Identifying the NHL's Biggest Overachievers & Underachievers (11/16/16)

By Rob Pizzola @robpizzola

With most teams having hit the 15-game mark, we've reached a point in the season where we are pretty close to being able to draw some meaningful conclusions. Statistics are beginning to stabilize, and we can try to identify which teams are overachieving and underachieving based on their underlying metrics. I've identified two teams that I feel are the best fits for the following categories: Major Overachievers, Slight Overachievers, Slight Underachievers, and Major Underachievers. The decisions were certainly difficult to make, especially with a handful of teams that could easily fit into each category, but I think that the teams I've outlined fit the description.

Major Overachievers

Chicago (11-4-2) – I'm not here to tell you that the Blackhawks are a bad team; they certainly aren't. But a team that has generated 112 scoring chances and has allowed 111 scoring chances this season should not be sitting on 24 points in 17 games. Chicago has received outstanding goalie play from Corey Crawford, who has posted an incredible .959 save percentage at even strength this season. Crawford is a great goaltender, but the hot start to this season is likely unsustainable. Chicago has also opened up the season with 11 games at home and only six on the road, so there could definitely be a rough patch on the horizon as they embark on their annual circus road trip.

Ottawa (10-5-1) – Almost the exact write-up for Chicago can be substituted into this Ottawa write-up. The Sens have outchanced opponents by only four total chances this season, and have rode the coattails of Craig Anderson's .934 save percentage early on in the year. Ottawa's 5v5 Close Corsi For Percentage (get familiar with Corsi; I'll talk about it a lot this season) is 46.68%; the second worst percentage in the NHL. Long story short, Ottawa is getting badly outplayed when games are close, and that's not a good sign going forwards. The Sens are also a perfect 3-0 in the shootout this season (virtual coin flips), and have played nine of their first 16 games on home ice.

Strongly considered: NY Rangers (unsustainably high shooting percentage)

Slight Overachievers

Montreal (13-2-2) – I wrestled with the thought of including Montreal here, but ultimately decided to go for it. As long as Carey Price is in net, Montreal is always going to be a good team. That's not up for debate. Put Price on any team in the league and he immediately transforms them into a playoff team. Using our expected goals model here at PredictionMachine, Montreal would be outscored by an average of roughly 0.11 goals per 60 minutes with a league average goaltender, but that's obviously not going to be the case with the league's best goalie in net. The Habs' possession numbers are pretty poor out of the gate again this season and they've been significantly aided by an 11.59% shooting percentage to open up the season. The Habs will be good, but this amazing start can't last forever.

Detroit (8-8-1) – How could a .500 team possibly be an overachiever? Well, Detroit resembles more of a basement dweller than an average team at this point in the season. Detroit has a 47.0% 5v5 Close Corsi For through 17 games, which indicates that they're giving up a lot more shot attempts than they're taking at even strength in close games. What's particularly interesting about Detroit is that they have actually outchanced their opponents, but in terms of quality of chances, they are surrendering a lot more high-danger scoring chances than they are creating. The Red Wings will likely take a step back in the near future.

Strongly considered: New Jersey (better system and peripherals, but still lacking talent), Columbus (combination of poor possession metrics and high shooting percentage), Minnesota (high shooting percentage and save percentage)

Slight Underachievers

Toronto (7-6-3) – There's really not much to dislike about the Leafs right now except for their goaltending. Frederik Andersen's .904 save percentage through 14 games leaves much to be desired. Andersen is by no means a great goaltender, but he's likely a lot better than that early season save percentage indicates. Toronto has posted the fourth best 5v5 Close Corsi For Percentage in the league and have generated 19 more scoring chances than their opponents at even strength this season. The peripherals paint a different picture for a Leafs squad that has lost more games than they have won this season, and if they can get even a slight upgrade in goaltending, they could potentially threaten for a playoff spot in the East.

Buffalo (5-7-4) – If I told you that Buffalo is second in the league in 5v5 Scoring Chances For Percentage, you probably wouldn't believe me, but that's been the case this season. Granted, the Sabres have trailed in a lot of their games, but even when we adjust for score and venue, the Sabres come in at third overall. What makes this even more impressive is that Buffalo has seen extended absences from Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, and Jack Eichel this season. So what has hurt Buffalo this season? The Sabres own the worst shooting percentage in the league at just 6.58%; just one of two teams below seven percent. Buffalo is by no means a good team—they're not even league average—but five wins in 16 games is not indicative of how this team has played at all.

Strongly considered: Florida (peripherals are good despite key injuries), Philadelphia (peripherals are decent despite playing without two of top four defensemen to open the season), St. Louis (maybe someday someone will make a save?)

Major Underachievers

Carolina (5-6-4) – A lot of what was written about the Sabres applies here as well. Carolina is by no means a good team, mainly due to the fact that Cam Ward is a replacement level goaltender, but five wins in 15 games is a raw deal based on their peripherals. Carolina features a 51.9% 5v5 Close Corsi For, a 53.8% 5v5 Overall Corsi For, and a 56.5% 5v5 Scoring Chances For. If Carolina received league average goaltending and faced league average goaltending on a nightly basis, they would be expected to outscore their opponents by approximately 0.45 goals per 60 minutes. Carolina's last two games have seen them thoroughly dominate (‘thoroughly' might be an understatement) the Capitals and the Sharks, which is very indicative of the level that they have played at this season.

San Jose (9-7-0) – Aside from the Carolina game on Tuesday night, it is extremely rare to see the Sharks get dominated by any opponent. In fact, it's the Sharks that typically do the dominating. So why only 9-7 to begin the season? The Sharks are producing just 2.31 goals per game despite average 29.83 shots per game and 11.61 scoring chances per 60 minutes; the third best mark in the league. Despite San Jose's lack of offensive production to date, we still project them at roughly 2.95 goals per game going forwards, which means that a portion of their struggles to date can largely be attributed to bad luck (this sounds like a cop-out but it really is the best explanation). San Jose has also only played six of their first 16 games at home, which actually makes their record look much more impressive.

Strongly considered: Nashville (tough schedule out of gate, including team battling food poisoning), Los Angeles (possession kings once again)