Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekend wrap: Defending Linden, weird standings, and what's wrong with the Rangers?

Opening faceoff: A moment of parity

We’re living in the NHL’s age of parity. That’s been well-established for a while, and whether fans like it or not, most of us have come to accept that this is just how the league works now.

Anyone can beat anyone else on any given night, the loser point means almost everyone finishes over .500, and aside from a few outliers at either end, the gap between good and bad is smaller than ever.

But even given that reality, something weird is happening in the NHL these days.

We're used to parity being something that reveals itself over the course of a season, where there's enough time for the occasional hot and cold streaks to balance out. But these days, you don't even have to take a long view to find league-wide parity. It's playing out over the course of a few weeks.

Last Thursday, a reader sent me a note with an interesting observation: Heading into that night's action, 27 out of the league's 30 teams had won either four, five or six of their last ten games. That's a full 90 per cent of the league within a game of breaking even.

The other three teams weren’t even extreme outliers; nobody in the NHL had won more than seven or fewer than three of their last ten.

Take a look at the standings today, and you'll see a similar story — although not quite as extreme. Twenty-four of the 30 teams fall within that four/five/six-win range, and again, nobody is outside of that three-to-seven range.

That's not quite as extreme as we saw last week, but still less than what we'd expect if we were just randomly flipping coins.

Meanwhile, only one team in the league (the Philadelphia Flyers) has an active winning streak longer than three games, and only one (Colorado Avalanche) has lost more than that many in a row.

None of this is to say that some teams aren't playing especially well or poorly lately, as we'll see in the sections below. But even those teams aren't really seeing any dramatic swings in their win/loss records these days, and the practical impact has been that we're not really getting all that much movement in the standings.

Nobody is soaring or plummeting; instead, we're seeing a handful of teams move up or down by a spot or two, but nothing that feels like a big change.

There's still a lot of season left, as we're constantly reminded. That might be good news for NHL teams who aren't happy with their place in their standings and are hoping to make a move.

The way everyone's going these days, it may take a while to get anywhere.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. San Jose Sharks (15-9-1, plus-9 true goals differential*) – Yeah, I know, I'm not completely sold on this pick either. With the Capitals and Lightning struggling, it was either the Sharks or the Blue Jackets, and the Sharks have won six of seven.

Besides, I still want to see one more solid week from Columbus. (My current plan is to say that every week for the rest of the season and hope nobody notices.)

4. New York Rangers (17-8-1, plus-31) – This seems low, right? It probably is, but see the section below.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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