Every year some teams defy the odds and find their way to the top of the standings out of nowhere. This year several teams have come out of nowhere. Some, like the Montreal Canadiens, are doing it without smoke and mirrors. Others, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild, and Anaheim Ducks, are bound to come back to earth relatively soon.
The Minnesota Wild of last season fit into the same category. The Colorado Avalanche and your Dallas Stars of the previous year fell victim to the same statistical reality. When you get outshot consistently at even strength in the NHL chances are good that you aren't a particularly good hockey team. This same logic was also used as the statistical community en masse picked the 8th seed Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup last year.
What I'm referring to is known as Fenwick Close. Fenwick percentage is the percentage of a teams shots directed at the net as compared to shots allowed. It's similar to Corsi, except it doesn't include blocked shots. Close refers to when a game is close. Score effects impact the data when the game isn't close as the trailing team gets riskier to generate offense. So, Fenwick Close is shot differential when the game is close. Teams that struggle with this metric historically come crashing to earth.
The bottom eight this season:
The Wild are over performing a touch, but not egregiously. The Leafs are destined to come back to earth, but being in the Eastern Conference in this crazy lockout shortened season I've barely seen them play. I have seen the Ducks play. The fact that the Ducks are 24th in Fenwick Close doesn't really come as much of a surprise. They're average in shot prevention, but only three teams in the league generate fewer shots for.
When looking at the Ducks, one has to wonder how they score goals. They do generate the most shots on goal per 60 minutes in the league on the powerplay, but they have the least 5v4 powerplay time in the league at 100.3 minutes. Despite the highly effective powerplay it hasn't really helped the Ducks as much as you would think given how little they've been on the ice.
Another easily accessible place to look for an answer to how the Ducks are scoring is in the PDOs of their forward skaters. PDO is a pretty simple concept. It's shooting percentage for the team with a player on the ice plus save percentage of the team with the player on the ice. Ultimately there are only two outcomes for a shot. It can either go in or not. So, optimally, PDO should be 1.000. Players who creep above 1.000 are, over time, going to come back to equilibrium. They've, for lack of a better term, gotten lucky.
Below you will find the on ice shooting percentage, on ice save percentage, and PDO of every Ducks player this season who has played in at least ten games:
Every single Ducks skater is benefiting from some level of luck, and some are seeing significantly higher boosts than you would normally expect. The luck REALLY adds up when all of the players you count on for prime defensive minutes (Souray, Beauchemin, Winnik, Koivu, and Cogliano) lead your team in PDO.
When the Ducks crash, and they likely will, it's going to be a train wreck because when they crash it will be because their checking line starts bleeding the goals they should have been giving up all along. Given how short the season is the chances of the Ducks tanking completely seem slim, but there is still plenty of time for them to fall back to the pack where they belong.
I hope my tone was sufficiently bitter. Good riddance to the Pacific Division.