Editors Note: All stats current as of Nov. 8
If the regular season ended today and the playoffs started, everyone would freak out because it's only November and the NHL season just started last month.
But, in addition to everyone freaking out, four of last year's eight Western conference playoff teams would be out. Those teams include the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks, the star-studded Minnesota Wild, the young Colorado Avalanche, and the bromantic Dallas Stars.
With all of those teams struggling, people start wondering why that could be. Well, no worries, I got some answers. In fact, I am going to identify a problem and the solution for all of these teams.
Problem: With 2.43 goals scored per game average, the Blackhawks just aren't scoring enough goals.
Solution: Mix up the line combinations and put 6' 4'' left-winger Bryan Bickell on the top line so he can screen the goalie and give Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews better goal-scoring opportunities.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, they are just outside of the top eight with a 7-6-1 record that is good for 15 points. A record like that indicates mediocrity and that's just what the Blackhawks haven't been. Instead, they've been a team that plays great defense with a brickwall (Corey Crawford) for a goaltender. The Blackhawks have been so good on defense that they lead the lead in goals against per game with 1.86.
That being said, they have an exceptionally hard time scoring the puck. They've been shut out twice in a row at home this season, against the Anaheim Ducks and the Winnipeg Jets and they're also a paltry 2-7 in non-shootout games decided by one goal. So, when the Blackhawks win, they win big, which is the reason why their goals scored average exceeds their goals against average, despite their record.
My solution of putting big power forward Bryan Bickell in front of the net would distract opposing goaltenders and make seeing the puck almost impossible. This in turn would mean more goals for all-stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Let's make it happen head coach Joel Quenneville.
Problem: The Wild have a 5.3% success rate on the power play, good for 29th in the league. That's a spot away from last people!
Solution: Play a more conservative, dump and chase style instead of the possession-based style they have been playing.
The Minnesota Wild's 7-5 record would be good enough for eighth in the Eastern Conference. But that's a totally meaningless statement since they're in the Western Conference in 10th place. The more you know, you know? Anyway, the Minnesota Wild have been a top 10 team in both goals per game, at 2.92, and goals against average, at 2.08. With numbers like that, you would think that the Wild would have a better record than 7-5. However, their power play has been holding them back.
In the NHL, where every player has talent and a good ethic and games come down to the bounce of a puck, excelling when you have a one-man advantage is extremely important. And as I said earlier, the Wild just haven't been doing that with their 38 power play opportunities. So far, they've only found the net on two of those PP chances thanks to some bad luck plus poor strategy and play.
Playing a more conservative dump and chase style would allow the Wild to keep the puck and get into position on the power play. With great offensive players like left-winger Zach Parise (who is currently out with a concussion), fellow left-winger Thomas Vanek, and offensive-minded defenseman Ryan Suter, one would think that a possession-based style of play would be better. However, that has clearly not been the case. So, maybe going conservative would be the Wild's best bet because something has to be done if the Wild want to make the playoffs again this year.
Problem: In almost every major team statistic category, the Avalanche are ranked in the bottom third of the league.
Solution: Mix up the line combinations so that the struggling sophomore Nathan Mackinnon has less pressure on him, while paying attention to what made last year's team successful.
Last year's Colorado Avalanche exceeded everyone's expectations last year when they made the playoffs by winning the Central Division with 112 points. This year, they have yet to discover the magic they had last season. Their record of 4-6-5 this year illustrates that fact. From goals per game (2.40) to goals against per game (2.93) as well as their power play (14.6%), the Avalanche have struggled through almost every facet of the game.
The Avalanche could just be regressing to the mean after their incredible success last year. However, that doesn't mean that head coach Patrick Roy should just stand pat and expect failure from his team. In interviews, Patrick Roy has stated that he wants his team to continue playing fast, offense-minded hockey, so their last resort appears to be changing up the lines.
Last year, Nathan Mackinnon scored 63 points on 24 goals and 39 assists as a rookie, which was good enough to win the Calder Trophy. In addition, last year's Avalanche had completely different lines that depended more on chemistry than ability. I suggest that the Avalanche should go back to the lines that made them successful last year while at the same time allowing Mackinnon to play against second and third line centers of the opposing teams.
Problem: Their 3.38 goals against average is 28th in the league. That number indicates poor defense and terrible goaltending.
Solution: Find better backup goaltending, whether from current backup Anders Lindback, their AHL team, or the waiver wire.
Out of all of these teams, the Dallas Stars have the worst record at 4-5-4. They're currently 14th in the Western Conference, which is one measly spot above the beyond atrocious Edmonton Oilers. The Stars have only won once at home and are only .500 on the road at 3-3. Their team statistics point to a team that has been able to score, at 2.8 goals a game, but not do much else. Their 17% success rate on the power play is 19th in the league and their 77.1% success rate on the penalty kill is even worse at 25th in the league. All of that being said, their defense has been atrocious with 3.4 goals given up per game. That number is 27th in the entire NHL.
That's a lot of numbers in one paragraph. But the Stars have all the pieces needed to succeed in the NHL. So, using numbers helps me comprehend just why they've lost so many games early in the season. Center Tyler Seguin continues to score and Jason Spezza has dished out the assists. The defense hasn't been that good, but the Stars have been a team focused on offense, so that's to be somewhat expected. Really, the only explanation for the Stars' terrible record has been the goaltending.
Kari Lehtonen, the Stars starting goaltender, has lost five games straight with a 2.94 goals against average that is 49th in the NHL. That being said, Lehtonen is the starting goaltender and those aren't exactly easy to come by. Especially when your backup hasn't exactly picked up the slack. Anders Lindback, former Tampa Bay Lightning starting goaltender, has not been able to stay in front of the puck this season. He has played in only two games this season, but he has given up nine goals already. These goaltending issues signal a team that needs to find a goaltender that can give this team a chance to win.