Are the NHL’s top two teams running away with it?
As the NHL season approaches the 50-game mark, the playoff picture starts to take a more serious shape. Fans see which teams need to turn it on fast, and which teams are in the thick of a tight race. Fans also see which teams are starting to run away.
The league’s top two teams are examples of teams that are starting to run away. The Washington Capitals are tops in the NHL with 73 points (the only team with 70 points as of Jan. 20). The Chicago Blackhawks are winners of 12 straight and are on top of the league’s best division with 68 points.
So, can anyone catch them?
Of the two, Chicago is the most likely to be caught. This is simply because of the division in which they play. Dallas, the league’s highest scoring team with 156 goals, is only five points behind the Blackhawks with two games in hand. Of the seven teams in the Central Division, five have Corsi for and Fenwick for percentages above 50 percent. Five of seven teams also have scoring chance percentages over 50 percent. Five Central teams are in the league’s top 10 in Corsi for percentage. This division is stacked with good teams.
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Of all the strong teams in the Central Division, Dallas is in the best position to catch the Blackhawks. The Stars can score with the best of the league. They’re tied for the league lead with 2.6 goals for per 60 minutes of five-on-five. They’re sixth in the league with a 53 percent goals for percentage at five-on-five. They also have the fourth best powerplay in the league at 21.9 percent. There was a significant amount of time during which Dallas was on top of the league, and two games in hand will give them the chance they need to make up ground. As long as they can fix some defensive and goaltending issues (they share the division basement with a five-on-five save percentage of 92.1), Dallas in the best shape to catch Chicago.
The East is a much different story. The Washington Capitals have a firm grip on the Metropolitan Division, with a commanding 18-point lead over the New York Rangers and are the only NHL team with standings points. They have the best goal for percentage, posting an astounding 59.3 percent. They have the best powerplay at 27.1 percent. They have the best overall goal differential at +55, and it’s not even close (Chicago is second at +33). They have the third best five-on-five save percentage at 93.6 percent (thanks to the league’s only 30-game winner in Braden Holtby). It’s getting easier and easier to make a case to call the Capitals the league’s best team.
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It’s clear Washington is among the league’s best and has perhaps the best chance at taking this year’s Presidents’ Trophy. But is there anyone in the Metropolitan close enough to catch them?
The second place Rangers are the closest, but have only 55 points and have played the same amount of games as the Capitals. The Islanders have a game in hand but only 54 points. No Metropolitan team is close enough to catch the Capitals. Despite Washington’s middle-of-the-road possession numbers, their strong defensive and goaltending statistics (particularly their 1.8 goals against per 60 minutes of five-on-five, which is tied for best in the NHL) have put them in a position to walk away with the division.
As far as improvement goes, the Capitals need to work on their possession numbers. Their Corsi and Fenwick for percentages are at 50.3 and 50.7, respectively. While this won’t hurt the Capitals too much, it won’t help them much either. Finding a way to control the play more than they currently do will make a strong Capitals team that much stronger.
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