Monday, October 15, 2018

Weekend rankings: Signal vs. noise

Last​ week’s theme was​ “it’s​ way​ too​ early.”​ This​ week’s could​ be something along​ the lines of​ “it’s​ still early, but​​ maybe not as early as you think.”

We’re still less than two weeks into a six-month season, and everyone’s still got 75+ games left to play. There’s lots of time left, and yes, some of the entries in this week’s rankings will look silly at some point down the line.

But as a wise man once said, it gets late awfully early around here. And history tells us that by this point in the schedule, some truths about how the season will play out are starting to reveal themselves. It’s just a question of finding a signal in all of the noise.

Take last year as an example. When we all woke up on October 15, 2017, a look at the standings would have revealed two winless teams: the Sabres and the Coyotes. Both were young teams that had been hoping to make a push into the playoff conversation. Six months later, the Sabres had finished dead last while the Coyotes were 29th. Only five games into a very young season, it turns out that both teams had already shown us what they’d be when they grew up.

They weren’t the only ones. The Canadiens, fresh off a first-place finish in the Atlantic, had stumbled out to a slow start. So had the Rangers, coming off a 102-point season, as well as the 103-point Oilers. All three teams missed the playoffs by a mile. Meanwhile, teams like Colorado, New Jersey and Vegas were all off to strong starts that turned out to be a preview of what was to come.

By this time last year, we’d already learned some important things. Of course, we were also being misled by more than a few teams. The Blackhawks were leading the Central, while the Flames were the top team in the Pacific. And the only two teams without a regulation loss were the Kings, who turned out to be just OK, and the Senators, who were about a month away from driving off a cliff.

So what can we read into today’s standings?

Well, maybe not a tonne. There really aren’t any teams that are off to completely dominant or disastrous starts, and we’ve got a real traffic jam in the middle – 19 out of 31 teams are sitting at either two or three wins on the season. That’s going to make it tough to draw any firm conclusions, let alone put together a power rankings. But we’re all about staring down adversity around here, so let’s give it a shot.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

It was a good weekend for Canadian teams, who went a combined 7-0, including six wins on Saturday. Somewhat amazingly, that appears to be only the second time that’s ever happened. I think we can all agree that weekends like that are way better than winning a Stanley Cup every quarter-century or so.

5. Boston Bruins (4-1-0, +9) – It’s hard to know what to make of the Bruins this year. It’s not easy to be sporting a +9 goals differential a week after losing your opener 7-0, but here we are. They’ve done it by following that opening night disaster with four blowout wins, but it’s hard not to notice that all four of those wins came against teams that weren’t very good last year, while that one big loss came against the defending Cup champs.

So are the Bruins a good team, or just one that kicks sand on the weaklings but gets exposed when they try to pick on someone their own size? We may not find out anytime soon, as they head out on a four-game Canadian road swing that sees them play four more teams that missed the playoffs last year.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (5-1-0, +7) – Saturday’s showdown with the Capitals didn’t turn into the shootout we were all hoping for but Mike Babcock will probably be just fine with a 4-2 win. Auston Matthews scored and had multiple points yet again, but the bigger story might be Frederik Andersen’s best game of the young season and a rare example of the Leafs’ holding down a third-period lead without wetting themselves.

The win capped off a sweep of a four-game road trip and was the Leafs’ first of the season against a team that made the playoffs last year. They’ll get two more of those matchups this week when they host the Kings and Penguins, before the Blues arrive to close out the homestand on Saturday. And after that, it’s on to a home-and-home with the Jets that should be all sorts of fun.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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