), 52.5 CF% (6th), 98.5 PDO (26th)
The Panthers are a proxy for hockey's Cold War. This is the site of the analytics movement vs. traditional hockey wisdom. Last summer, the Panthers blew their front office up and brought in a bunch of computer boys to change the direction of a team that had just had its best season in franchise history. On the surface, it was absurd. But the Panthers were a major overachiever last season, and it became evident when they were quickly dispatched by a thoroughly mediocre New York Islanders team in the first round of the playoffs. Well, that whole 'what are they doing down there!' thing came back to life when the Panthers fired head coach Gerard Gallant. The team hasn't exactly set the world on first since the change, posting a 2-2-4 record under Tom Rowe. That said, this is a team to play the long game with. They're undergoing a major metamorphosis in terms of system and in-game strategy, and that isn't something that clicks in a week. Besides, they didn't start to climb the standings last season until the middle of December, so there's still a lot of time left for this Panthers team to pull things together.
Verdict: The results aren't there in the standings, but this team is better than last year's team that grossly overachieved based on high, unsustainable percentages. If there's a team to give some more time before passing judgement, it's them.
18. Tampa Bay Lightning
14-13-2 (4th in Atlantic), 48.6 GF% (19th), 49.5 CF% (16th), 100.0 PDO (13th)
Just a day after I posted last month's article, Steven Stamkos got injured. I said the Lightning were off to a decent start, but were underachieving and would more than likely rebound and perform like the team who went to the Conference Finals the previous season. But that changed when we learned they would be without their captain for four-to-six months thanks to a meniscus tear. They managed to play quite well without Stamkos down the stretch last season and into the playoffs, but this season, it's been a struggle. Since Stamkos went on the injured reserve, the Lightning have gone 4-7-1 and have, unsurprisingly, had a bad time scoring goals. Obviously things look dim right now, but like I said, this exact same team carried on without Stamkos last season, so there's certainly reason to believe that they'll at the very least be able to stay above water until he returns to the lineup.
Verdict: The Lightning are one of the few teams with the volume of quality depth to survive losing a player as good as Steven Stamkos. They won't set the world on fire without him, but they should be able to keep pace.
17. New Jersey Devils
12-10-6 (6th in Metropolitan), 43.0 GF% (28th), 47.6 CF% (25th), 98.7 PDO (25th)
The Devils, after getting off to a hot 8-3-3 start in the first month of the season, have predictably fallen back down to earth. When things were going well for them, they were getting excellent goaltending, like they're used to, but they were also generating offence at a decent clip. Now, not only has that offence cooled a little bit, but Cory Schneider has been much, much worse than you'd expect him to be. As a result, New Jersey has lost nine of its last 13 games and is fading quickly in the hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division.
Verdict: Did anybody actually expect the Devils to keep up their hot start? Of course not. If Cory Schneider isn't standing on his head, this team likely isn't winning many games.
16. Los Angeles Kings
14-11-2 (5th in Pacific), 52.3 GF% (9th), 53.7 CF% (2nd), 99.5 PDO (18th)
The Kings are kind of in a class of their own. You look at their underlying numbers and you see an elite team on the cusp of dominating the league. But they don't score very many goals, and for whatever reason, they just kind of middle around in the standings. At this point, there isn't much that can be said about them. One thing I will add, though, is that Anze Kopitar only has two goals this season. That's, uh, not good for someone who's just getting rolling on an eight-year deal worth $10 million annually.
Verdict: The Kings are the Kings. They'll make the playoffs after having an under-the-radar good but underwhelming season and, if healthy, will make a dangerous opponent.
15. San Jose Sharks
16-11-2 (4th in Pacific), 51.8 GF% (10th), 52.1 CF% (9th), 99.7 PDO (16th)
After the first month of the season, the Sharks were an underachieving team with poor shooting and save percentages that led to their goals for numbers being significantly lower than their shot attempt numbers. It was pretty obvious that they would rebound, and they have. Now they boast a 16-11-2 record and are only this far down on the list because other teams have played more games than they have. When you look at possible points percentage, the Sharks begin to look like the contender we all expect them to be. There was some concern last month that they could actually suffer from a Cup run hangover, because, well, they're old, but that hasn't been the case.
Verdict: This is virtually the exact same team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and they're playing like they're poised for another run.
14. Calgary Flames
16-13-2 (3rd in Pacific), 50.5 GF% (13th), 49.5 CF% (17th), 100.0 PDO (12th)
The Flames got off to a horrible start this season, but they were one of those teams that we had to be patient with. Since starting 5-10-1, the Flames have been scorching hot, going 11-3-1 over the past month. Part of that can be attributed to them taking some time to adapt to new head coach Glen Gulutzan's systems; part of it can be attributed in Johnny Gaudreau sparking the team's offence after coming back from injury; part of it can be attributed to Chad Johnson playing like the goalie they expected Brian Elliott to be; part of it can be attributed to Dougie Hamilton being given an increased role on the team. There are a handful of reasons as to why the team has played well over the past month, but there are also reasons to believe they've been overachieving. And while they aren't as bad as they showed in the first month of the season, the Flames aren't as good as they have been this past month.
Verdict: Oddly enough, the Flames posted better possession numbers in the month they went 5-10-1 than the month they went 11-3-1. As their underlying numbers average out and we start to see what this team is all about, we see a middling team who will compete for a playoff spot but won't contend for much more.
13. Boston Bruins
16-12-2 (3rd in Atlantic), 49.5 GF% (16th), 54.9 CF% (1st), 98.4 PDO (27th)
David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand have scored 30 goals this season. The Boston Bruins have scored 69 goals this season. Nice. Well, no, actually, it isn't that nice. I mean, it's great that Pastrnak has 18 goals in the middle of December, but it isn't very nice that the Bruins are getting half of their offence from three players. This looks like something that's going to collapse, right? Maybe not! While nobody else on the Bruins is really scoring, almost everyone has positive possession numbers. So while they aren't contributing on the scoresheet per se, they're controlling the game and stopping the other team from getting shots. It isn't a traditional recipe for success, but can you really argue against a team with a 54.9 Corsi For percentage?
Verdict: The Bruins are getting a ridiculous amount of offence from one line, but they also have a wealth of other players with good possession numbers and a bad shooting percentage, which suggests that some scoring depth could be on the way.
12. Ottawa Senators
16-11-2 (2nd in Atlantic), 45.7 GF% (23rd), 47.6 CF% (24th), 99.3 PDO (20th)
One month later and the Ottawa Senators aren't any less confusing. Their shot attempt numbers are underwhelming, they aren't riding a high shooting or save percentage, their special teams have been nothing to write home about, and they even have a negative goal differential. But here we are, two months in, and the Sens have a 16-11-2 record and sit in second place in the Atlantic Division. In games where they lose, they lose badly. They get caved in, outshot, outscored heavily, and beaten into the ground, but when they win, they just edge the other team out, resulting in bizarre overall numbers that don't match their record whatsoever.
Verdict: This doesn't make any sense. Surely it can't last. But that's what I said last time, and the Sens just kept rolling.
11. Minnesota Wild
15-8-4 (3rd in Central), 58.4 GF% (5th), 48.1 CF% (23rd), 102.6 PDO (4th)
I was pretty dismissive of Minnesota last time I checked in on them. I saw a middling record, poor possession numbers, and that underwhelming roster that puts us to sleep whenever the Wild roll into town. But Bruce Boudreau's teams always see a jump in the standings, and the Wild, for all of their flaws, are no exception. The team doesn't have very good underlying numbers in terms of shot attempts, but they're generating way more high danger chances than their opponents, which has to mean something. That would explain why Devan Dubnyk has a .946 save percentage this season, right?
Verdict: I shouldn't have been so dismissive of the Wild last time. This is a team coached by Bruce Boudreau with a very good goalie and a lot of depth that can make life very difficult and frustrating for an opposing team. Their possession numbers aren't great, but they're doing something right, and I don't want to write them off as an overachiever.
10. Edmonton Oilers
15-11-5 (2nd in Pacific), 50.9 GF% (12th), 51.8 CF% (10th), 99.9 PDO (14th)
Oh, those Oilers! After starting 7-1, things have cooled down in Edmonton. The Oilers have gone 8-10-5 since they're blazing start, which, on the surface, makes them look like an early-season flash in the pan. But I wouldn't write them off just yet. Their underlying numbers have actually improved throughout the past month, despite what their record would indicate, and there have been virtually no instances of them being completely outmatched by their opponents either. Though it's a lame excuse, they've played a lot of hockey in a short time, and there's bound to be a fatigue factor, which would explain why they left so many points on the board over their past few games against Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Minnesota. They aren't a perfect team by any stretch, but barring an injury to their MVP, they should be a playoff team.
Verdict: The Oilers had a difficult month. They played a lot of games in a short period of time and it was evident in their results. But they managed to stay above water and not completely implode at the first sign of adversity like we've seen from them in recent years.
9. Anaheim Ducks
15-9-5 (1st in Pacific), 51.5 GF% (11th), 49.5 CF% (18th), 100.5 PDO (9th)
You couldn't really give the Ducks a fair assessment last month because they didn't have their full team under contract for the first few weeks of the season. They were horrible to start the season. Many blamed that on Randy Carlyle and his poor systems, but it largely came down to the fact Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm weren't playing. Since both signed and got back in the lineup, the Ducks have shot up the standings and their underlying numbers have improved slightly.
Verdict: This isn't a team I would herald as a contender, but they're easily playoff bound.
8. St. Louis Blues
16-9-4 (2nd in Central), 49.0 GF% (17th), 52.7 CF% (3rd), 98.7 PDO (24th)
If you're 16-9-4, second in your division, and underachieving, that means there's good things to come. The Blues are playing consistently good hockey, but Jake Allen has had a difficult time adjusting to playing the starting role since Brian Elliott was dealt to Calgary last summer. There isn't much to worry about for them this season. They've gotten poor goaltending, but have compensated for it with ease. That said, when playoff time comes around, things will change. They won't be able to slide by teams like Chicago or Los Angeles with Allen playing the way he is.
Verdict: The Blues are a very good team. They have one of the league's best records despite the fact their goaltending hasn't been as good as it should be, which is a testament to how deep and skilled this group actually is.
7. Washington Capitals
17-7-3 (5th in Metropolitan), 58.5 GF% (4th), 52.3 CF% (7th), 102.1 PDO (6th)
The only reason the Capitals seem like they're underachieving at a glance is because of the division they play in. I mean, they've gone 8-3-2 over the past month, remain in the top third of the league in pretty much every relevant metric at even strength, and their special teams have slowly improved back to where you'd expect them to be with the skill they have on their roster. But, as we'll see as this list goes on, the Metropolitan Division is stacked. It was already top heavy last season with the Capitals and Penguins, easily the two best teams in the league, but this year, you can add a rejuvenated Rangers squad, and the surprisingly very good Blue Jackets and Flyers.
Verdict: The Capitals are still very good, it's just hard to notice it when five teams in the same division are in the top seven in the league's standings.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
17-5-4 (4th in Metropolitan), 61.4 GF% (2nd), 50.9 CF% (13th), 102.4 PDO (5th)
I have no idea what happened here. Seriously, nobody does. The Blue Jackets, after the first month of the season, looked like, ya know, the Blue Jackets. They were a tragedy, posting a .500 record despite having an inflated PDO and basement-level underlying numbers. It looked like they were massively overachieving their ability and all they had to show for it was a mediocre record. But that's why you don't make sweeping generalizations after one month of play. Over the past month, the Jackets have gone 10-1-2, which is impressive enough. But also, in that time, they've upped their Corsi For percentage from 46.2 (29th at even strength) to 50.9 (13th at even strength) which is a massive jump that suggests they aren't just blindly wandering through a maze.
Verdict: The Blue Jackets are actually good. Maybe they aren't, you know, .900 winning percentage good like they have been this month, but they're playoff team good.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
18-10-3 (3rd in Metropolitan), 47.1 GF% (21st), 51.1 CF% (12th), 98.9 PDO (23rd)
Last month, the Flyers were pretty obviously one of those teams that was underachieving their peripherals. They scored goals like mad, consistently outshot their opponents, but gave all of it back because their goaltending simply wasn't good enough to bail out their run-and-gun style. Once their goalies started to stop the puck? Boom. Nine game winning streak. The Flyers went from a disjointed, confusing, underachieving team to the top of the pack after a dominant month that saw them edge out wins in a variety of different ways. One month they underachieved, another month they've overachieved, and they likely exist somewhere in the middle. But when you're playing in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan division, getting points however you can is all that really matters.
Verdict: The Flyers obviously aren't as good as their massive winning streak suggests, but they're much closer to the very good team from this month than they are to the forgettable one that started the season.
4. Chicago Blackhawks
18-8-4 (1st in Central), 60.2 GF% (3rd), 50.3 CF% (15th), 103.0 PDO (2nd)
Pretty much everything points to the Blackhawks being an overachiever. Their goal differential doesn't match their shot differential and is pretty clearly being driven by percentages that aren't sustainable. Beyond that, they also allow a high amount of high danger chances against, suggesting they don't have skewed numbers from allowing a bunch of outside shots on net. Their special teams aren't particularly impressive either, as they boast a middling power play and below-average penalty kill. But it's the Blackhawks. Whenever it looks like they're going to take a step back, they just don't. They have a core of players who log a massive amount of minutes, score damn near all of their goals, and they have a ragtag group of depth players you've never heard of who manage to stay above water. And it works.
Verdict: The Hawks, on the surface, look like a team that should be poised for a regression. But we've seen them overachieve their peripheral numbers so many times before it's safe to assume they're legitimate again.
3. New York Rangers
20-9-1 (2nd in Metropolitan), 56.5 GF% (6th), 46.9 CF% (27th), 103.1 PDO (1st)
The Rangers' absurd shooting percentage has simmered down a little bit... Wait, no it hasn't. The Rangers are scoring on 10.65 per cent of their shots at even strength, which is even more than the 8.95 per cent shooting percentage they were putting up after the first month of the season. Their save percentage has also seen a spike recently, as Antti Raanta stole whatever magic elixir Henrik Lundqvist uses to become Henrik Lundqvist and has transformed himself into a dominant goaltender. Just because their shooting percentage wasn't enough to make you look twice, Raanta has a .943 save percentage over 11 games this season and has stolen the net from one of the best goaltenders in NHL history. Uhh, the 2016-17 New York Rangers, ladies and gentlemen!
Verdict: I want to say that these percentages are going to regress and the Rangers are going to slide down the standings to match their putrid shot attempt numbers. But that's too easy, and they've shown no signs of slowing down. I think the we're witnessing the beginning of something with this Rangers team.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
19-7-3 (1st in Metropolitan), 55.8 GF% (7th), 52.2 CF% (8th), 100.6 PDO (8th)
There isn't much to say about the Penguins. They're fantastic, they won the Stanley Cup last year, they have the same team again this season, and, again, they're fantastic. So let's talk about how Sidney Crosby has 21 goals already this season, and is operating on a 75-goal pace. I think that listening to people talk about how Connor McDavid is the best player in the league got to him, and now he's going ahead and having the best season of his career to remind everyone who the best actually is.
Verdict: The Penguins are contenders again. They're the same team as they were last season and they have a Sidney Crosby playing his best hockey in, well, maybe ever.
1. Montreal Canadiens
19-6-4 (1st in Atlantic), 61.4 GF% (1st), 51.6 CF% (11th), 102.9 PDO (3rd)
I know it's going to sound like some unsubstantiated nonsense, but I feel like Carey Price makes the Canadiens better beyond simply stopping the other team from scoring. I feel like there's something psychological about having him in net, knowing that he has the ability to bail you out even when you really mess up. With that level of confidence in your goaltender, you can play the game with the mind-frame of not being afraid to take risks. You can pinch in at the blue line the keep a play alive, send two players deep on a forecheck, or maybe cheat a little bit on the breakout. I know, I know. But is it really that much more ridiculous than saying 'the team is good now because Shea Weber's presence in the locker room is that good'?
Verdict: I don't think the Canadiens are the best team in the league, but they're good. They score a lot of goals because they're skilled, and while they give up quite a bit on defence, they have somebody who can and will consistently bail them out.