Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. This week, two new teams joined the ranks of the underest of underdogs.
This week, two teams managed to escape the clutches of the cellar, if only temporarily. Both the New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks have won 6 of their last 10 games and have managed to move into 13th in their respective conferences. In their place, we welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning and Edmonton Oilers to Bottoms Up.
The Ducks have picked up points in 7 straight games: only 27 wins in 37 games to go! The return of Jason Blake to the lineup has helped balance their scoring, as he has 8 points in 8 games since returning. Teemu Selanne has 8 points in the 7-game streak, while Corey Perry has 7 goals in his last 8 games.
More importantly, the Ducks are giving up fewer goals against. They have given up more than 2 goals against just once during the streak, when rookie goaltender Iiro Tarkki gave up three goals in relief of an injured Jonas Hiller. Fortunately, that game was against the Columbus Blue Jackets, so the Ducks were able to score 7 goals on Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford for the win.
As for the Islanders, it’s been all John Tavares, all the time. The Islanders star is currently on an incredible 11-game point streak, with 19 points in that time. His success has driven the success of the top line, as Matt Moulson has 15 points in his last 10 games and is on a 6-game point streak, while PA Parenteau has 9 points in his last 7 games.
The problem with the Islanders is depth scoring, and while Kyle Okposo has 6 points in his last 6 games, Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen have been inconsistent offensively. After the second line and Mark Streit, the scoring drops off a cliff. If the Islanders want to continue their winning ways, they’ll need to find a way to get more secondary scoring. Otherwise, when Tavares falters, the Islanders will too.
The success of the Ducks and Islanders means we have two newcomers to the Eastern and Western Conference basements. Each are a bit surprising in their own ways.
The Tampa Bay Lightning shocked* the league last season, as the hiring of Steve Yzerman as GM and Guy Boucher as head coach paid immediate dividends. After three years of missing the playoffs, the Lightning rode strong seasons from Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis to a fifth place finish in the Eastern Conference. Indeed, they had an identical 46-25-11 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins and took the Bruins to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Everything looked set for the Lightning to compete for top spot in the Southeast Division. Instead, their goaltending fell apart.
Yzerman picked up the hoary Dwayne Roloson at the trade deadline last season and he was solid for the Lightning down the stretch, putting up a .912 SV% and a 2.56 GAA. Compare that to the tandem of Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, who had .889 and .899 SV% respectively. Roloson was a marked improvement and was even better in the playoffs, posting a .924 SV% and 2.51 GAA and giving up just one goal in the deciding game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lightning were hoping to get one more good season out of Roloson at the age of 42 before finding a more permanent solution in goal and brought in veteran Mathieu Garon as insurance. Together they have been the worst goaltending duo in the NHL.
Among eligible goaltenders, Roloson currently has the worst save percentage and goals against average in the league at .880 and 3.68. Garon has been better, but not by much. His .901 SV% and 2.95 GAA are both ranked 37th out of 45 eligible goaltenders. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Lightning allow the most goals in the NHL.
As for the Oilers, they came out of the gate on fire: after one month they had a 9-3-2 record and were leading the Northwest Division. That’s when thing went off the rails. The Oilers have won just 8 games since November 8th but have lost 22.
Part of the problem has been injuries, as the Oilers have lost Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky, and Taylor Hall at different points in the season, but the main issue is that they were never as good as their record indicated. While the Oilers have a wealth of young forwards, they have a complete lack of quality defencemen to move the puck up to those forwards.
The only team that takes fewer shots per game than the Oilers is the Anaheim Ducks. Without a solid group of defencemen who can transition the puck from the defensive to the offensive zone, the Oilers’ offence will suffer. They had a chance to pick up a potential franchise defenceman, which they desperately need, in the last draft, but decided to go with Nugent-Hopkins over Adam Larsson.
The problem is that they have a number of young, talented forwards who they rushed into the lineup. The Oilers claim they’re rebuilding, but they are wasting the entry-level contracts of their young stars by pushing them into the lineup before they have all the pieces necessary to compete. A competent defence corps is one of those necessary pieces. Unfortunately, the Oilers management is under the impression that Cam Barker is a competent defenceman, so it seems unlikely things will improve.
So welcome to the basement Lightning and Oilers! There’s some Mac & Cheese in the fridge and I think there’s one clean bowl in the cupboard, so you’ll have to wash another one if you’re both hungry. One of you has the futon, the other has the couch. You can fight over it.
*This is a terrible pun and I sincerely apologize.