Seven surprising small sample size stats to start the NHL season

Colorado Avalanche forward Nail Yakupov finishes off a great play with Nathan MacKinnon to give their team a 2-1 lead.

Small Sample Size.

The season is eight days old as we write this statistical analysis, and those three words — small sample size — echo through the wind chamber that is our mind.

But when Brent Burns is among the worst plus-minus players in the game, and Nail Yakupov is among the best, a guy’s got to write something, doesn’t he?

Here’s an early waltz through the National Hockey League’s stats, with this thought in mind: If’s stats page were an NHL team, it would be off to a worse start than the Sabres or Coyotes.

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• Calgary’s Mike Smith has faced more shots than any NHL goalie (160), ranking second in Time On Ice among NHL goalies behind only Toronto’s Frederik Andersen (242:29 to 239:57).

Our take: With the addition of Travis Hamonic, we thought the puck would be in Calgary’s zone far less due to the Flames having two mobile, skilled pairs of D-men. Shots against should go down, right? Well, Calgary leads the NHL, allowing an average of 40.3 shots per game thus far. So much for our theory.

• Seven players bring up the rear at either minus-5 or minus-6. Included in that group are some of the best players in the game: Reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, Mitch Marner, David Pastrnak, Kyle Okposo, Conor Sheary, Sam Reinhart and Kris Letang.

Our take: Holy cow — those names give us half an all-star team. Boys, golf season is over. Time to get it up over par.

• Boston (58.6 per cent) and Toronto (58 per cent) lead the league in team faceoff percentage.

Our take: Is this a residue of the new faceoff protocol? Not sure. Last season Boston ranked third (53.2 per cent) while the Leafs were 14th (49.9 per cent). The new rules work against the cagey vets who know best how to cheat, and favour the less experienced (and often weaker) young player. Maybe the younger Leafs will benefit here.

• Nail Yakupov has three goals and two assists to tie Matt Duchene for the scoring lead in Colorado, Yakupov’s third NHL team after a stint in St. Louis last season. But the real hidden stat here is, he leads the Avs at plus-6.

Our take: It’s his overall game that has always held Yakupov back, not his offence. Remember, he won the green jacket at minus-35 in 2014-15. If an improvement in plus-minus is a sign that Yakupov is learning how to play within an NHL system — to be in the positions he is assigned, shift after shift; to be a predictable teammate on the ice — Yakupov has the skills to be a productive NHL winger. Always has.

• Buffalo’s Evander Kane is the early leader in shots on goal with 26, one ahead of Alex Ovechkin. He’s also got four goals in the Sabres’ first three games, a nice start to improve on 20- and 28-goal campaigns the past two years.

Our take: At age 26, Kane is a veteran now. It’s time to realize the great potential he has always had, and to become a leader in the Sabres room, rather than an immature, divisive force. Kane ranks 32nd in shots on goal since the start of the 2014-15 season. If shooting more engages Kane, then this season’s start is good news for the Sabres.

• The Top 2 Corsi Close teams in the NHL are Florida (63.43) and Edmonton (59.67). The Panthers are 1-1 while Edmonton is 1-2, and very unhappy with the current state of its game.

Our take: Small sample size. Shot attempts and winning hockey games are two stats that should mend together. Newsflash: They don’t always, but if you drive the shots it means you have the puck. Which is better than the alternative.

• Daniel and Henrik Sedin, averaging 14:47 and 14:45 of ice time per game respectively, rank seventh and eight in ice time per game among Vancouver forwards. This, after being at (or very near) the top of that stat in Vancouver for more than a decade.

Our take: I’ve said for three seasons, it’s time someone passed the Sedins as first-line players in Vancouver. Now, watching Derek Dorsett get more minutes wasn’t what I had in mind, but the point is this: the Canucks can no longer be so Sedin-reliant. At age 37 they can still be valuable support players, and should be utilized as such.


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