Ramblings: Lightning Get One Back, Scoring on the Rise & Kerfoot’s Value

by Cam Robinson on May 15, 2018
  • Hockey Rambling
  • Ramblings: Lightning Get One Back, Scoring on the Rise & Kerfoot’s Value
vasilevskiy

Andrei Vasilevskiy – USA Today Sports Images

 

 

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re all stuck with me tonight. Ian Gooding was gracious enough to switch Rambling nights. I’ll be taking the family up to a lakefront cabin for the long weekend to get some sun and relaxation. Ian will cover my usual Friday night Ramble.


 

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The Eastern Conference final shifted back to Washington on Tuesday evening. The Caps were holding a commanding 2-0 series advantage and looked full of confidence. The old saying goes that you can’t count a team out until they lose on home ice. Well, for the Lightning they were hoping to count themselves back in it by winning one on the road.


 

The lines remained the same for both squads. Nicklas Backstrom missed his fourth consecutive game with a hand injury.


 


 

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The Lightning weathered the early barrage of shots by the Caps – including a big kill when Anton Stralman boarded Tom Wilson. You'd think the league would want to take a look at this, but I doubt it results in a suspension – mostly because it was on Wilson. 

 

 

 

The Lightning were rewarded for their effort with a gorgeous power play one-timer by Stamkos with six minutes left in the opening frame.

 

 

The wheels started to come off for the home team early in the second period. Nikita Kucherov scored basically the exact same goal as Stamkos only from the right side. Another man-advantage, another tally. Less than two minutes later, Victor Hedman got his first of the post-season on a silky feed from Kucherov. That was the third point (1+2) for Hedman and Kucherov.

 

 

 

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The Capitals got back on track and started pushing the pace of play after falling behind three. Christian Djoos was out there breaking ankles with some dangles. The rookie blueliner has oodles of offensive ability. One would think that he stands to profit if John Carlson moves on this summer. However, unless the Swedish defender starts playing on the right side, he’ll be forever trapped behind Ovechkin. That spot on the left point on the top unit isn't getting altered any time soon.


 

 

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Brett Connolly got Washington on the board halfway through the second frame. But Brayden Point scored his sixth of the playoffs five minutes later to restore the three-goal lead.


 

After posting an .893 save percentage in the first two games, Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall. The Capitals poured it on for the final 20 minutes. They fired 13 shots in the third period and 38 on the night. Vasilevskiy made several five-bell stops to keep the home team from gaining too much momentum. He was a worthy first star.


 

With the net empty, Evgeni Kuznetsov tallied his ninth goal and 20th point of the postseason. However, that was as close as they would come.


 

Game four goes Thursday night in Washington where Tampa will look to steal back home-ice advantage.

 

 

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The Avalanche are a team on the rise. There’s no denying it. Colorado boasts a stable of U24s such as Nate MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, JT Compher, Samuel Girard, Tyson Jost and Alex Kerfoot.


 

The latter of that group stepped in as a rookie performer out of the NCAA and exceeded expectations. His 19 goals were fourth most on the squad and his 43 points sat fifth. The 23-year-old was as a rover on the Avs in 2017-18, seeing action across all lines and in all situations.


 


 

However, there are some red flags that fly above the Vancouver native.


 

Kerfoot managed only an Elias Pettersson playoff beard whisker above one shot-per-game (1.025). That puts his conversion rate at an unsustainable 23.5 percent – the highest such mark of any player with at least 25 games last season.


 

He wasn’t bolstered by an unusually high conversion rate with the man-advantage either. During the course of his power play time-on-ice (195:25) he scored five goals on 22 shots – 22.7 percent


 

Another cause for concern was his deployment and production as the season wore on. The final two quarters saw his ice time reduced and his counting stats dropping right along with it.


 


 

With Jost expected to take a leap forward next season, expect to see Kerfoot continue to see a reduction in opportunity and value. If he’s a player you’ve got on your roster, now might be the time to sell him to another GM.


 

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Stuart Skinner signed an entry-level contract with the Oilers on Tuesday. The 2017 third-round selection (78th) has been lights out for Swift Current this season. He’s led the Broncos to a spot in the Memorial Cup after totalling six shutouts and a .932 save percentage in 26 post-season games. He even managed to outplay three-time WHL Goaltender of the Year, Carter Hart in the WHL finals.


 

The 6’4 netminder is trending very nicely as a potential starter for the Oilers down the line. Due to his 1998 birthdate, he’ll be eligible to head to the AHL next fall.


 

**


 

This season bore witness to an increase in scoring across the board. It wasn’t thanks to the addition of a powerhouse expansion team either. This was a widespread pandemic that resulted in some lofty totals and satisfied fantasy hockey GMs.


 

What was the cause of these increases and can we expect them to continue moving forward?


 

As Mike mentioned last night, the league saw its highest average shot totals in nearly five decades. That alone will be responsible for an uptick in conversion rates but doesn’t paint the whole picture.


 

Teams averaged 2.97 goals per game this past season. That’s the highest mark since 2005-06 and the second highest mark since 1995-96. Teams were scoring goals at a rate we haven’t’ seen since the conclusion of the 2004 lockout. Back when the referees were mandated to call penalties with consistency – something we haven’t seen since.


 

However, 2017-18 saw an average of 3.04 power-plays-per-contest. That falls pretty well in line with what we’ve seen the last four seasons. Yet it remains nearly three fewer man-advantages opportunities per game than we saw in that 2005-06 campaign.

 

 

Year                 PPO

2017-18

3.04

2016-17

2.99

2015-16

3.11

2014-15

3.06

2013-14

3.27

2012-13

3.32

2011-12

3.31

2010-11

3.54

2009-10

3.71

2008-09

4.16

2007-08

4.28

2006-07

4.85

2005-06

5.85

 

The league wasn’t punishing players for stick infractions like they had in years’ past. Yet, what the teams were doing with their man-advantage opportunities was the difference. Despite the second-fewest power-play opportunities since the league began tracking it in 1963-64, the average conversion rate (20.18%) was the highest mark since 1989-90.


 

 

As math would indicate, the average penalty killing rate in 2017-18 (79.82%) was the lowest mark we’ve seen since that 1989-90 campaign as well. Have teams forgotten how to defend down a man? Has there been a revelation in power-play strategy?


 

Unlikely for both.


 


 

What we’re likely seeing is the product of an increase in speed and skill-level throughout the league. More opportunities are being afforded to players who traditionally were cast aside due to a deficiency. Size being the most prevalent reason.


 

Additionally, teams are employing four-forward power play units with more regularity. A focus has been made on east-west puck movement. That has created more efficient cross-ice feeds, a higher number of quality chances and, of course, more goals.


 

It would be imprudent to expect to see 2018-19 replicate the 20-plus 80-point scorers, near a dozen 90-plus point producers and a fistful into the century club. But the notion that this leap in scoring rates is a one-off is just as unlikely. Unless we see an even further downtick in man-advantage opportunities, or a return to the clutch-and-grab trap days of old, the high production metrics should become the new norm.


 

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That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3

 

 

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