The 2014-15 season brought us a handful of surprising breakouts from some unexpected candidates. The Flames appeared to accelerate all the way through their rebuild and overcame terrible underlying metrics to make it all the way to the second round of the playoffs, the Islanders finally pulled it together after years in the league’s basement, and the Predators exploded into one of the juggernauts of the Western Conference.
This season, many expected breakouts to come from the Oilers or Sabres thanks to the additions of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel at the draft in June, but the Panthers and Coyotes have been the ones turning heads so far. Is this legitimate, or are we just looking at a couple of unsustainable, hot starts?
The Coyotes are off to an unexpectedly good start thanks to really strong play from young forwards like Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, and Tobias Rieder. Of course, after the way their season went last year, pretty much everybody in the hockey world expected them to be tanking out for Auston Matthews, but the team actually looks a lot better than expected.
Thanks to a PDO of 109.8, the Coyotes are dominating in terms of goals scored at even strength. They boast an even strength shooting and save percentage of 12.6 and 97.4, which they’ve carried to a 72.2 goals for percentage even though their Corsi For percentage of 46.7 is bottom five in the league. It’s pretty obvious when looking at their underlying numbers that this isn’t going to sustain itself, but there’s certainly a lot to be excited about with this team.
Veterans like Boyd Gordon, Antoine Vermette, and Steve Downie have been doing an admirable job at taking difficult defensive assignments, allowing the Coyotes’ young forward core to thrive in an offensive role. As a result, Rider, Duclair, and Domi are each sitting towards the top of the league in even strength point production. Obviously they aren’t going to finish the season at the top of the league in scoring, but this is a great sign for a young team who came into the season with virtually zero expectations.
Verdict: They won’t keep it up.
Unlike the Coyotes, the Panthers came into the season with slightly higher expectations for success. While nobody was pegging them as a contender, after a pretty successful season last year, it looked like the Panthers were ready to make a push for a playoff spot. So far this season, they’ve enjoyed a decent amount of success, and also unlike the Coyotes, it appears to be a little more likely to be sustained.
They’re right in the middle of the pack with a 50.0 even strength Corsi For percentage, and while their PDO isn’t going to remain at 104.1 all season, they’re riding hot goaltending rather than a ridiculous shooting percentage. Through six games, Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya have been fantastic, allowing just six goals at even strength, and combining for a 95.9 save percentage. Their offence has been fairly well balanced, but the line of Barkov, Jagr, and Huberdeau, who have combined for seven goals and eight assists, are leading the way. The most impressive thing about this line, though, is the fact they’ve managed to post the three highest Corsi For percentages on the Panthers among forwards despite making heavy shift starts in the defensive zone.
Obviously the goaltending isn’t going to be sustained, even though Luongo and Montoya are a solid tandem in net because there’s just now way they’re going to go through the year with a 95.9 save percentage. That being said, strong underlying metrics from players up and down their roster make them an interesting team to watch this season.
Verdict: They’ll make a push for the playoffs.
STATS COURTESY OF WAR ON ICE