Visualising team scoring in the NHL so far in the 2021 season

It has now been just a little over a month since the NHL kicked off its 2020-21 season, and it’s been a crazy one to say the least. Most teams that haven’t had major delays due to COVID-19 protocols have now reached or passed their quarter-season mark of 14 games played, while other teams with postponements are slowly approaching the same threshold.

Overall, this season makes for one where team and player evaluations will be more difficult to assess given the four separate divisions, the unique home and away series, and obviously the ongoing pandemic affecting usual league play. As it stands, the league is well into its plan of completing the regular season, and fingers remain crossed that nothing too drastic comes out of it. But let’s not kid ourselves, this season has been anything but regular so far.

It’ll be a mighty task to decipher how teams view themselves in the chase for the Stanley Cup. It’s guaranteed that some teams will overreact to how this season pans out and make too much work out of nothing, while others might shrug it off as a pandemic season and do too little to address glaring issues.

In the meantime, we can at least take the happenings of the league at face value, and breakdown how teams have fared in terms of overall offence in terms of getting on the scoresheet. To do so, we’ll look at the NHL Point Share Shells, a data visualisation that helps compare how teams get goals and assists — whether they’re top heavy with elite scoring from a few players or if they’ve spread their offensive depth out and score by committee.

Related: Check out the presentation from the Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey Analytics Conference to see the thought process that went behind creating the Point Share Shells.

NHL Point Share Shells

The shells are meant to give an intuitive way to compare scoring depth across all NHL teams at the team level. We’re not interested in the acute details of knowing where players with x number of points compare to other players with y number of points. The shells instead reveal which teams are scoring often and which teams are struggling, and they also provide depth context for each and every team.

For the visualisation, the data includes all games up until the end of February 13, 2021, to mark one full month of the NHL being back in action. Given how things are going schedule-wise for the NHL, the disparity of games played between teams might last all the way through until the end of the season, so sticking to the calendar for cutoffs at least allows for a some form of consistency.

Let’s see the shells look so far. Click on the image to see the full size.

Early observations

The league is about as far from equilibrium as it can be right now. After one calendar month, the Vancouver Canucks have played a whopping 18 games, making them the busiest team in the league. On the other end of the spectrum, the New Jersey Devils have played just nine games after having most of their team placed on the COVID protocol list and a long string of games postponed—their last game was on January 31.

When looking at the Point Share Shells, it’s better viewed and interpreted as a snapshot of the NHL as it currently stands. So far, only the North Division has escaped any postponements, while the other three divisions have had to revise their schedules already.

While this does inflate point totals for North Division teams, it is worth noting that the North Division really is seeing high-octane, high-scoring hockey even without the influence of the schedule. So let’s see what can be said of the NHL one month in.

Notes on the observations

Before jumping out with finger pointing at incorrect stats in the points below, please remember that all observations were made with the cutoff date of February 13, 2021. Of course, more games have been played since then, and some observations are no longer accurate. This is just how the NHL looked, one calendar month into the season. Again, with all the discrepancies between teams, only the final comparisons once all teams hit 56 games played will bear more comparable observations.

Further, four players and their scoring contributions were not included in the visualisation due to a labelling error I made when getting the data. They are the four that have been traded midseason and have suited up in games for both their former and current teams. This will be fixed in future iterations of the visualisation!

  • Patrik Laine had 3 points with the Jets and 5 points with the Blue Jackets.
  • Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 1 goal with the Blue Jackets and 0 points with the Jets.
  • Greg Pateryn scored 2 points with the Wild and 0 points with the Avalanche.
  • Ian Cole scored 0 points with the Avalanche and 1 point with the Wild.

North Division

  • Five of the top seven teams are all in the North Division, as the Leafs, Oilers, Jets, Canadiens, and Canucks all surpassed the 130 total points threshold.
  • The tandem of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are doing McDavid and Draisaitl things, not much has changed for them, season after season. They’re leading the league in points and at this rate, chances are it’ll be a close race between them for the Art Ross Trophy with the third place scorer chasing from afar.
  • The Leafs and Oilers are tied in total points, but the Leafs have more balanced scoring with the four of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander splitting scoring duties, while the Oilers are much more top heavy with the aforementioned duo.
  • The Canadiens are enjoying high offence from Jeff Petry and Tyler Toffoli, especially with Toffoli absolutely feasting on his former team and giving the Habs a 4-0-1 season series record so far against the Canucks. Nick Suzuki is getting on the scoreboard often too, alongside Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin. They’re also getting depth scoring with a handful of players rapidly approaching double digit point totals, which makes them all the more dangerous in the North.
  • Only the Canucks and Jets have five players with at least twelve points, no other team in the league has more than four. One month in, these two teams incredibly have identical point shares in their top five scorers: Quinn Hughes and Mark Scheifele both have 18 points, Brock Boeser and Nikolaj Ehlers with 16 apiece, Kyle Connor and J.T. Miller have put up 13 points, and all four of Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson, Blake Wheeler, and Andrew Copp have 12 points each.
  • The Flames and Senators are the two less offensive North Division teams so far with the latter lagging much further behind. The Flames are relying heavily on Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm for top-end scoring. In contrast, the Senators are scoring more by committee with Brady Tkachuk leading the team with nine points while ten other Senators have at least six points each.

West Division

  • The Blues lead their division with 11 more goals scored than the next best offensive team, the largest margin in any division. They’re getting solid scoring from their best players, with depth players chipping in as well.
  • The Golden Knights and Kings both have a single team-leading player in Mark Stone and Anze Kopitar respectively, who both lead their teams by five points.
  • Between the Avalanche and Coyotes, they have a similar point total, but there’s a distinct difference in their shell shapes, with the Coyotes having more scoring from their top players, which includes Conor Garland, Christian Dvorak, and Nick Schmaltz. On the other hand, Colorado’s led by Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, but have scoring depth too, as six other players have at least eight points.
  • The Sharks aren’t faring too well, as they only have two double digit scorers in Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl. Notably, both Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson are scoring at uncharacteristically low paces and the Sharks should hope that they’ll turn their game around.
  • Both the Ducks and the Wild find themselves virtually at the bottom of the league in terms of scoring, with the former scoring at a paltry pace of two goals a game. The Ducks are led by Max Comtois, who has eight points in 15 games played and is followed by four other players with six points each. The Wild are also getting good performances out of their youth, with the trio of their youngest players Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek, and Kirill Kaprizov leading the team.

Central Division

East Division

  • The Flyers have the most points among their players in the East, but are behind the Bruins in the standings as the Bruins have a bit less firepower up front, but far superior goaltending results. James van Riemsdyk is well ahead on the Flyers with 18 points, but Joel Farabee, Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, and Kevin Hayes all immediately provide high scoring support. They’re also getting scoring from other players too, making them one of the better rounded teams with depth scoring.
  • The Bruins are getting a one-two punch of reliable scoring from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. With David Pastrnak missing the start of the season recovering from injury, he’s already tied for fourth in team scoring with ten points in seven games. Charlie McAvoy, David Krejci, and Nick Ritchie round out Boston’s top six scorers, but they’re getting fairly limited scoring from everyone else.
  • Between the Capitals and Penguins rivalry, the Capitals are enjoying solid offence from Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson leading the way. On the Penguins, Sidney Crosby and Bryan Rust lead the team with 10 points apiece, scoring at a slower pace than their counterparts.
  • The Islanders are right up there in the East standings, but have putrid scoring coupled with excellent goaltending. Mathew Barzal leads the team with 14 points, Eberle follows with nine, and Anders Lee and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each have seven. Not exactly the scoring pace you want to see from the top scorers.
  • The Rangers are stumbling out of the gates, and aside from Artemi Panarin and his 15 points, all other skaters have struggled. Pavel Buchnevich and Adam Fox round out the top three scorers for the Rangers, but they have just eight and seven points, respectively.
  • Lastly, the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils are both two teams that haven’t played many games due to postponements. The Sabres were getting good scoring contributions from Jack Eichel, Victor Olafsson, and Taylor Hall and stand to benefit once other skaters start to get their offence going. Similarly, the Devils have a trio leading the team with Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, and Miles Wood all have eight points a piece. Both teams have uphill battles, but they’re still very much in the the playoff conversation against all odds. With their games in hand, stringing a few wins together is all it takes to pull back into the race.

Shelling out the points

With such a small sample size of games, many of the early observations will likely not hold true by the time the season is half over. The nature of this season of hockey makes for intriguing storylines, as nothing matters between divisions. Every team needs to have laser focus on the task at hand as all regulation games are four-point swings in each division.

This season has countless reasons and factors that make it indescribably unique. Future analysis on the four separate divisions will likely lead to new insights on player and team evaluation. Determining how to compare teams and players across divisions will be interesting, especially with the set of unique adjustments required for this season’s lack of interdivisional play.

In playing out an abbreviated season with its current format, who knows what will happen in terms of teams feasting upon one another after getting all too familiar with each other. This year will definitely change some stats distributions, but at least there’s hockey. The simplest thing to do is to embrace the chaos. With a hockey season this, it might just be the whole point.

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