NHL: Over/Under – Five Overperforming Teams

OVERACHIEVER: The overperforming Craig Anderson has been the backstop to an overperforming Senators team this season

BY JEFF ANGUS

Yesterday, we took a look at five NHL teams underperforming relative to talent/expectations – Washington, Detroit, St. Louis, New York Rangers, and the Stanley Cup champs from Los Angeles.

Today, we will do the same type of analysis, but on five NHL teams that are overperforming relative to talent/expectations.

Anaheim Ducks (9-2-1, 2nd overall in the NHL)
Anaheim Ducks to Win Stanley Cup +1700
Unless a friend or family member of yours plays for the Ducks, I doubt you would have expected them to be second overall in the entire league a month into the season. And if you did, you probably would think they would be there with scoring from Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, and stellar goaltending from starter Jonas Hiller.

The Ducks are getting scoring, but from a number of players. Their typically top-heavy offense has been spread out through two or three lines. And they are also getting stellar goaltending, but not from Hiller, the  30-year-old rookie Viktor Fasth has been rock solid in his first few weeks in the NHL, giving Anaheim a chance to win every game he has suited up for. In fact, he was won every start, compiling a 6-0-0 record to go along with a 1.74 GAA and a .933 save percentage. Hiller is now in a position where he has to win his starting job back.

Up front and on defense, the veterans are getting it done. Free agent signing Sheldon Souray has been hammering home pucks like he used to in Montreal, and Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are proving that age really is just a number. Can the Ducks sustain their quick start? Maybe, maybe not. But they aren’t entirely a flash in the pan – Bruce Boudreau has them completely bought in and playing as a team, which isn’t easy to do with no preseason and such a short training camp.

Toronto Maple Leafs (8-5-0, 8th overall in the NHL)
Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes (-162, 5.5)
The Leafs will really be tested over the next few weeks with James Reimer on the shelf. Reimer has been far and away the MVP for Toronto through the first month of the season. His hard work during the summer and lockout has paid off – he looks calmer and more athletic between the pipes than he has in previous years. Ben Scrivens will attempt to hold down the fort in his absence and has played relatively well this season, but Reimer was playing at a much higher level.

Up front, Toronto survived a Phil Kessel scoring slump to start the season thanks in large part to the surprisingly dominant play from a pair of young forwards – Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin. Frattin will miss the next week or two with a minor knee injury, and the Leafs won’t be able to replace his energy on the forecheck. Kadri and Frattin were supplying the bulk of the secondary scoring in Toronto, and they were creating more scoring chances together than any other pair of Leafs forwards.

And offseason acquisition James van Riemsdyk is living up to the hype that usually comes with being a 2nd overall draft selection. He leads Toronto in goals with eight, and his size and strength have been a perfect complement to the speed and skill of Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel up front.

Nashville Predators (6-3-4, 10th overall in the NHL)
Phoenix Coyotes at Nashville Predators (-150, 5)
No Ryan Suter, no problem (but don’t tell that to Shea Weber, who has only one assist through 13 games). There is really only one reason why the Predators have gotten off to a respectable start this season – Pekka Rinne. Their leading scorer has eight points in 13 games, and they have only seven players with more than one goal on the season. Rinne is proving why he should be an MVP/Vezina candidate every season – his record at 5-3-3 is far from spectacular, but the rest of his numbers are.

Rinne has a GAA of 1.75, and a save percentage of .934. He is the only hope for a playoff berth in Nashville this season, and so far so good.

Ottawa Senators (7-5-2, 11th overall in the NHL)
Ottawa Senators to Win Eastern Conference +2100
Ottawa’s freefall down the standings will begin about… now. The club weathered losing Jason Spezza (likely done for the season with back surgery), but losing Erik Karlsson will be the final nail in the coffin for the Senators. Karlsson is arguably the most dynamic player in hockey (not just defenseman, but all players). He creates so much offensively for Ottawa, and his defensive game is underrated because of it.

Craig Anderson’s MVP-calibre start to the season shouldn’t be overlooked, as he is the main reason that the Senators find themselves in playoff contention right now. His numbers are so good even Rinne and Fasth are jealous – a 1.58 GAA and a sizzling .949 save percentage.

Among Senators skaters, Karlsson led the team in goals, plus/minus, and his 63 shots on goal are almost double any other Senator (Chris Neil is in second with 34 shots on goal). As I said above, Karlsson is an irreplaceable player, even with Ottawa’s impressive collection of young defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens (7-4-1, 13th overall in the NHL)
Montreal Canadiens at Florida Panthers (+100, 5)
Montreal wasn’t expected to make much noise in the Eastern Conference this season. Sure, they have arguably the best goaltender in the Conference, and entire NHL for that matter, in Carey Price, but their forward group wasn’t all that impressive on paper. The defense was without young star PK Subban to start the season, but they didn’t miss him all that much, thanks to the stellar play (especially offensively) of Andrei Markov.

Markov has battled a number of knee injuries in recent years, and his smooth transition back to his spot as Montreal’s number one defenseman has been impressive to say the very least. The hard-shooting Russian has four goals and 10 points in 12 games, and he is logging 25 minutes per contest. So much for bringing him back slowly.

Markov definitely has not lost his bomb of a point shot:

Montreal’s balance on the back end is much better with Subban’s return – the club can now split up Subban, Markov, and the always-steady Josh Gorges on three pairings.

I still question the offense a bit, but so far they have found a way to get it done. Rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk have been very impressive and have brought a lot of energy into the Montreal lineup. The Habs would still love to add another big top six goal scorer, but so would 29 other NHL teams.

If they can continue to receive timely scoring from the back end, as well as stellar goaltending from Price, Montreal could sneak into the playoffs as one of the final seeds.