The NHL after 2 Months
Now that October and November are in the books I sat down to calculate the Pythagorean Standing so far this season. What are the Pythagorean Standings? Basically it uses goals against and goals for to predict each team's winning percentage. Over the long haul the ratio of offense and defense is an extremely accurate predictor of how many points a team will earn. The reason I'm like looking at the Pythagorean Standings is that the extra points for OT and SO losses can sometimes obscure which teams are playing well and which teams are not during regulation.
So here is a comparison of the Pythagorean Standings and the actual NHL point standings as of 12/1.
Eastern Conference Pythagorean Standings
A couple of things stand out when you look at the Eastern Conference. Ottawa is a much better team than you would think just looking at the standing. The Senators have the 4th best offense in the entire NHL and their defense is slightly above average (12th overall). However, they have had an unusual amount of bad luck in close games and that has placed them lower in the standings. Their luck should even out more as we play more game and I would expect them to climb up the standings.
The mirror opposite of Ottawa is New Jersey. The Devils have an outstanding defense (6th overall) but their offense is just stinking up the joint (27th overall). If these trends continue they will likely fall out of the playoffs. On the other, Elias might finally get his game and gear and they might pull their offense out of the basement. If not, this year could mark the end of Devils string of playoff appearances.
The other team that ranks higher than I expected is the NY Islanders who have a solid offense so far (9th) and a below average defense (20th). I have to admit I'm surprised by their play so far this season but right now they playing like a playoff team.
The top team in the conference is Buffalo which has the best offense and a middle of the pack defense (15th), but Buffalo is simply blowing teams out of the water with their scoring. The 2nd best offensive team in the NHL is Nashville, which is averaging 3.50 goals per game. Buffalo is waaaay ahead of them averaging 4.16 goals per game, which is very impressive.
Bringing up the rear are the Flyers who have been awful on offense (25th) and defense (29th). I find it hard to believe the offense has been that bad with players like Forsberg, Gagne, Pitkanen, Richards and Carter. I never would have expected this sort of collapse.
The Thrashers remain in the top three carried by a very strong offense (5th) despite losing Savard, Bondra and Modry from last year's squad. The defense has improved to 14th in the league. Those numbers will probably decline a bit as the team hits a brutal January and February schedule but they are beating the teams they should beat and stockpiling points before heading into rough seas in 2008.
Western Conference Pythagorean Standings
When I look at the Western Conference there are fewer differences between the Pythagorean Standings and the actual NHL standings. The Pythagorean standings suggest that Edmonton may not be the 3rd best team in the west and that Colorado might just edge out Minnesota for the last playoff spot.
Anaheim, San Jose and Nashville remain the cream of the conference. Detroit is really struggling to find offense (22nd in the NHL) as their power play has been terrible all year, but their outstanding defense has kept afloat all season 2nd. Minnesota has similar problems to Detroit, a weak offense (21st) and a solid defense (10th)--but they can look forward to a stronger offense once Gaborik and Demitra are healthy and playing together again. Vancouver is like a more extreme version of Minnesota--a strong defense (7th) is keeping them afloat, but only the lowly Blue Jackets are averaging fewer goals per game on offense.
Everyone talks about how the Western Conference is stronger, but those bottom teams are pretty bad. Chicago should be a bit better once Havlat comes back. Wonder if Phoenix regrets spending all that money on Jovo this summer? Their defense is dead last in the league. Of course the Kings might have similar regrets about Rob Blake and their 27th ranked defense.
Summary: So if the NHL teams continue to play as they have so far I would expect a fair amount of change in the East but not so much in the West. Look for OTT and NYI to move up into playoff position while NJ Devils and Tampa Bay or Toronto get squeezed out.