We all love offense don't we? Every single sport is trying to increase offense therefore create more entertainment. I stand by my belief that if you're a fan you honestly don't care how your teams win, as long as they win. The Ottawa Senators are now winning. They aren't winning with high flying entertaining offense, they're doing it with defense.
Last season the Senators were the ninth highest scoring team in the NHL. But scoring 230 goals or 2.80 goals per game didn't really get them anywhere. They couldn't keep the puck out of their own net. They gave up 241 goals or 2.94 goals against per game. That was fifth worst in the entire NHL.
Were there other reasons for the Senators having a bad season last year? Of course, the team couldn't stay healthy and their special teams was a combined 90% which is just not good enough. But to me defense was the main reason.
Defense is the main reason why the Senators point percentage was at .518% (19th) last season and why it's at .659% (5th best) right now. Defense is the reason why Ottawa finished at 38-35-9 and missed the playoffs by eight points. It's also the reason why (as of right now) they're 14-7-1 and five points safe.
Look at all the fancy stats you want, I'll look at goals against per game. The Sens gave up 2.94 goals per game last season which made them 26th in that category. This season they are letting up 2.32 goals per game the 7th best total.
Lets cut that number into months though because since November that number is even lower. The Senators did not start very well in terms of goals against per game. From the start of the season on October 12th to November 1st the Sens gave up 3.12 goals against per game. They went 5-3-0 during that stretch but gave up 3 or more goals in three of those five wins.
Now go from November 1st to present day Ottawa is giving up just 1.85 goals against per game. They've given up 3 or more goals just four times total in 14 games. That 1.85 number is 3rd best since November started behind only Minnesota (1.83) and Nashville (1.84).
You can't look at one stat and ignore others and giving up a small GAPG begs you to look up other numbers like shots against per game. This number isn't good. 31.2 shots against per game this season and unlike the goals against it doesn't get better in November, it actually gets a little worse at 32.2. Last years final number in shots against was 32.8 which was worst in the NHL.
So looking at that stat and you might think the defense isn't really any better. Or maybe goaltending is bailing them out. I would argue against both cases looking at the numbers.
They might be giving up similar shot totals but lets look at where some of these shots are coming from. When looking at team defense no matter how good you are I love looking at this kind of thing.
This season this is where the Senators shots against are coming from, 4.31 high danger shots against per game, 6.40 medium danger shots per game and 13.13 low danger shots per game.
Compare those numbers to last season. 5.18 high danger, 8.08 medium danger and 11.91 low danger. What does this tell me? Ottawa this season is pushing teams to the outside more.
In the high danger shots against a great team was usually around high 3's and a bad team was usually around 6 and up. Shaving nearly one whole point off that stat is pretty big to me. Taking another point and a half off the medium danger is also big and putting them on low danger shots is great. Make it easy for the goalies.
Which is now a good segue to talk about Craig Anderson. I've seen and heard several articles and people say Anderson has played great this season which has led to more success from the Sens. Sure that makes sense but based on where the shots are coming from he doesn't have to be great like Carey Price.
Price faces 5.40 high danger shots per game and his save percentage is a league leading 93.06% in that category.
Anderson on the other hand faces 4.64 high danger shots per game and his save percentage is just 81.01% which ranks 16th this season (in goalies that have played 500 minutes or more). His medium danger save percentage is fairly "average" too 92.79% also ranks 16th. But his low danger save percentage is 99.19% which is 2nd in the NHL behind only Chad Johnson of Calgary.
Craig Anderson is saving the shots he should save and the Senators are pushing more shots outside which is making his life a lot easier.
I'll point out just a couple of more defensive improvements. Penalty killing that was 29th last season at 75.8 is now at 86.2 which is 5th best.
Ottawa also blocks more shots this season now blocking 17.7 shots on average. Last season that was 14.5. They jumped ten spots in that ranking being 13th in 15-16 to 3rd in 16-17 so far.
Do they have room for improvement? Obviously, letting up over 31 shots per game isn't good enough. On top of that their possession numbers aren't good either, their team Corsi being 48.29 which is bottom third of the league.
But what do you know, a team that scored 2.80 goals on average last season missed the playoffs because they let up 2.94 goals against per game. The Senators offense this season looks somewhat pathetic ranking 28th scoring just 2.18 goals per game, but the defense has improved a ton now allowing just 2.32 goals against and 1.85 in the last month.
It's not shocking the Senators have improved this season looking at some of these numbers, improve on possession and shots against and who knows how well this team could play. Guy Boucher has done a heck of a job in Canada's Capitol.
This has got to stop. I don't know how we got here but at some point in sports history we decided that to be one of the greatest players in any sport you have to win championships. If you're an all time player but you win zero championships this attitude tells us you will be forgotten. Lost among the greats who have won a championship or two.
This ESPN writer did mention Ovechkin's current career stats which are impressive enough. But allow me to go further. Instead of stopping at where we are now lets move ahead five or six years. Then the readers of this can decide whether or not Ovechkin needs a team trophy to cement himself as one of the best of all time.
Lets start with something that doesn't get mentioned as much but equally important, Ovechkin's durability. Unlike Sidney Crosby who could have played 880 games in his career so far he has played just 713.
Unlike Evgeni Malkin who could have played around 798 games has only played 656 career games.
Ovechkin has played 850 games out of a possible, wait for the drum roll, 879 games. Comparing Ovechkin to some of the greats of today Crosby has missed 167 games and Malkin has missed 142 games.
According to this ridiculous argument though Malkin will end of a better player all time because he has two Stanley Cups. Not considering Malkin who has played in 10+ seasons has only scored over 30 goals four times. Since Malkin scored 50 goals in 2011-12 his high goal total for a season is just 28. Lets see if Malkin is able to get to 600 career goals while Ovechkin has his eyes much higher than that.
Now we can move onto career game winning goals. Ovechkin already sits in the top twenty in this stat with his 91 winners. Who does he already sit above? Mike Gartner who played 1,432 games and scored 708 career goals. Ovechkin is above Luc Robitaille who scored 89 game winners in 1,431 games while also scoring 668 career goals. Keep going down this list and Ovechkin is ahead of some impressive names who have played well over 1,000 career games.
Ovechkin has not played 1,000 games. He's at just 850. Throughout his career Ovechkin has averaged about 7, 8 or 9 game winners. This season, just 11 games in he already has 3. So lets give Alex just 5 more. That would put him at 8 for the season and 96 in his career. Give him that many and he passes Wayne Gretzky, Mark Recchi, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Modano, Mark Messier, Sergei Fedorov, Patrick Marleau (even though he'll likely score a few more in his career), Joe Nieuwendyk and Steve Yzerman. He would also tie Mats Sundin.
Again all of those greats have well over 1,000 games played. When Ovechkin is done with that stat this season he'll be just over 900 career games.
Jaromir Jagr is the pace setter right now with 133 career game winners. If Ovechkin continues at his goal scoring pace that is not out of reach. Even if Jagr continues to set the record top two isn't a bad place to settle.
Skip on over to power play goals. Ovechkin has scored 197 PPG's in his career. Already good enough for 19th in NHL history. This season he has 2 PPG's so lets just give him 13 more which means he would end up with 15 which quite frankly would be a little low for him but lets just go on the low side here. If he did end up with 13 more he would have 210 power play goals which would put him up to 13th all time tying him with Jagr (again he'll score more before he's done). Among the names Ovechkin would pass in this category are Recchi, Yzerman, Gretzky and Sakic.
If Ovechkin did end up with 210 after this season give him three more season of 15 and he would end up with 255. You know where that would put him? Top 3. The only remaining names are Brett Hull at 265 and Dave Andreychuk at 274. I'm just giving Ovechkin THREE seasons at 15 which is a very low total for him. What if he does six more years at 20?
And last but not least, total goals scored. We can talk about game winning goals, power play goals, shorthanded goals, power play points or any stat you want but at the end of the days this is what Ovechkin does, score goals.
Ovechkin is a perennial 40 goal scorer and can easily score 50 goals a season. In a time where goals are hard to score Ovechkin doesn't seem to have that many issues.
So lets go low again. Just give the great eight 30 more goals this season. That would mean he finishes this season at 37. That would give Ovechkin 562 and top 25 in NHL history. That would put him ahead of Keith Tkachuk, Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Ron Francis, Guy Lafleur, and Mike Modano.
How many goals could he end up with? Of all the stats mentioned before this one is the hardest to estimate. It depends on how long Ovechkin plays or plays in the NHL. There has been rumors Ovechkin would like to return home to Russia to finish his career. How many years does that give him in the NHL at 31 years old? Well there is really no telling.
Ovechkin does have five years remaining on his current contract so I'd assume he has that many years AT LEAST. So give him the 37 goals like I said earlier to put him at 562 then you have to guess he'd have what, say two 40 goal seasons and three 30 goal seasons. That's 180 more goals which would put him up to 742. That would be in the top 5 behind only Gretzky, Howe, and Jagr.
And again I went low. Ovechkin could easily score 50 goals for years to come. What if he scored 50 goals for three more years and scored 40 goals one more time to end his current contract?
Ovechkin will be as great as he wants to be. If he wants to go home at age 37 and finish his career good for him. But as long as Ovechkin stays at an elite level and can play for another 8, 9 or 10 seasons in the NHL he can become one of only three players ever to score 800+ career NHL goals.
Does all that mean nothing if he can't win a Stanley Cup? Does that mean as fans and writers and coaches and managers that we were watching just an OK player? Does that mean he's just a good player who couldn't win a team trophy?
If Ovechkin retired or left the NHL right now or after this season we can make that argument. But in just a couple of more NHL seasons Ovechkin is going to turn his ok stats into easy hall of fame stats. In the next few years Ovechkin is going to take his name and put it in some very exclusive clubs.
This stupid argument needs to stop. The Super Bowl is a team championship. LeBron James can't win an NBA title on his own. You need a team to win a World Series not just one pitcher or batter. The same goes for hockey.
Will it be a major disappointment for the Washington Capitals and their fans if they can't win a Stanley Cup with Alex Ovechkin? Obviously. But can you seriously sit back and say Ovechkin's individual stats when his career is all said and done will means NOTHING?
If you think that just stop watching sports and stop watching the NHL. What you should do is sit back and marvel at one of the greatest players that has ever hit the ice and don't worry about his legacy if he can't win a TEAM championship.
You hear it from coaches all the time. Break the season down into small bite size pieces. That means you take your 82 game season and break it into 8, 10 or 12 game samples. We're at that point right now. As I type these letters onto this post there are only two teams that have played less than 9 games (Columbus and New Jersey have played just 8 games).
Can we predict who will win the Stanley Cup based on these 9 or 10 games? No not really, we have playoff brackets with just 16 teams and less games and we still can't accurately predict who will win. BUT, we do have a hint on how these teams are going to play all season long and what they do well and why they could be a threat late in the season.
We've seen it time and time again, you CAN start great or terribly and still go the opposite way. Look no further than just last season where Montreal went unbeaten in their first 9 games of the season and were 18-4-3 going into December but ended up missing the playoffs and going just 20-34-3 for the remainder of the season.
Then you look at the Anaheim Ducks who were awful at the start of the season, couldn't even score a goal for the first month of the season and they end up winning their division. The point, a lot can change in the next 22 weeks and 70+ games. But it's still fun to jump to conclusions isn't it?
New York Rangers are favorites in the eastern conference.
The Rangers did something similar last season and I jumped on their quick start then too. They could very well do exactly what they did last season, start hot and get cold at the worst possible time but thee way they are playing makes you think of the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring and oh yeah, they won the Stanley Cup.
This team is fast. We saw what speed can do in the playoffs last season. The speedy Penguins made a really good San Jose Sharks team look completely overmatched. Pittsburgh made the Sharks team who had good speed themselves look like one of the slowest teams there was.
What was the teams perceived weakness? Team defense. Most people didn't think their defensive corps were good or deep enough to beat most teams they went up against, The Capitals (the best team in the regular season) the Lightning (coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance and consecutive final four berths) and the Sharks.
From what I hear from Rangers fans and writers defensive depth is also a concern. But we saw how team speed can make up for that. If your forwards help and use their speed to get in position and don't even allow teams to get in the attacking zone you can win battles and win races and constantly send the play the other way making your opponent play D.
Even with this "weak" defense the Rangers are one of the best teams in Goals Against Average at 2.20. You can look at all the fancy stats and Corsi and adjusted Corsi all you want. But if you ask me there are just a few simple stats to look at and GAA is one of them. I had to go all the way back to 2009 to find the last time a team won the Stanley Cup when they were worse than 6th in goals against per game. Since then the Cup winners goals against per game were ranked 6th, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 6th.
The defense may not have the biggest or most known names, but the Rangers do have a ton of speed and still have Henrik Lundqvist. Watch out for the blueshirts.
Tampa Bay is still the team to beat in the east.
Yes I understand calling the Rangers the favorites then calling the Lightning the team to beat maybe confusing but just listen. You can't count out a team that in the last two seasons have made the Stanley Cup Final and came within one game or even one goal from going back to the Final the very next year. If the team made a bunch of changes then yes maybe you could put them down in the pecking order, but the Lightning have made very few changes.
Tampa Bay is still deep in pretty much every position. They have four very good forward lines, they have one of the best top 4 D groups in my eyes and they have two goalies and either of them can take you far in my opinion.
I can't back this up with all the stats in the world right now. Tampa has gotten off to a little bit of a slow start, right now sitting just 6-4 and in the top wild card spot. I won't ever pick a team who gives up 3 goals per game and bottom third in that category to win the Cup or even go far. But the Lightning were 5th in that stat last season and you have to think at some point they will get their act together and start shutting teams down.
Are the Penguins better than last season? Yes. Are the Canadiens better? Yes. Are the Rangers better? I obviously think so. The Lightning definitely have more competition this year than last year but you could argue this team has been the best team out east for the last couple of season and with very little changes over the last two or three years you can't count this team out and still have to consider this is the team to beat. If you want to represent the east in the Stanley Cup Final that quest goes through the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Devan Dubnyk is your early season Vezina front-runner.
Carey Price's face is just flashing in your mind right now isn't it? I don't blame you if it is. Price won the MVP as a goalie just a couple of years ago and we saw what the Canadiens are without him. Price is 5-0 with a 1.40 GAA and .954 save %. How can he not be the Vezina favorite early on?
I think when you're looking for an award winner you have to take everything into consideration. In the best goalie category you have to look at how the backup is playing as well. For the Canadiens Al Montoya is right there with Price. He's 3-0 in 4 games, has a 1.47 GAA and .955 save %. According to Corsica Montoya has also faced more high danger shots than Price has.
Devan Dubnyk's backup has not been as great. Darcy Kuemper has played just two games as carries a 4.00 GAA and .871 save %.
Dubnyk has a 1.51 GAA and .948 save %. Dubnyk also has 3 shutouts early on this season.
I'm not going to be one of those guys and pretend I know everything and watch every single game. There simply isn't enough time to do that. So just like a lot of people I have to rely on stats to tell me what I cant see. One stat I see is that Dubnyk faces more high danger shots than Price does. Based on my math Price see's just over 4 high dangers chances a game while Dubnyk see's just under 5 high danger chances a game.
It's early on in the season and ask me in two weeks and I think I'll most likely say Price is your Vezina favorite. But early on in the season I'm caught up in the Devan Dubnyk hype.
The eastern conference is better on defense.
Over the last couple of season the west has generally been considered "deeper". There are more teams that can win the Stanley Cup and overall play most think is harder, bigger and more defensive. So far this season the defensive argument has to be put on hold. Right now there are four teams in the NHL who have allowed less than 20 goals, all four of those teams come from the eastern conference (Columbus, New Jersey, Washington & Montreal).
For that stat we can also go back to my old friend goals against per game. There are seven teams from the eastern conference that sit in the top ten in GAA, Montreal, Washington, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Buffalo, Columbus and Florida.
I've made my point perfectly clear, goals against per game is a stat to watch more closely than possibly any other. After seeing the west dominate for the last few years maybe the east getting tighter on defense will mean the east wins more Cups?
The Edmonton Oilers are finally a team to watch out for.
It's not solely because of Connor McDavid. It's not because of the high powered offense we're used to. It's because of the defense. We all said how the Oilers can be as great as they want on offense but until they sort out the defensive end they will stay a bad team. Well early on the Oilers have let up just 22 goals which is best in their division and considering they play in a division with the usually stingy California teams that's saying something.
The 2.20 goals against per game is good for a top 5 spot and one of just three western conference teams in the top 10 in that category.
The penalty killing is also better. Last season the Oilers were 17th in PK% at 81.1, so far this season the Oilers are 2nd in PK at 90%.
The shots against per game is still too high at 31.3 but after years and years of bad hockey I think Oilers fans will allow that to remain high as long as pucks don't go in and the team keeps winning.
Edmonton's schedule has been somewhat soft, in their 10 games so far this season the Oilers have played just two games against teams who made the playoffs last season St Louis on the 10th and the Capitals on the 26th. I can't say anything about the Blues game, I didn't see that game but the way the Oilers shut down the Washington Capitals on the 26th was impressive. Washington could not get much going in that game and to beat the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners was a great result.
Oh but there is so much more hockey to be played. I only touched on things that I have seen but there are no shortage of things to talk about, make sure to tell me what you've seen so far this season. Leave a comment or find me on Twitter @CJPaigeTHL25.