Note: There are some corrections in the special teams section on page two. Apologies for any confusion.
If there was a “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”-style word of the day for Week 3 of the NHL’s 2013-14 season - and maybe this brief chunk of the campaign as a whole - it would be “stretch.” That word and its variations capture the highs and lows of a league in an interesting place.
Most obviously, stretch evokes “stretcher” and “stretchered out,” phrases that popped up far too often this past week or so. You know people are discussing catastrophic-looking injuries with disturbing frequency when the good news is that someone “can walk under their own power” or at least move their limbs/extremities.
(Sometimes hockey writing feels like crime scene investigating, or at least how TV shows portray that gig.)
On the other hand, there are the hot streaks and tough stretches of scheduling that can imply that a team is better or worse than it will probably be in the long run. (When it comes to hockey, a lot of randomness can still come into play.)
Really, Dustin Penner’s Sunday serves as a nice microcosm of it all.
Not only did he almost get stretchered-off on Sunday from a questionable Ryan Garbutt hit - Garbutt will hear from the league, but it’s not like the Dallas Stars will really care if he’s gone - he’s also playing on a team on fire. The Anaheim Ducks are now on a seven-game winning streak one season after defying stats bloggers with percentages (and other bits of good fortune) that seemingly cannot be sustained over an 82-game season.
(Really, the Ducks are like the bizarro Maple Leafs. Both teams rode what many believed were unreasonably lucky stretches to the playoffs; each franchise lost first-round series in seven games to an Original Six team. Each feature intriguing battles for the No. 1 goalie spot and coaches who are a little bit heftier than most of their peers. The difference is that they’re in different conferences, enjoy disparate climates and generate a wildly different amount of media and fan scrutiny.)
Anyway, the Dose has already tackled the “stretchered off” angle sufficiently - really, that stuff only gets increasingly unpleasant - so let’s stick to hot and cold stretches. Who might be misleadingly good and who might be unluckily bad?
Let’s take a look … and by the way, yes, I know these are small sample sizes. This is just a look at the (probably flukey) things that happened so far.
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There are a number of simple stats that I’ll be tracking all season long to see which teams a) just finished/are in the middle of a stretch of games that will make them look unusually bad or good and b) are approaching a stretch where everything can come crashing down like a Jenga tower. Sometimes NHL teams face wildly difficult and easy home/road months, so there can be cases in which you take that into account with roster moves, at least with your “supporting cast.”
(If there’s a golden rule of the Hockey Daily Dose, it’s this: don’t give up on your stars.)
-- Both teams at the top of their conferences (Pittsburgh, 7-1-0; San Jose 7-0-1 overall) are 5-0-0 at home. The only other NHL team with five home wins is the Anaheim Ducks; other than that, it's four or less.
-- The Winnipeg Jets (3-4-0) and Washington Capitals (3-3-0) are two teams who have squandered some early chances to stash extra points at home. Fans should at least cringe that both teams have a zero in that third column instead of stealing a charity point or two.
-- Carolina has been weird; the Canes have a 1-1-3 record at home and a sterling 3-1-0 road record. (OK, Buffalo's the most disturbing with an 0-5-1 home record ... but are we even bothering with the Sabres much any longer beyond Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller and Cody Hodgson?)
-- The Colorado Avalanche (4-0-0) and Boston Bruins (3-0-0) remain undefeated despite playing a few away games. Not surprisingly, teams ranked high in each conference have generally been strong on the road. (Bonus note: Los Angeles is surviving with a 4-2-0 road record.)
-- As good as St. Louis has looked at times, five of the Blues seven contests have come at home. Chicago hasn't played very often away from the United Center, either.
-- The New Jersey Devils (0-4-2) and New York Rangers (2-5-0) faced the toughest road … at least for East teams. The Rangers still have two more games left in their patently absurd opening nine-game road start. Honestly, I don't know what to make of the Blueshirts right now; they have a lot of luck working against them, yet they look just awful in many fancy stats areas.
As Sean McIndoe (aka Down Goes Brown) astutely summarized, Western Conference teams have really been leaving the East in rubble. I actually thought that dynamic would shift a little bit this season - trading Detroit and Columbus for Winnipeg seemed like a pretty good deal for competitive balance - but instead it hasn’t. At least not yet.
So, then, the questions become: “Which West teams will land those layups most often?” and “Which East teams can excel - or at least survive - against the seemingly superior conference?” Here are a few early observations.
-- While San Jose and Anaheim haven't been able to lap up those East points yet (just two games, both wins, apiece), Colorado (4-1-0), Chicago (5-0-1) and Phoenix (5-1-1) sure have.
-- Vancouver (3-2-1) and Edmonton (2-4-1) must be kicking themselves. Meanwhile, Calgary's "resurgence" might just amount to bullying the nerds during recess (3-0-1).
-- The East's top teams are feasting on their own, but who's playing well against the West? The Penguins (2-0-0) and Lightning (3-0-0) are undefeated so far. Everyone else seems lucky to be a game over .500; the Devils have been brutalized in particular with a 1-4-0 West record. Maybe New Jersey's just taking its medicine earlier? (Actually, Buffalo's the worst at 0-4-0, but again ...)
After the jump: a look at special teams plus injury bits.