It’s been about three weeks since the trade deadline, and it’s about three more weeks until the end of the regular season. The teams have made their final lineup additions and things have had time to settle now, so how have some playoff teams been trending since the trade deadline?
While how you end your regular season doesn’t always indicate post-season success or failure ahead, there’s no question you’d prefer to start off on a high note.
So what are we seeing that’s grabbing our attention and leaving us to wonder what it means for the post-season? Here are some notable stats and trends around the league since the March 3 trade deadline.
TRENDING OFFENCES AND DEFENCES
Last season, the Florida Panthers became the first team to average more than four goals per game (4.11) since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. And there’s a chance another team could average over four a game in 2022-23.
If it’s going to be anyone, it’ll be the Edmonton Oilers, who are averaging 3.93 goals per game and hold a wide lead on the No. 2 Boston Bruins (3.76). The Oilers have been trending up since the trade deadline, too, scoring 4.60 goals per game with an 8-2-0 record since March 3.
They might be hitting their stride again at just the right time.
Last year, four of the top five teams in average goals per game after the trade deadline won at least one playoff round — the Toronto Maple Leafs were the only one that didn’t (they lost to Tampa, which was also a top five team in this category).
Here, then, are the top five teams by goals per game since March 3.
GOALS PER GAME SINCE MARCH 3
Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights
But, you want to be as well-rounded as you can be heading into the playoffs, and we know the old saying “defence wins championships” still holds some water. In 2021, four playoff teams were among the top five in goals against per game from the trade deadline until the end of the regular season, and three of them won at least one playoff round (Toronto, again, was the only one that didn’t). In 2022, two of the top four playoff teams by goals against per game after the deadline won a playoff round (Minnesota and Boston failed to do so).
These are the top five playoff teams by goals against per game since March 3 (note: the Canucks have a 2.22 GAA in that time, good for third-best in the league):
GAA SINCE MARCH 3
Los Angeles Kings
New York Rangers
Combining the two, a total of 10 playoff teams have finished within the top 10 of goals for per game and goals against per game from the trade deadline to the end of the regular season over the past two years, and six of them won at least a round. In 2022, four of the five teams that were top-10 in both categories after the deadline won a round (Minnesota was the only one not to find a way through).
At this moment — and with still three weeks left to play — there are five teams in a playoff spot that are top-10 in both goals and goals against per game since the March 3 trade deadline: Los Angeles, Vegas, NY Islanders, Minnesota and the NY Rangers. The Avalanche also qualified here until Wednesday’s surprise 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh.
THE GOOD, AND THE BAD, ABOUT PITTSBURGH’S PLAYOFF CHASE
The Penguins have been hard to figure out down the stretch, sliding out of the playoffs with four straight losses and then decisively beating Colorado on Wednesday to jump back in.
Since the trade deadline they lead the NHL in expected goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, but are 25th in actual 5-on-5 goals per 60, thanks to a dreadful 5.79 shooting percentage that’s been better than only Detroit (and look what’s happened to their playoff bid).
Meantime, goaltending has also contributed to Pittsburgh’s slide despite the defence playing relatively well. The Penguins have managed to be a top-10 team by expected goals against and shots against since March 3, but have the 28th-ranked team save percentage at 5-on-5 (.885). Tristan Jarry, their expected Game 1 starter, is 5-5-1 with an .872 save percentage in 13 starts since returning from injury — and he’s been pulled four times.
Only one playoff team has a worse 5-on-5 team save percentage since the trade deadline, and it may surprise you to learn it’s the Dallas Stars. While Jake Oettinger has put up a solid season overall — seventh with a .917 SV% and 2.51 GAA and tied for fourth with four shutouts — he’s been fighting it a bit with an .886 save percentage and 3.71 GAA since the trade deadline. Dallas’ No. 2-ranked offence in that time has kept the team afloat, and helped Oettinger to a 5-2-1 record.
Oettinger has made 53 starts this season, his first as a heavy-usage NHL No. 1, and has faced the sixth-most shots in the league. There’s a question if he could use some rest before the playoffs, but the Stars still have a heated Central Division title to battle for.
MINNESOTA’S GOALIE STRENGTH; L.A.’s QUICK IMPROVEMENT
The Wild, meantime, are rolling in goaltender riches. Since the trade deadline, they have a league-best .956 team save percentage at 5-on-5 and both of their guys are pulling their weight. Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson have split starts and it’s the latter with the better numbers. Though we’d wager Fleury is the Game 1 starter, last playoff season showed us how valuable having two quality netminders can be.
Gustavsson has been a heck of a presence all season, fifth in the league by MoneyPuck’s Goals Saved Above Expected. An arbitration-eligible RFA at the end of the season, Gustavsson was acquired from Ottawa last summer for Cam Talbot. Gustavsson had an .892 save percentage in 18 games with the Senators last season, and a .915 in 20 AHL games.
In a summer that was full of positive additions, this is perhaps the one that got away from Pierre Dorion as he’ll go into the next off-season with goaltending as his sorest need. It’s intriguing to wonder what effect Gustavsson could have had in Ottawa’s playoff chase this season.
The Wild entered the 2022 playoffs with the league’s best post-deadline team save percentage as well, but wound up falling in Round 1 to the St. Louis Blues, who had the league’s hottest offence coming in. Fleury allowed 15 goals in his five starts, and at least four goals in three of them.
The Los Angeles Kings come in at the No. 2 team save percentage since the 2023 trade deadline, which is a marked improvement on the rest of their season.
The Kings hit the trade deadline ranked 30th in team save percentage at 5-on-5 with an .899. Only San Jose and Vancouver were worse. They acquired Joonas Korpisalo from Columbus (along with Vladislav Gavrikov), and while he certainly has had a positive impact, Phoenix Copley has also stepped up his game and, in fact, has the better numbers since March 3.
Jonathan Quick, who the Kings traded out to make room for Korpisalo, wound up in Vegas where he’s had to make six starts and has a 5-1-0 record. When presumed starter Logan Thompson returns and Laurent Brossoit with him, the Golden Knights will have an interesting mix to manage.
Speaking of the Golden Knights…
ANY RED FLAGS FOR MAPLE LEAFS OR GOLDEN KNIGHTS?
Toronto is a mediocre 4-3-1 since the trade deadline, but would it surprise you to learn they are 23rd by expected goals per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play? They actually jumped up five spots in this stat after Tuesday’s 7-2 loss to the Islanders.
Perhaps even more concerning for Leafs fans is that Toronto is also 31st in expected goals against per 60 at 5-on-5 since March 3. They’ve been saved somewhat by a league average team save percentage.
But the Leafs aren’t alone among playoff teams in these downward trends. The Golden Knights are the only team worse than Toronto by expected goals against per 60 since March 3, and also rank 29th in expected goals for. They have been largely aided by the third-best PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) over this time, and are a league-best 8-2-0 since March 3. So while the results aren’t anything to be concerned about, the underlying trend is certainly something to monitor as the Kings (and Oilers!) try and chase down Vegas for first in the Pacific.
Keep in mind that offence has been a source of playoff frustration for the Golden Knights in the past. When eliminated by Montreal in 2021, the Golden Knights scored just 13 goals in six games, and when ousted by Dallas in 2020 they managed just eight goals in five games. On the power play, the Golden Knights are a cumulative 14.7 per cent in their past two post-season appearances.
Last season there wasn’t a single playoff team in the bottom five of expected goals for or against after the trade deadline.
TOP SCORING DEFENCEMEN SINCE TRADE DEADLINE
Erik Karlsson may still hit 100 points on the season (he needs 13 in the remaining 11 games) and win the Norris Trophy, but another great blueliner who chased history last season is coming on strong down the stretch.
Colorado’s Cale Makar has 16 points in nine games since the trade deadline, and is tied with Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen in that span (Makar has missed the past two games to injury) as the highest-scoring blueliners. Rasmus Sandin is third with 12 points in nine games after Toronto traded him to Washington. Sandin is actually the highest-scoring player of any position who was moved this trade season.
POINTS PER GAME SINCE MARCH 3
TOP SCORING FORWARDS SINCE TRADE DEADLINE
Surprise, surprise, but Connor McDavid is the highest-scoring forward since March 3 with 20 points in 10 games and is tied with Leon Draisaitl in that span. Arizona’s Clayton Keller is one point behind them. Interestingly, though, Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk has the best points per game mark since the deadline at 2.13 (17 points in eight games).
The highest scoring forward since March 3 who was traded around the deadline is Marcus Johansson, who has eight points in nine games since arriving in Minnesota from Washington.