By Neal Lyons
With the 2020 playoffs now looking all but certain to get underway in a couple of weeks, qualifying teams will be dealing with nearly four months between meaningful games. It makes it extremely difficult to forecast how the teams will perform when they return to play. The shutdown has been as long as a typical offseason. So, what if we compared the best starts to this season?
It isn’t going to be a reliable prognostication in the least, but it does examine how teams performed coming off their most recent break of around four months, or more. There is a good chance that the eventual Stanley Cup champion will be the team with the least amount of rust. The data used is also very favourable to the Bruins, so why not?!
We will be examining the first eight teams to 16 wins. This works out nicely because it gives us four from each conference. The Bruins, Islanders, Capitals, and Hurricanes in the East. The Oilers, Jets, Blues, and Avalanche in the West. Of course, 16 wins is key because that’s how many it takes to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug.
Boston got their 16th win in their 24th game (16-3-5), so, to compare team stats, we will use each team’s first 24 games. Records will be to 16 wins, but we needed to use an equal amount of games across the board to make fair comparisons for things like goals for and against.
The most efficient team to 16 wins were the New York Islanders. They accomplished the feat by going 16-3-1 in their first 20 games. Washington was second at 23 games, followed closely by the Bruins at 24.
16-3-1 (20 GP) New York Islanders
16-3-4 (23 GP) Washington Capitals
16-3-5 (24 GP) Boston Bruins
16-7-3 (26 GP) Edmonton Oilers
16-8-2 (26 GP) Colorado Avalanche
16-9-1 (26 GP) Winnipeg Jets
16-5-6 (27 GP) St. Louis Blues
16-10-1 (27 GP) Carolina Hurricanes
It should be noted that half of Boston’s eight losses came via the shootout. They were 0-4. No other team, except St. Louis, had a losing shootout record. The Blues were 0-2. In fact, beyond the Bruins, Blues, and Colorado (0-0), every other team’s record benefitted from it. It’s likely no coincidence that the only two teams who reached 16 wins faster than Boston (New York & Washington), were also the two teams with the best shootout records. Thankfully, there are no shootouts in the playoffs.
Shootout Records Through 16 Wins
3-1 Washington Capitals
2-0 New York Islanders
2-1 Edmonton Oilers
2-1 Winnipeg Jets
1-0 Carolina Hurricanes
0-0 Colorado Avalanche
0-2 St. Louis Blues
0-4 Boston Bruins
When it comes to goal differential, the Bruins led all teams at +30, which was nearly double the next best team (Washington at +17). Sticking out like a sore thumb is Winnipeg, who got off to a great start while rocking a -5 differential. The only team on the list, in the red.
+30 Boston Bruins
+17 Washington Capitals
+15 Colorado Avalanche
+15 Carolina Hurricanes
+13 New York Islanders
+9 Edmonton Oilers
+6 St. Louis Blues
-5 Winnipeg Jets
It goes without saying that a dominant differential would be reflected in goals for and against totals. And, they are. The Bruins scored a whopping 91 goals in their first 24 games, to lead the list, followed closely by Washington at 90, and then Colorado at 85.
91 Boston Bruins
90 Washington Capitals
85 Colorado Avalanche
83 Carolina Hurricanes
77 Edmonton Oilers
72 St. Louis Blues
71 New York Islanders
68 Winnipeg Jets
Goals against were a strength, as well. You will see that the Isles rode some hot goaltending early on, but, even still, Boston slots in closely behind them. Winnipeg continues to defy logic. A strong start supported by less than stellar numbers.
58 New York Islanders
61 Boston Bruins
66 St. Louis Blues
68 Edmonton Oilers
68 Carolina Hurricanes
70 Colorado Avalanche
73 Washington Capitals
73 Winnipeg Jets
Considering the information above, it wouldn’t be a massive reach to proclaim that the Bruins were the best team out of the gate this year. The only real argument would come from the Islanders, and it’s a valid one, but while Boston may have taken four more tries to reach 16 wins, they did so while displaying an extremely well-rounded game, with few (if any) weaknesses. The Isles scored 20 fewer goals than Boston, and their shootout success boosted their record.
Taking a closer look at each team’s schedule, Boston did hit a rough patch in early November. They lost five out of six games between November 5th & 16th, which included a four-game losing streak. However, three losses were in the shootout, and they also lost the second game of back to back during that time. Something else teams shouldn’t have to worry about in the playoffs but, even if they do under the Return to Play format, there will be no travel, which will affect both teams mutually.
Cold streaks were not uncommon for the other six teams, either. Washington and St. Louis started their seasons with 3-4 records. Do that in the playoffs, and they’re headed home after round one.
Edmonton had a 1-4 stretch in late October. Colorado lost six of seven, from October 21st to November 5th, which included a five-game losing streak. Keep in mind that they did play two sets of back to backs during that period.
Carolina was either fire hot, or ice cold, through the first month and a bit of the season. They won their first five games and then lost four of the following five, won the next three, and then lost four straight. Again, some benefit is owed, due to encountering three back to backs during those two cold streaks.
And then there’s Winnipeg, once again defying all logic. Sure, they scored the least goals of any of the eight teams. Yes, they also gave up the most and were the only ones with a negative differential. But, they played perhaps the most consistent hockey of the group. Aside from a three-game losing streak, between October 13-17th – which came during a four games in six nights stretch – the Jets never lost two straight at any other point on their journey to 16 wins. It’s the kind of consistency a team is looking for during the playoffs.
So, what does this all mean? Likely nothing but, if there’s anything we’ve come to expect from this Bruins team, they’re rarely unprepared. Boasting a healthy culture, supported by a strong leadership core, there is no reason to believe they won’t come out of the gate, firing on all cylinders and, if they can repeat what they did back in October, fans could be in for another deep and exciting run.