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By now, hockey bettors should be getting a handle on handicapping each NHL team, as we’re more than a month into the season. But it’s important to remember that results are a combination of luck and skill, and sometimes it’s tough to distinguish between the two. Viewing the game through the lens of Evolving Hockey’s expected goals model, along with some other modern hockey statistics, can add important context to what we’re seeing on the scoreboard. By simply comparing the difference between a team’s goals-for percentage and its expected goals-for percentage, we can see whether a team has had luck on its side.
Calgary, Carolina, Washington and Florida have outperformed their expected goals by quite a bit. And of the four, the Flames are the only surprise. Carolina, Washington and Florida are teams you’d expect to see here, but I can guarantee nobody had Calgary scoring 70 percent of the five-on-five goals through its first 20 games. The Flames’ goaltenders are a big reason behind their success, as Jacob Markstrom has been great and Daniel Vladar has been good. Together, they have been saving the team almost a goal above expected for every 60 minutes played, while the offense is only slightly outperforming expectations. In other words, as much as I like the Flames and think they’re a good team, I also think they’re relying far too much on their goaltenders. This team is likely to keep rattling off wins, but pick your spots wisely because the price will continue to climb. I’m finding it hard to find value on the Flames on a day-to-day basis, and I have them rated as a Top 10 team.
In the middle, we have a mix of teams that might not stand out at first. But if you’ve followed hockey closely the last few seasons, the recent success some teams have experienced might throw you for a loop. For example, the Ducks and Kings have outperformed expectations, but if you knew anything about their farm systems, you knew there was a chance that some young players could break out. And they have. Alternatively, someone who is just tuning in may be a bit surprised to see teams like the Avalanche, Lightning and Islanders struggling to keep up with expectations. However, all three teams have faced a lot of adversity this season. The Islanders started with 13 games on the road and returned home only to be hit by the virus, while the Lightning and Avalanche have dealt with injuries to some of their best players.
At the bottom are definitely some surprises. For instance, I’m sure you didn’t expect to see the Maple Leafs underperforming expectations. After all, they’ve received great goaltending from Jack Campbell, and they’re known for their explosive offense. However, at five-on-five, the Maple Leafs have been scoring less than two goals per 60 minutes despite generating almost three expected goals per game. I didn’t like what I saw from the Maple Leafs early in the season, but they’ve cleaned up a lot of the inconsistencies in their game and I’m starting to buy in. I don’t expect to see the Bruins stay where they are for long, either, but I don’t think they have enough offensive skill. I’m going to give some of their secondary scorers a little more time, but the top forward line is carrying them, and that needs to change.