Analyzing the NHL’s luckiest, and unluckiest, teams so far

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel celebrates his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Do you believe this is the year Buffalo, under Ralph Krueger, finally gets back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade? Are the Tampa Bay Lightning just a shell of the 62-win team that dominated the regular season in 2018-19? Will Edmonton and Vancouver claim two of the top three spots in the Pacific Division?

Before drawing any grand conclusions three weeks into the NHL season, make sure you refer to the “luck” stat: aka PDO.

For the uninitiated, PDO is the number you get by adding up a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage. In a short window, teams can wildly over- or under-shoot this number, but over time everyone will settle somewhere around 100. By the time 82 games are over with, some good teams will come in above 100 and some bad ones below, but not to any extreme. Generally, almost everyone will end up somewhere between 98 and 102.

So by looking at 5-on-5 PDO this early in the season we can discover who has been a bit too lucky, and who hasn’t been getting enough breaks.

In this week’s NHL newsletter, we touched on who the top and bottom five teams were at 5-on-5 PDO through three weeks this season, and who occupied those positions at the same point last season (ahem, the Cup champs were near the bottom). Subscribe to our weekly missive — direct from me to you — for pieces like this and more.

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Today, we’ll take a closer look at some of the luckiest — and unluckiest — teams so far by 5-on-5 PDO, with a quick note of analysis on how they might turn out over the long haul.

All “advanced” stats from Natural Stat Trick, unless otherwise indicated.


Colorado Avalanche: 105.8
Shooting percentage: 11.2
Save percentage: 94.6

Right now, both their save and shooting percentages are better than last year’s No. 1 team in both categories by a wide enough margin that it’s unlikely to remain that way. The Avs had a top 10 save percentage last season, so it’s not unreasonable to think that number could remain high (Philipp Grubauer is off to a better start this time, too).

But they had a bottom-10 shooting percentage in 2018-19. That should improve due to their off-season upgrades, but right now Andre Burakovsky (18.75), Tyson Jost (22.22) and Matt Nieto (18.18) have combined for nine 5-on-5 goals on unsustainably high rates.

The good news is the Avs are currently averaging the 22nd-most shots for per game and we’d expect that to rise somewhere to a level that made them ranked 11th in the category last season, so that’ll help offset the averages some. But they won’t continue to score four goals per game. Everyone can recognize this year’s Avs are a great bet to take a step forward, but they won’t continue to be this dominant.

Nashville Predators: 105.7
Shooting percentage: 13.14
Save percentage: 92.5

There is no chance their shooting percentage stays anywhere close to what it is. The best 82-game rate for any team in the salary cap era was the 2009-10 Washington Capitals (10.35). Nashville was 17th in the league last season (7.69), but that feels like it could be a down-season — in 2017-18, the Preds were top 10 in shooting percentage and they have the weapons to improve year over year.

Prior to shutting out the Wild on Thursday night, the Preds had the 18th-best save percentage (they’re 12th now) and perhaps Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay will drag that number back down again. But they’re still lower here than they were last season. Pekka Rinne has been excellent thus far, but backup Juuse Saros hasn’t allowed less than four goals in a game yet, so he’s holding them back a bit. The offence will cool at 5-on-5, but the goaltending could rise and it looks like their power play has improved. There’s plenty of staying power here.

Buffalo Sabres: 103.1
Shooting percentage: 9.88
Save percentage: 93.21

Ralph Krueger’s charges are currently scoring at a rate just below last year’s top shooting team, the Washington Capitals. They had the third-best team save percentage prior to allowing six against the struggling New York Rangers on Thursday night — but they’re still eighth. Raise your hand if you think it’ll keep up.

The Sabres were 25th or worse in both categories last season so this screams regression. But they don’t have to go all the way down. Youngsters Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Dahlin and Victor Olofsson (who has six goals, but none at 5-on-5) could all take a natural step. That same optimism perhaps isn’t there for the goaltenders, and having everything positive fall neatly into place at the same time is a lot to ask.

But Krueger could be the one who pulls the Sabres out from the darkness. They’ll fall back some eventually, but better coaching, natural progression and this great start to build off makes it more likely than ever that Buffalo can at least hang in the playoff race for a while. We’ll see.

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San Jose Sharks: 97.0
Shooting percentage: 7.8
Save percentage: 89.1

OK so we’re not going to believe the Sharks, currently 4-5-1, will be a bottom-feeder this season, but there is legitimate reason to believe they could be closer to a playoff bubble team than before.

Their best shooter from last season (Joe Pavelski) isn’t on the team anymore — and neither are two other strong shooters by percentage: Gustav Nyquist and Joonas Donskoi. They were a top five shooting team in 2018-19 and aren’t incapable of approaching that again, but no one can have a down year and progression needs to come for someone as key as Timo Meier. It is hugely important for the Sharks to again be a strong shooting team.

That’s because their goaltending remains a sore spot. They were the only team to have a sub-.900 5-on-5 save percentage last season and have the same two netminders today. Right now, San Jose has the fourth-lowest SV% at .892, which is actually not that far off from what they finished with last season (.896). This part of their game may not change all that much.[sidebar]

Even more troubling is the Sharks are allowing the second-highest rate of high danger chances against right now, so if the defence doesn’t improve, an area that was already a weakness could be put under greater pressure. But San Jose does have a good chance of figuring that out and, like last year, overcoming their goaltending with a strong offence.

Los Angeles Kings: 96.9

Shooting percentage: 8.01
Save percentage: 88.9

Shockingly, the Kings have gone from a team that had difficulty generating shots to the most shot-heavy team in the league (so far) under Todd McClellan. If the raw amount of chances they’re getting remains near the top of the league, they’ll end up with more goals by extension. But it’s doubtful they have the shooters to make them a top-15 scoring team. While their current rate of 8.01 is sustainable on its own, this is still a higher shooting percentage than they’ve had at the end of a season since 2010-11. It could actually fall.

And the goaltending is a major question mark. Jonathan Quick won’t continue to be this bad, but it’s been a few years since he had a top 30 5-on-5 save percentage. Jack Campbell was a good story last season and earned himself a new contract, but he’s only played 42 career NHL games, so his sample size must be considered.

Los Angeles’ style of play seems to have changed to make them a more appealing watch, but they are still more likely to wind up on the “under” side of 100 in PDO.

Florida Panthers: 96.7

Shooting percentage: 8.79
Save percentage: 87.9

Fear not, Panthers fans, for there is plenty of reason to believe Florida’s 4-2-4 start could wind up being one of their worst runs of the season.

The offence has been doing, more or less, as we expected. But neither of their top two centres — Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck — have a 5-on-5 goal yet.

The obvious factor holding them down so far has been goaltending, an area they aggressively tried to upgrade this summer when they paid up for Sergei Bobrovsky. And he’s been awful so far, with an .863 5-on-5 save percentage that is better than only (ready for this?): Malcolm Subban, Laurent Brossoit, Juuse Saros and Oscar Dansk. When you consider that over the previous three seasons Bobrovsky had the second-best 5-on-5 save rate among all goalies he’s very likely to see a strong bounce back.

The St. Louis Blues had the third-worst PDO three weeks into the 2018-19 season and finished just over 100. The Panthers are probably the safest bet of these three teams to experience a similar recovery — at least as far as the underlying numbers go.


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