Every NHL Team's Most Concerning Statistic in 2013-14

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IJanuary 29, 2014

Every NHL Team's Most Concerning Statistic in 2013-14

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Statistics can't do everything, but they can sometimes find something interesting. What's the most revealing stat for each team so far this season? Whether it's a team's late-game record or a drop in shots taken on the power play, there's a fascinating number for every NHL city.

    I've spent the last few days looking at several dozen different team-level measurements, looking for anything that was troubling and out of place. As many areas as possible were covered, and from many different perspectives.

    In each case, the numbers were checked for relevance and validity, and then pondered more deeply whenever it made sense. Some teams are without a statistical flaw of any real significance, but in other cases, there were more shocking discoveries.  

    Proceeding through the league in alphabetical order, I'll reveal what concerning statistic was found, what it could mean, and what, if anything, the team can do about it.

    All advanced statistics are directly from NHL.com or via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

Anaheim Ducks: Poor Possession

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Anaheim Ducks have controlled the play an estimated 45.7 percent of the time over the past 10 games, 25th in the NHL. This is based on the proxy of choice, which is attempted shots in close-game, even-strength situations, sourced from Extra Skater.

    Why It's Concerning

    The poor possession play might be a sign that Anaheim is going to cool down.

    It's hard to find any other concerning statistic on a team that's gone 20-3-0 since opening December with a shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings. But if the Ducks are getting outshot and outplayed recently, then whatever success they've had could be at risk of being temporary.

    Anaheim is hardly the first team to consistently win without the benefit of league-leading possession numbers. Even this season, the Colorado Avalanche started off 14-2-0, and the Toronto Maple Leafs 10-4-0, with underlying stats not dissimilar from Anaheim's right now. What we don't have are examples of teams that were able to sustain that success over the long term.

    Could the Ducks finally provide us with the successful model? 

    What Can Be Done

    The Ducks can either continue to out-finish their opponents or improve their possession-based play—preferably both!

    The former hasn't been a problem for the Ducks, who have had a better shooting percentage than their opponents all season, except for a short stretch near the end of November. Half of their current lineup is scoring on at least 10 percent of its shots, with several more not far behind.

    The four players who are taking the most shots, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Cogliano and Nick Bonino, all have either career-high shooting percentages or second-best. As long as this continues, the Ducks will be fine.

Boston Bruins: Struggling Tuukka Rask

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Tuukka Rask has been pulled and/or allowed at least five goals in the majority of his starts over the past month.

    Why It's Concerning

    It's hard to find anything for the Boston Bruins to be worried about, unless something is wrong with Rask.

    Boston signed the 26-year-old Finn to an eight-year, $56 million deal this offseason, making him the highest-paid goalie in the NHL. He has clearly been earning it thus far, but it's natural to be concerned about his most recent starts.

    What Can Be Done

    There is almost definitely nothing wrong with Rask other than some bad luck and/or a cold stretch. The timing of his slump may be more of a concern to Finland's Olympic hockey team than to the Bruins, who are sitting in second in the Eastern Conference.

    In the unlikely event that something is wrong with Rask, then the Bruins will have to turn to his backup, Chad Johnson, who had only eight career starts going into this season and an uninspiring .909 AHL save percentage.

    The other two immediate goaltending options include their two solid AHL goalies, 24-year-old Swede Niklas Svedberg and 20-year-old prospect Malcolm Subban.

Buffalo Sabres: Rookies Developing Slowly

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Only 9.3 percent of the Buffalo Sabres' scoring has come from rookies.

    Why It's Concerning

    While some numbers are expected to be poor on a rebuilding team, the lack of success from the Sabres rookies is of great concern.

    Zemgus Girgensons and Mark Pysyk are the only real success stories on the team this year as far as first-year players go, and even they aren't exactly lighting the league on fire.

    Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen, Johan Larsson and sophomore Mikhail Grigorenko all struggled to get things going and were ultimately replaced with replacement-level veterans.

    What Can Be Done

    It will take time for the younger players to develop, making the proper selection of complementary veterans particularly important.

    The Sabres want to avoid long-term contracts and focus on players who can handle enough tough minutes to allow the younger players to develop more carefully. Buffalo will certainly want to gravitate toward hard-working leaders who know what it takes to be successful and who can help avoid a culture of losing from developing.

Calgary Flames: Unreliable Goaltending

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    The Stat

    The Calgary Flames have a .893 team save percentage, which is best in the province but otherwise worst in the NHL.

    Why It's Concerning

    After eight years of having someone who could come in, play 70 games and keep the games close, the Flames are without a goalie they can trust.

    Consistent goaltending is important for teams going through a rebuild. Even when a team is getting outplayed and outshot, it can keep things competitive and even steal enough games to keep the youngsters motivated.

    On the flip side, there can't be anything more deflating than chipping a few goals past a superior foe, only to have your netminder allow a soft equalizer moments later.

    What Can Be Done

    There should be several free-agent goalies available in the offseason, and the Flames have the cap space to pursue them.

    In the meantime, the defence in front of the goaltending can be improved. The Flames chose to begin the season with surprisingly few proven tough-minutes defensemen, forcing them to accelerate T.J. Brodie into the role and acquire Ladislav Smid from the Edmonton Oilers midseason.

    Perhaps goaltending should actually be listed second on their free-agent shopping list.

Carolina Hurricanes: Long Upcoming Road Trip

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Sixteen of the Carolina Hurricanes' 25 post-Olympics games will be on the road. The longest home stretch will be two games.

    Why It's Concerning

    The battle for the final Eastern Conference playoff positions could boil down to a seemingly small detail.

    Playing on the road means a lot of travel and hotels, which could pose problems for a team that is outscored 41-25 in the first period, the second-fewest opening-frame goals in the league.

    Being on the road also means having to make the first line change and placing the stick down first for faceoffs. With a large pack of teams all competing for two or three spots, these slight disadvantages could add up.

    What Can Be Done

    The good news is that Carolina's schedule is otherwise relatively soft.

    After an initial tour through California, there are only three games against powerhouses (Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh). The remaining games should all be winnable.

    Furthermore, Carolina is good at faceoffs and doesn't have very many weak defensive players whom opponents can use the final line change to key in against. Other than potential fatigue, the impact of the frequent road trips should therefore prove minimal.

Chicago Blackhawks: Lacking Physicality

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Chicago Blackhawks have thrown just 324 hits on the road, lowest in the NHL. That's 109 hits fewer than the notoriously non-physical Detroit Red Wings.

    Note: The reason only road games are considered is in order to eliminate the effect of a counting bias in the home arena.

    Why It's Concerning

    Some analysts believe that only tough teams can win championships. As it stands, Brandon Bollig, Brent Seabrook and Bryan Bickell are the only Blackhawks who have thrown more hits than they've received.

    In fairness, one of the reasons Chicago isn't throwing hits is because it always has the puck. But it's awfully hard to find any other flaw with this team, other than its 0-5 overtime record.

    Antti Raanta has tightened up the Blackhawks' backup goaltending situation, Kris Versteeg improved their scoring depth, and a slightly weak penalty kill isn't a lot to be concerned about, especially with a team that doesn't take very many penalties to begin with. 

    What Can Be Done

    Nothing needs to be done, in my view. Chicago has proven time and time again that it is more than tough enough to compete with the league's biggest and baddest.

Colorado Avalanche: Getting Outshot

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Stat

    Colorado is being outshot by 2.6 shots per game, sixth worst in the NHL.

    The Avalanche have only four players with whom they've outshot opponents while they've been on the ice (Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, Alex Tanguay and Nick Holden).

    Why It's Concerning

    Goals require shots, and unless they can continue scoring on a much higher percentage of theirs than their opponents (9.8 to 7.9 percent), the Avalanche will start losing.

    This trend is already starting to happen. According to the data at Extra Skater, the shooting percentage differential between Colorado and its opponents has been shrinking all season, to the point where the team has actually fallen behind.

    What Can Be Done

    First and foremost, the Avalanche blue line needs an upgrade. There's no question that coach Patrick Roy is getting the best out of a relatively mediocre bunch, but the team needs a top four that can move the puck up the ice and allow fewer than 31.9 shots per game.

    Semyon Varlamov could also use some help in nets. He's the type of goalie who performs better when his starts are broken up a little, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere's save percentage has been just .864 since his first five starts of the season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Late-Game Letdowns

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Columbus Blue Jackets have allowed 59 third-period goals, only Calgary and Toronto have allowed more.

    Why It's Concerning

    Third-period defensive meltdowns are the last thing Columbus needs if it's going to secure one of the final Eastern Conference playoff positions.

    Everything is otherwise trending up in Columbus. The Blue Jackets have beaten their opponents in the possession game 15 times out of the last 17 games, and 20 of the last 25, despite doing so just 10 times in their first 27 games. Their chances of making the postseason are now statistically up to around 60 percent, give or take.

    The issue is in protecting those late leads when opponents are really pouring it on. Quite frankly, Jack Johnson was left off the American Olympic team for a valid reason. He hasn't had a lot of possession-based success as a top-pairing defenseman against the league's elite players and is taking Fedor Tyutin down with him.  

    What Can Be Done

    The Blue Jackets don't have a lot of options on the blue line, but how about trying Nikita Nikitin with Tyutin instead? He's currently being used on the third pairing but has had success with consistent and reliable two-way play in the past, even against top-six opponents.

    The alternative is to rely on another Vezina-caliber performance from Sergei Bobrovsky, but that could be risky. The young Russian had only five quality starts in 12 attempts throughout November and has only one in the past five games.

Dallas Stars: Weak Goaltending in 2014

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Dallas Stars had a team save percentage of .884 in 2014 leading into the combined 14-1 romp over Minnesota, Toronto and Pittsburgh (bringing it up to .902).

    Why It's Concerning

    Goaltending is both critical to the outcome of a game and yet so unpredictable. Player performances are easier to predict, and a bad stretch won't swing the outcome of the games. But hot goaltending? That's essential.

    The Stars have been playing extremely well possession-wise and are trending up, but that advantage was negated by their goaltending going into a bit of a tailspin in the new year.

    It's far from over for the Stars. Dallas has a 27 percent chance of making the postseason according to Playoff Status, 30.1 percent chance according to Sports Club Stats, and 30.5 percent according to Hockey-Reference. If Kari Lehtonen is at his best, the Stars can make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

    What Can Be Done

    Obviously, Kari Lehtonen is back on his game, securing two shutouts and a single-goal effort in the past three games.

    The absence of the highly underrated Stephane Robidas (broken leg) is clearly being felt, and the rest of the blue line has been struggling. And the $10.5 million invested in Sergei Gonchar and Shawn Horcoff has clearly not produced the results that were intended.

    It's hard to decide what Dallas needs more right now: someone to replace Dan Ellis as Lehtonen's backup or a shutdown defenseman.

Detroit Red Wings: Losing at Home

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Detroit is 9-11-8 with a minus-18 goal differential at home, including 3-8 in post-regulation play, but 14-7-3 with a plus-14 goal differential on the road.

    Why It's Concerning

    Detroit is currently hanging on to the last playoff position by a single point and only playing about .500 hockey. The Red Wings need to put opponents away when they have the chance.

    Obviously, it's difficult without Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who have missed a combined 29 games this year. They nevertheless remain Nos. 1 and 2 in the team's scoring race.

    It's also hard when the team's shot differential is basically even after having enjoyed an advantage of 2.8 shots per game last year. That's the fourth-largest drop in the NHL. 

    What Can Be Done

    The primary advantage enjoyed on home ice is the last line change. It allows coaches to strategically match up opponents in specific situations. Mike Babcock is potentially not taking full advantage of that.

    The home team also tends to enjoy the rest that comes with reduced travel. After winning their first two one-game homestands, the Red Wings have lost four straight. They have two such brief trips coming up, one hosting the Washington Capitals and another the Vancouver Canucks.

Edmonton Oilers: Weak Goaltending

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The pre-Ben Scrivens Oilers had a terrible .890 team save percentage, worst in the NHL. Even the New York Islanders and the Flames were several points higher.

    Why It's Concerning

    This was supposed to be the Oilers' season, but here they are in exactly the same position they've been in for five years.

    Edmonton has the offensive talent—and in spades—but it can be completely deflating for young players to chip in a few goals, only to have them immediately equalized by some questionable scoring chances.

    In fairness, goaltending isn't to blame entirely. There have been some awful defensive breakdowns and some plain old bad luck. Focusing on the strength of the blue line instead of its depth may have been the better offseason plan for Edmonton. 

    What Can Be Done

    Don't panic. Goaltending is highly critical to the outcome of a game and yet can be highly unpredictable game to game or even month to month. Look at the big picture, and don't make any moves that will be regretted later.

    The Oilers have already traded Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera and are trying Ilya Bryzgalov and Ben Scrivens instead, the latter of whom is having great success so far. Give this new tandem a chance to work and focus on improving the team playing in front of them.

Florida Panthers: Terrible Power Play

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Florida Panthers are averaging just 0.69 shots per minute on the power play, worst in the NHL. Other than the Tampa Bay Lightning (0.70), nobody is even close.

    Florida hasn't scored in its last 42 power-play opportunities, dating back to December 28, 2013.

    Throw in their weak penalty kill, and the Panthers have a league-worst special teams index (the addition of power-play and penalty-kill percentages) of just 86.7.

    Why It's Concerning

    If a team's power play isn't to be feared, then that allows opponents to play the puck more aggressively.

    If a team is setting up the play but just can't get the puck in over the short run, that can sometimes be excused. But the Panthers aren't even setting up the play. Brian Campbell is the only player on the team with more than six points with the man advantage, and he only has eight.

    A league-average power play would have about 18 more goals than Florida, which would translate to another six points in the standings. That would put the team within three points of the final playoff position.

    What Can Be Done

    The Panthers are in a tight spot. With the exception of Brian Campbell, they don't really have anyone with solid power-play skills and experience.

    They can lean on their young players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov (when he returns), Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad, but they will need more guidance than players like Brad Boyes and Tomas Fleischmann can provide.

    Hard work alone isn't going to do it; the Panthers are clearly missing some pieces.

Los Angeles Kings: Lack of Scoring

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Los Angeles Kings are outscored 39-31 in the second period, currently ranking last in the league offensively. They are otherwise 93-68 through the two adjacent periods.

    Why It's Concerning

    The larger problem is obviously the team's lack of scoring, which is most pronounced in the middle frame. The Kings are otherwise a fantastic team and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    Though several teams are at roughly their scoring level, only the Flames and the Sabres are scoring at a clearly lower rate than the Kings. One of the obvious culprits is their power play, which is arguably superior to only that of the Panthers.

    They're taking their shots, but they're simply not going in. Their team shooting percentage is just 7.6 percent.

    What Can Be Done

    The Kings had a similar problem in 2011-12, and they won the Stanley Cup. They scored on just 7.5 percent of their shots that year, worst in the league, and yet averaged almost three goals a game through the postseason.

    The Kings would especially like to see some scoring from captain Dustin Brown, who was given an eight-year, $47 million extension recently. He has responded with his lowest career shooting percentage and just 10 goals and six points in 52 games.

Minnesota Wild: Decline in Shooting

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Minnesota Wild are taking 2.2 fewer shots per game this year, the second-biggest drop in the league.

    This could be a result of their possession game, which, while initially much improved, has been in absolute free fall lately, according to the data at Extra Skater. Over the last 10 games, only the Buffalo Sabres have lower possession rates.

    Why It's Concerning

    To win, you need to score, and to score, you need to shoot. Right now, Minnesota is being outscored by four goals and shouldn't consider its playoff position as being safe.

    Last year, Minnesota had six players who averaged at least two shots per game: Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, Dany Heatley, Cal Clutterbuck and Devin Setoguchi. The last two are gone, Heatley dropped from 2.3 to 1.7 shots per game, and no one has stepped up to join what is now a three-man club—other than occasional flirtations by Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle.

    To make matters worse, the Wild also lost Matt Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, both of whom took 1.65 shots per game, a level that only Ryan Suter among the previously unmentioned is achieving so far this year.

    What Can Be Done

    Fundamentally, Minnesota hasn't been shooting the puck because it hasn't had it in the first place.

    The Wild started off with their best possession-based play in years, which played no small role in their 15-5-4 start to the season. They have really trailed off since then. And it's not one player or another, but a teamwide problem.

    Perhaps it's time for Parise and Koivu to take back a larger share of the defensive zone assignments.

Montreal Canadiens: Free Fall in Possession

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Montreal Canadiens have the fourth-worst possession numbers in the league over the last 10 games, controlling the play just 43.6 percent of the time, according to the close-game shot-based proxy posted at Extra Skater.

    Why It's Concerning

    Possession-wise, Montreal is practically in free fall.

    After some initial success early this season, the trend has been in the downward direction—and steep. That's a big reason why it has only four wins in the last 13 games, two of them in overtime and the other two by a single goal and/or an empty-netter.

    Montreal has allowed at least four goals in each of the last six games, during which time it's been outscored 27-11.

    The Habs are taking 2.2 fewer shots per game than last year, the biggest drop in the league, and allowing 3.0 more, the second-biggest jump in the league. The 5.2 change in shot differential is certainly the league's worst.

    What Can Be Done

    Montreal needs depth, especially on the blue line.

    Other than their top five, which is Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher up front, and Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban on defence, the Canadiens are really getting bombed.

    Montreal has the tools up front, but not on defence.

Nashville Predators: Getting Stuck in Early Holes

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Nashville Predators are 1-17-2 when trailing after the first period, the worst record in the league.

    Why It's Concerning

    Nashville general manager David Poile opened the wallet wide this season in an attempt to upgrade the team up front and make a quick return to the postseason, but to no avail. 

    The Predators' 2.44 goals per game is only slightly better than last year's 2.31 and is noticeably better than just two teams (Calgary and Buffalo). They simply can't afford to fall behind, even with 40 minutes to spare.

    The Predators are now last in the division, and there is currently at least a 94 percent chance of their first back-to-back playoff absences since before the 2005 lockout.

    What Can Be Done

    Don't count the Predators out just yet. After all, they have scored at least four goals in five of their last seven games.

    Poile certainly hasn't given up, having recently traded for defenseman Michael Del Zotto and goalie Devan Dubnyk. With a few more wins, he might even decide to make further moves at the trade deadline.

    Also, when franchise goalie Pekka Rinne makes his return, perhaps they won't find themselves in quite so many holes to begin with.

New Jersey Devils: No Support for Schneider

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The New Jersey Devils average 1.84 goals per game when Cory Schneider is in nets. That's 46 goals in 25 starts. On only four occasions have the Devils topped two goals in a game. They otherwise average 2.89 goals per game.

    Why It's Concerning

    To be successful, the Devils need Cory Schneider to be successful.

    Martin Brodeur is turning 42 this May and hasn't even had a league-average save percentage since he was 37. That's a big reason why the Devils outshot opponents by a whopping 5.4 shots per game (wow) last year and yet finished .500 and seven points out of a playoff position.

    The same thing is already happening this year. Though they're not outshooting opponents by as much (1.1 shots per game), the Devils are part of a tight pack of eight teams that are all within three points and fighting for just three playoff spots.

    Schneider is an amazing goalie, on his way to his fourth consecutive season with a save percentage of at least .927. Tuukka Rask is the only goalie to do that more than twice over that same range. But without scoring, it's all for naught.

    What Can Be Done

    Spread out the offence, and get the puck on the net.

    If you look at the four games where the Devils managed more than two goals while Schneider was playing, the shots (and the goals) came from all directions. As it stands, the Devils are dead last with 26.3 shots per game, about 2.1 lower than last year, and only Jaromir Jagr, Eric Gelinas and Damien Brunner are averaging at least two shots per game.

    With even just two goals of offensive support per game, Schneider would be 6-1-3 over his last 10 starts, and the Devils would be in sixth place. If all four lines are shooting, at least two of them ought to get through.

New York Islanders: Close-Game Collapses

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    Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Islanders are 3-10 in one-goal games decided in regulation. Only three teams have a worse record in such situations (Tampa Bay, Edmonton and Buffalo), the last of which being the only one to have left more points on the table.

    New York is the only team with a losing record when taking a lead into the third period, something it's accomplished only 15 times.

    Why It's Concerning

    If the Islanders were 6-5 instead, they would actually be third in the Metropolitan Division instead of eighth.

    Add in empty-net goals, four for and seven against, and the Islanders are potentially 7-17 in regulation-time games settled by a single goal or an empty-netter. That means that they've only been out of eight games all season.

    While many statistics could have been chosen, being on the losing side of so many close games has to be the greatest concern. 

    What Can Be Done

    While they did a great job upgrading their depth up front this offseason, the Islanders took a big gamble by neglecting to do the same on the blue line and in goal.

    Offensively, the Islanders are one of the best teams in the league, but they have allowed more goals than any team except the Edmonton Oilers.

    John Tavares is an incredibly exciting player, but without strong defence and good goaltending, the Islanders will remain on the wrong side of a lot of one-goal games.

New York Rangers: Lack of Post-Regulation Play

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The New York Rangers have only 11 points in just seven post-regulation games, both lowest in the NHL.

    Why It's Concerning

    The Rangers are leaving a lot of points on the ice. Toronto and Washington, for example, both have 28 post-regulation points apiece. They've taken 17 and 18 games into the extra frame, respectively, 10 more than the Blueshirts.

    The Rangers have nine single-goal regulation-time losses. Add in their four empty-net goals against, and there's 13 games that could have been taken into overtime with some timely scoring.  

    What Can Be Done

    Tight, defensive, low-event games are ideal for regular-season standings.

    Take the 2009-10 Phoenix Coyotes, for example. In his first season as the team's head coach, Dave Tippett tightened up the team defensively and took 26 games into overtime. Phoenix actually had more regulation points with the Great One behind the bench (64 to 62), but vaulted up the standings by 28 points overall thanks to frequent and successful post-regulation play.

    That may be an extreme example, and might have required some good bounces, but the principle is clear. In the regular season, keep the number of events low, and pick up those extra post-regulation points.

Ottawa Senators: No Momentum

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Ottawa Senators have a record of 7-9-5 after a win, picking up consecutive wins just a third of the time.

    Why It's Concerning

    The Senators have been one of this season's big disappointments. Even with Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson back in the lineup, one of last year's better possession teams has been average (at best), with playoff chances currently between 26 and 34 percent.

    It has been a puzzling season in Ottawa. Why couldn't Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek score? Why are the Senators allowing over two extra shots per game this year? Why did Craig Anderson's save percentage drop from a league-leading .941 to just .906? And why can't the team generate any kind of momentum?

    What Can Be Done

    Patience. There's no question Ottawa got off to a rocky start, but things have been heading in the right direction, albeit quite slowly.

    The Senators remain a solid possession team, although they're obviously not as defensively impressive as they were last season. Their two-way second line of Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur has been great, but Jason Spezza's scoring line has to get going.

    On paper, the Senators are otherwise without concern. It's just too bad for them that the game isn't played on paper.

Philadelphia Flyers: Penalty Trouble

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Philadelphia Flyers have 296 penalty minutes, the most in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings are the only ones even within 10 percent. Philly leads the league with 15.9 penalty minutes per game, including 37 majors, and is second to Vancouver with 13 misconducts.

    Why It's Concerning

    Penalties are to be avoided for many reasons, even beyond the simple wasting of two minutes and the potential for allowing the opponent to score.

    Penalties can disrupt a team's momentum, for instance. They can break up lines and tire out those who have to kill them, including the goalie. They bring the puck and the play back into the defensive zone. Some of the more egregious acts can result in injuries, fines, suspensions and/or retaliatory attacks.

    While this aggression no doubt creates a very exciting game, the Flyers have won just two of their past nine games and are currently out of a playoff spot.


    What Can Be Done

    A penalty is very often a result of someone compensating for a poor defensive play. The Flyers have invested a lot of cap space in their blue line, and they should be rewarded with tight defensive play instead of being put at a man disadvantage.

    Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, for example, have taken 37 penalties while drawing only 11 of their own. Up front, Zac Rinaldo has been the problem, taking 27 penalties while drawing only 12. Vancouver's Tom Sestito is the only forward who has put his team at a greater disadvantage.

Phoenix Coyotes: A Mixed Bag

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Coyotes have allowed nine empty-net goals, more than any team except Edmonton; they're outscored 46-32 in the first period; and they're 7-12-7 when outshooting their opponents, better than only Calgary.

    Why It's Concerning

    There's no one single thing of concern in Phoenix, but it's a little bit of everything. It's like death by a thousand needles.

    That's not to say the season is over, as the Coyotes are in ninth place, just five points back of the final postseason position. But they have won just six of their last 21 games, and all those losses seem to be for a different reason every night.

    What Can Be Done

    Is it leadership? The tough Western Conference? Clutch play? Bad luck? With the exception of Mike Smith's butt goal, it's hard to say.

    The Phoenix Coyotes are not a bad team. Other than Smith's disappointing season and a handful of minor injuries, nothing is really going wrong. They're deep up front, have some real stars on defence and are superbly well-coached.

    In the past, the Coyotes have defied expectations by doing all the little things and having them add up. Perhaps now we're seeing the exact reverse.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Injuries!

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Penguins have lost a league-leading 289 man-games due to injury, as per the tallies at Springing Malik. And these aren't depth players—as the combined cap hit per game of the injured players, multiplied by the games they've missed, is $8.765 million, which is also the highest in the NHL.

    Why It's Concerning

    The Penguins are going to need everybody at his best if they want to compete for the Stanley Cup, not just their two superstars. When the Bruins shut down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in last year's Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins were quickly defeated.

    There's no question that several players have stepped up in a big way, like veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta. And it's great that Pittsburgh was still 8-2-1 with backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff despite his .903 save percentage. But will that continue through the rigors of the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially when injuries have forced frequent linemate changes?

    What Can Be Done

    There's obviously little that can be done about the injuries themselves, but the impact can be minimized with the right flexibility and depth.

    The Penguins don't have much cap space to work with, so they'll have to be on the lookout for some lower-priced rental players at the deadline. In nets, Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss and Al Montoya are all potential targets, while Andrew MacDonald, Tom Gilbert, Mark Fayne or Mike Weaver could be a target on a depleted blue line.

St. Louis Blues: Unsustainable Shooting

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The St. Louis Blues have a team shooting percentage of 11.4 percent and a differential of 2.6 percent better than their opponents. This is obviously a good thing, but...

    Why It's Concerning

    Shooting percentages don't tend to stay high forever, and when the percentages drop, the winning stops.

    Historically, the Blues normally score on about 9.1 percent of their shots, so their 75 points (third best in the NHL) was boosted considerably by about an extra 35 goals scored.

    What happens when the shooting percentages drop? After a combined 10-2 clobbering of Alberta's struggling teams, the Blues have scored on just 6.7 percent of their shots (Buffalo Sabres territory) in the eight games since. During that stretch, they posted four regulation-time losses, more than each of October, November and December.

    What Can Be Done

    Since shooting percentages come and go, the focus should remain on playing a solid puck-possession game and getting those shots on net.

    Fortunately for the Blues, coach Ken Hitchcock is already one step ahead of us. St. Louis is seventh in close-game puck-possession measurements and doesn't need to rely on hot shooting to remain a contender.

    The only real problem is that Chicago, San Jose and Los Angeles are still a cut above. The Blues need to continue to develop their secondary lines and hope that their goaltending catches fire at the right time.

San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi's Reliability

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Antti Niemi has only 20 quality starts in 44 games. That includes just eight out of 29 on the road.

    Why It's Concerning

    It's Niemi or nothing. His backup, Alex Stalock, had just 72 minutes of NHL experience going into this season and an AHL save percentage of just .909.

    It's hard to find a flaw with the San Jose Sharks, but the only potential chink in their armor might be a big one. Of potential concern are Niemi's struggles on the road and/or against top teams.

    Niemi was chased by Anaheim, Vancouver, Colorado and Pittsburgh, and played pretty weak games against Los Angeles and Chicago. In fact, the Finn has just three quality starts in the 12 games he has played this year against the five other definite Western Conference playoff teams (Anaheim, Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado and Los Angeles), posting an .888 save percentage.

    What Can Be Done

    Even though Alex Stalock has been hot, it might not be a bad idea to rent a goalie at the trade deadline for insurance.

    The Sharks won't have a lot of cap space, but maybe they could enter the negotiations for Ryan Miller. More realistically someone like Tim Thomas could be available, or they could always bring back Thomas Greiss!

    Or, the Sharks could have confidence in what is otherwise one of the league's best teams and just see to it that they score enough goals to offset the occasional bad night from Niemi. That's certainly been working so far.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Relying on Rookies

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Thirty-five percent of the Lightning's games have been played by rookies.

    That includes Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown, Richard Panik, Mark Barberio, Andrej Sustr and Dmitry Korobov.

    Why It's Concerning

    The team's rookies are fantastic and are making the Tampa Bay Lightning look like the poster child for a successful rebuild. But is the team actually being carried by its veterans and a hot goaltender?

    The Lightning are actually among the league's worst in a number of statistical categories. For example, they are taking just 0.70 shots per minute on the power play, or about the same as their fellow Floridians. Fortunately for the Bolts, a lot more of their shots are going in.

    As just one more example, Tampa Bay is 2-7 in one-goal regulation-time games, one of the worst records in the league. Add it all up, and there's at least some reason to doubt the security of their comfortable playoff position.

    What Can Be Done

    There's absolutely no reason to stop riding the hot hands, but picking up a couple of veterans would help the team not only right now, but also in the postseason.

    It also goes without saying that the situation will get much better once Steven Stamkos returns.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Getting Outshot

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Toronto Maple Leafs have been outshot by 454 shots, the widest margin in the NHL. That's over 8.4 shots per game! Buffalo has been outshot by "only" 381.

    Toronto has outshot their opponents only nine times. With the exception of the Sabres, every team has done so at least twice as often.

    Why It's Concerning

    It's hard to score when you're in your own end and/or don't have the puck. It can be done over short stretches, but not over the long term. And when it's hard to score, it's hard to win.

    There's not a single Maple Leaf with whom the team outshoots opponents this year. There are only two players who get to start more shifts in the offensive than the defensive zone, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly. 

    David Clarkson has had the largest individual drop in shots per game in 40 years, and as a team, the Leafs take 27.6 shots per game, 25th in the NHL.

    Though Toronto does have an issue in taking shots, the problem is more about preventing them. The team is dead last, allowing 36.2 shots per game, 3.9 more than last year. While killing penalties, the Leafs have allowed 2.61 shots per minute. This is the highest in the NHL by some margin, Edmonton is next at 2.36 and no one else is above 2.20.

    What Can Be Done

    The solution isn't to rely on a great shooting percentage differential, but rather to improve their possession-based play.

    The Leafs aren't the first team to claim to have the "shot quality secret" or the ability to consistently force opponents into low-quality shots while they fire away from the inside. But if they succeed, they'll be the first to prove it.

Vancouver Canucks: Late-Game Scoring

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    DARRYL DYCK/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Vancouver Canucks have been outscored 47-39 in the third period, which includes the lowest offensive total in the NHL.

    Why It's Concerning

    Vancouver is not the powerhouse it once was. The Canucks have a goal differential of just plus-one and are sitting one point ahead of the final playoff position. They need to play all three periods in order to win.

    After blanking the Calgary Flames 2-0 on December 29, the Canucks have gone 4-6-3, including eight games with two goals or less.

    What Can Be Done

    Is the problem fatigue? The Vancouver Canucks ride their top lines awfully hard, especially having to play a lot of extra minutes due to penalties.

    The Canucks are averaging 14.9 minutes of penalties per game, second to the Flyers. That includes a league-leading 14 misconducts, 37 majors (tied with the Flyers) and six game misconducts, second only to Calgary. Most of which probably happened in one game.

    Add it up, and that's a lot of extra minutes killing penalties and playing double-shifts to cover for players who are sitting in the box, whether it's Zack Kassian, Tom Sestito or Dale Weise.

    Better discipline and some effort to even out the workload early in the game might go a long way to addressing the late-game lack of scoring.

Washington Capitals: Regulation-Time Play

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    The Stat

    Washington is 13-21 in games decided in regulation time. Only Calgary, Edmonton and Buffalo have fewer regulation-time wins.

    Why It's Concerning

    Though it may get you through the regular season, there are no skills competitions in the playoffs, when it matters.

    Only through statistically random post-regulation triumphs and so-called loser points can a team getting outshot by over three shots per night find itself within striking distance of the postseason.

    Of course, to capitalize on their good fortune (pun intended), the Capitals need to win more than one of their last eight, three of their last 14 and four of their last 17.

    What Can Be Done

    Washington GM George McPhee could start by trading one of the team's three goaltenders for a defenseman.

    The Capitals are well-served by John Carlson and Karl Alzner, but have otherwise used 12 different defenders, the most in the NHL, according to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post.

    The lack of depth on the blue line could be why the Capitals have been outscored 47-40 in the final frame and lost so many of their late-game leads. Some better defence, and the Capitals could have won some of those games in regulation and not relied on their post-regulation heroics.

Winnipeg Jets: Poor Divisional Record

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Stat

    The Winnipeg Jets are 6-11-3 against teams in their own division and 19-13-2 against the rest of the league. Their 11 losses against their own division are the highest in the NHL.

    Why It's Concerning

    Losses against teams in your own division aren't just lost points, but points handed over to teams competing for the same postseason positions.

    Moving to the Western Conference was supposed to help the Jets. They would have less travel and hopefully become one of the eight of 14 teams that advanced into the postseason.

    Instead, their starting goaltender has remained among the league's worst, their possession numbers have dropped, and they have handed over buckets of points to their divisional rivals.

    What Can Be Done

    Short of moving back to Atlanta, the Jets need to retool.

    To compete in the Central Division, Winnipeg will need a better starting goalie and a lot more depth. The top half of its lineup is surprisingly competitive, but its secondary lines are getting burned.

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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