Yes, it’s still early in the season and, yes, some slower- or faster-than-expected starts can still find a way to even out over the next month or so. But we are approaching the quarter-mark of the season and have enough solid statistics to start making some bold projections about what the April playoff picture will look like.
Last month, Mark Spector looked at seven surprising small sample size stats and some of those have already come back to reality. For instance, Nail Yakupov has just one point since that piece was published and won’t be leading the Colorado Avalanche in scoring.
Some of the ones we’ll look at this month may actually be sustainable, in that you’d expect them to have started course correcting by now if the early signs were just a flash in the pan.
Brent Burns’ goal-scoring drought setting off alarm bells
Brent Burns, who has reached the 20-goal mark in three of his past four seasons and led all blueliners with 29 in 2016-17, has zero goals through 12 games this season.
Our take: Burns also led the NHL in shots last season with 320 and the funny thing is he’s averaging more shots per game this season (4.5) than he did last season (3.9). Burns was scoring at a forward’s pace last season and had the most goals from the position since Mike Green’s 31 in 2008-09. If you think his 12-game scoreless streak is a small sample size, consider that dating back to last season and including the first-round playoff series loss to Edmonton, Burns has just two goals in 41 games — a half season’s worth of data. He has seven assists in 12 games, but only one of those has been a primary point at 5-on-5 hockey.
Johnny Gaudreau is the Calgary Flames offence
Johnny Gaudreau has had a point on 55.6 per cent of Calgary’s goals, the highest involvement percentage in the league.
Our take: If you had to guess off the top of your head who led the league in this stat, Connor McDavid would probably be the first name to come to mind. And that’s not a bad choice, considering he’s second at 54.2 per cent. After dropping from 78 points in 2015-16 to 61 last season, Gaudreau really needed to bounce back to his near point-per-game level or better this season as the Flames set off with visions of the Stanley Cup in their heads. So far, he’s been up to the task.
The problem here comes from the rest of the lineup. While Mike Smith has been saving the Flames’ bacon with his stellar play behind a much more porous defence than we expected (allowing 33.9 shots per game), the overall offence has been slow too. Calgary is second-last to Edmonton in goals-per-game at 2.23 and just one forward outside of the top six has a goal — and that’s Kris Versteeg with his two.
The struggle is very real for Carey Price
Our take: Sure, some of this likely has to do with a slow, depleted defence in front of him, but that doesn’t explain everything. The struggle is real for Price. He was tied for sixth in the league with a .923 save percentage last season and led the league in the high danger department with an unreal .877 stop rate. In fact, he hasn’t finished with a high danger save percentage lower than .800 since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and the only time Price ever finished with an HD mark lower than he’s currently at was 2009-10, when he ceded the net to Jaroslav Halak come playoff time.
Through 11 games, Price has been more likely to allow four-plus goals in a game than stay under that number, and has already been the target of a Bronx cheer at the Bell Centre. We’re still willing to wager that Price will recover and certainly not finish with an overall save percentage below .900. But with Corey Crawford, Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, Jonathan Quick and the like off to much more stable starts, it’s getting close to the right time to re-open the “Who’s The Best Goalie In The World” debate.
Can Clayton Keller match, or pass, Auston Matthews?
Rookie Clayton Keller has nine goals in 14 games on the NHL’s worst team.
Our take: Without a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews type of superstar running away as the top prospect in the 2017 NHL Draft, it was believed the Calder Trophy race this season would actually be a race between a strong group of rookies that wouldn’t have a standout talent. But Keller, the seventh pick in 2016, is proving a lot of people wrong.
There was never any doubting his talent, but the fact he’s scoring at this level for a team that’s won just once in 14 games is astounding. Matthews had 40 last season, but at least he did that for a team on the rise (which he obviously played a huge role in).
As of now, Keller is six goals clear of the next group of goal-getters on his own team and while the rate at which he’s converting is probably unsustainable (17 per cent shooting) he is still generating the ninth-most shots in the league at 53, tied with another sniper, Vladimir Tarasenko. That puts him on pace for 31 more shots than Matthews got as a rookie. Could Keller, who has been better than a point-per-game player at every level, surpass that 40-goal total this season? Heck, if he can maintain a point-per-game pace through the season (ya, ya it’s early) he’d be just the fourth rookie to do that since 2004-05, joining Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby who all, admittedly, played under much more favourable offensive conditions out of that lockout.
If he does do it, though, it won’t be a race for the Calder at all.