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NHL quarter-mark analytical takeaways: Surprises, letdowns to watch

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American Thanksgiving serves more purpose than just a day off from hockey in the NHL. For many, it’s an important benchmark in the season.

Not only does it usually represent about the quarter-mark into the season, but a high percentage of teams that are in a playoff spot at American Thanksgiving end up qualifying for the post-season.

So given the implications of this holiday, along with the fact that we finally have a decent sample of games to analyze, let’s talk about what we’ve seen so far in 2021-22.

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What’s surprised us…

The Young Ducks

Before the season started, Anaheim was expected to be closer to the bottom of the Pacific Division. With Thanksgiving approaching, they’re third in the division (by a slim margin, Vegas is only one point behind, but more on that later).

A lot of credit goes to some of their Ducklings, primarily Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry. These two generally don’t play together at 5-on-5, which helps spread out scoring threats in the top-six.

So far, Terry has exceeded his expected goal total and he probably won’t shoot 27 per cent forever. But what’s contributing to his success is a high shot rate relative to his teammates at 5-on-5 and driving to the slot. His mainstay centre’s passing (Ryan Getzlaf) has helped Terry’s shooting, but they aren’t too predictable with Terry only taking shots. The winger’s passing the puck at a high rate too at 5-on-5, which is showing on the scoresheet as well.

Then on the second line, there’s Zegras. We already know the Ducks’ forward is one of the best puck-movers in the league. He frequently tries to carry the puck right into the offensive zone to spark a play. Once in the zone, Zegras is one of the team’s leading passers, often setting up plays off the rush, east-west shot assists that cross the centre line up from the blue paint to the blue line, and passes to the dangerous slot area. Plus, his shot isn’t too shabby either. Zegras is a dual threat, and he’s just getting started. So even if the Ducks start to trend in the wrong direction and can’t maintain this start, the future is still bright.

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Goalie Bounce Backs

A goaltender can be the great equalizer in hockey, and their play can make or break a team. Two teams high in the standings — leading both of their respective divisions with 29 points each — have to credit their netminders for contributing to their strong starts.

Frederik Andersen has been a key part of the 14-2-1 Hurricanes’ success. Some teams were rightfully hesitant to sign the former Leafs netminder in free agency based on his play declining in recent seasons. But so far, he’s rewarding the Hurricanes for giving him a chance to rebound. He doesn’t face a high rate of shots against, nor is he often being peppered from the slot. But he’s stopped 94 per cent of the shots he has faced in all situations and has allowed almost 15 goals fewer than expected on those shots on goal.

Sergei Bobrovsky’s rebound has helped the 13-2-3 Panthers get this far, too. Kicking off the third year of a seven year, $10 million contract, he didn’t quite have the same flexibility to find a fresh start like Andersen with the Hurricanes. While Chris Driedger leaving in the expansion draft lessened Bobrovsky’s competition, Spencer Knight’s full time presence with the team put even more pressure on the veteran goalie to have a strong season, or risk being outplayed for the starter’s net.

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Bobrovsky doesn’t have the toughest of workloads either thanks to a strong team in front of the blue paint. His shot rate against in all situations is just below average, as are the rate of shots from the slot area just in front of the crease. But importantly for the team is how he’s responded to that workload. Bobrovsky’s stopped 94 per cent of the shots he’s faced, and he’s saved about 11 goals above expected.

What’s disappointed us…

Seattle Goaltending

With the good, we also have to take the bad. Sticking with the goaltending theme, we turn our attention to the Seattle Kraken. We know the Vegas Golden Knights set extremely high (and somewhat unreasonable) expectations for an expansion team. The Kraken obviously haven’t matched that with a 5-12-1 record that lands them second to last in the league.

At 5-on-5, the Kraken are one of the best teams at limiting shot volume against. They even keep their opponents from the slot pretty often; their rate of 17.2 slot attempts per 60 is the second lowest in the league. In theory, even though we know it can take Philipp Grubauer time to adjust to a new team, the Seattle defence should ease him (and Chris Driedger) in after playing behind one of the best teams on both ends of the ice last year in the Colorado Avalanche.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case as Grubauer has only stopped 88 per cent of the shots he’s faced at 5-on-5. On paper, the goaltending in Seattle hasn’t been as advertised. It’s possible that digging into the kinds of chances goaltenders are facing holds some weight here. There’s more to shot quality than just location. Alison Lukan of the Seattle Kraken explored some other elements that influence the danger of a shot including how shots coming off a rush are more difficult to defend and ultimately stop by the goaltender; an odd-man rush only makes it more challenging. So that could be part of the equation.

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While there’s room for improvement from the five skaters on the ice in limiting rush attempts against to ease the workload for their netminders, primarily starting goaler Grubauer, at the end of the day those rush attempts can be the key times they need saves — and they just haven’t gotten that to start their inaugural season.

Slow starts from expected contenders

Coming into the season, most had the Islanders and Golden Knights penciled into the 2022 post-season — and rightfully so. Both were contenders last year, and neither made too many major changes over the summer to set them back.

Some of their struggles have been out of their control. The Golden Knights have been bitten hard by the injury bug with Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, William Karlsson, and Shea Theodore all missing time at points this season. The Islanders, on the other hand, have had to manage without a home arena until just last week, and now are dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Managing with the depth they had was obviously tricky for Vegas. Those personnel losses pushed players to step up, and sometimes do too much which can actually have adverse effects. That may have been the case for Alex Pietrangelo in the early goings of the season.

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But the extent to which Vegas has been outplayed at 5-on-5 really departs from where this team left off last season. Not only have the Golden Knights fallen short offensively, but they’ve conceded a lot against. This season, they’ve become a bottom-10 team in shot rate against. Allowing shots against can be manageable if a team is holding their opponent to the perimeter and protecting the middle of the ice. That hasn’t been the case in Vegas to open the season, though; they’ve allowed their opponents to move right into the slot and attempt 22.2 shots against. About 37 per cent of the shots they’ve conceded have come from the slot area — and the only team to allow more inner slot shots against than the Golden Knights are the Senators.

The good news is that their play is starting to trend in the right direction as of late, below the surface. A healthy Stone obviously contributes to that, and Pacioretty could return soon too. So hope isn’t lost — as long as Vegas’ top players stay healthy, their play should start trending in the right direction.

As for the Islanders, defensive structure is the name of their game. This season, though, they’ve allowed a high rate of shot attempts against after opening the year with 13 games on the road. They have, however, blocked quite a few of those shots so a slightly lower rate have reached the net. Still, it’s a departure for them to be a bottom-10 team in shots against, let alone quality shots. At the other end of the ice, they’ve stuck to their quality over quantity strategy. And where they really rank high is getting to the slot area off the rush. But their offensive generation isn’t exceeding what they’ve allowed, and that’s really shown over the Islanders’ last string of games.

Once some of their core players return from COVID protocol and they’re actually able to deploy a fuller squad on home ice, the tide should turn. They’re not going to shoot under seven per cent at 5-on-5 forever, either. But their weaknesses started before so many players were lost to protocol. There’s legitimate work to be done, and now that they have more stability with their schedule that may help New York’s quest to climb the standings.

What we’re watching…

American Thanksgiving isn’t the perfect measurement for a team’s chances at the post-season. And this year, there are a few teams outside the current playoff bubble — including the aforementioned Islanders — that most would expect to be there. So now, the question is which of them can push their way up the standings after what could appear to be a less than ideal start on the surface.

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The Flyers injury woes, now without Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis again for some time, will make it an uphill battle. The Bruins, on the other hand, may be sixth in the Eastern Conference wild card race, but have just 15 games played. Their points percentage (.600) is more indicative of Boston’s play than their place in the standings. But there are still three strong teams to try to push out of a divisional spot ahead of the Bruins in Florida, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. There’s clearly quite a bit that can change in the Eastern Conference, so the question is what percentage of the teams currently slotted for the playoffs actually make it?

As for the West, the only team currently outside of the playoff mix who are universally expected to contend this season is Colorado. Like Boston, they’re only at 15 games on the season.

Sorting by points percentage pushes Colorado up to second in their division. The Avalanche did get off to a slower start this season, but seem to have found their footing, especially since Cale Makar returned, even while still missing Nathan MacKinnon. They should find themselves right back in playoff standing, as long as they can at least get average goaltending.

Data via Sportlogiq



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2022 St. Jude Championship leaderboard: J.J. Spaun maintains one-stroke lead heading into weekend action

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TPC Southwind is slowly drying out as fierce thunderstorms blew through the Memphis area on Tuesday. While players were able to take advantage of the soft conditions in the first round, Friday was a different story as the typically firm and fast conditions of the course began to bite back.

While the playing conditions may have changed, the man who was up to the task remained the same. Overnight leader J.J. Spaun will sleep on the lead once again, as the Texas Open winner will head into the weekend at 11 under and a one-stroke lead over Sepp Straka and Troy Merritt. Spaun backed up his scorching round of 8-under 62 to kick off the St. Jude Championship with a 3-under 67 Friday afternoon to maintain his edge over the field.

Straka was the man to climb the leaderboard in the morning hours of the second round, as he followed up an opening 6-under 64 with a second-round 66. A winner at the Honda Classic earlier this season, the former Georgia Bulldog has since struggled to find such quality and arrived in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, having missed the cut in his last six tournaments.

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Behind the three men in double-digits under par are some of the hottest players in the world. Tony Finau sits at 8 under and looks to become the first man since Dustin Johnson in 2017 to win in three straight starts. Also sitting at 8 under is the Champion Golfer of the Year Cameron Smith, who will look to avenge his 72nd-hole disappointment at TPC Southwind from a year ago.

The leader

1. J.J. Spaun (-11)

Some may believe the true lead of this tournament resides with those at 8 under, but Spaun should have some staying power on this leaderboard. Collecting his first career victory at TPC San Antonio in the spring, the Los Angeles native displayed serious resolve down the stretch and throughout his tenure on the PGA Tour.

He has gotten around TPC Southwind in a relatively stress-free fashion up to this point as well. Carding 13 birdies against just two bogeys, he has been able to limit the damage and understands when missing a fairway that par is a good score. Sitting fifth in strokes gained tee to green and fourth in strokes gained putting, it is no wonder he finds himself at the top of the leaderboard and in contention for his second trophy of the season.

Other contenders

T2. Sepp Straka, Troy Merritt (-10)

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4. Denny McCarthy (-9)

T5. Brian Harman, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith, Ryan Palmer (-8)

Technically, Finau is the defending champion, as he broke a five-year hiatus from the winner’s circle with a victory at The Northern Trust, but let’s change gears. Another player to have made headlines recently is Smith, who is rumored — to put it lightly — to be heading to the LIV Golf Series following the completion of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

The Australian has been terrific in 2022 as he dueled Jon Rahm at the Tournament of Champions, grabbed the largest purse of the season at the Players Championship and captured the Claret Jug at St. Andrews. Smith will enter the weekend as the betting favorite as he catapulted himself to the first page of the leaderboard courtesy of an eagle on the par-5 16th. Having already collected just shy of $10 million in the regular season, he has now positioned himself to potentially triple that total with a strong postseason run. 

Scheffler, McIlroy lowlight those sent packing early

Beginning the week with more than a 1,000-point edge in the FedEx Cup, Scottie Scheffler is in danger of relinquishing the top spot in the standings. In possession of the lead for more than 20 weeks, the world No. 1 may see a different number next to his name at the BMW Championship after missing the cut at TPC Southwind.

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Last season saw Collin Morikawa enter the postseason as the top man, only for him to fall to 28th by the time the Tour Championship culminated. At the very worst, Scheffler will only drop to No. 2, and he may avoid such movement as his misstep was not the only one.

Fresh off a two-week break from golf, Rory McIlroy showed considerable rust around TPC Southwind. Signing for rounds of 70-69, the man who entered the week sixth in the FedEx Cup standings ultimately missed the cut by a single stroke and will have his work cut out for him next week if he is to enter the Tour Championship within reach of the leader.

The good news for McIlroy is world No. 1 and FedEx Cup regular-season leader Scheffler is not in a position to extend his lead. With potentially a new man atop the standings, the world No. 3 can take solace in his history at East Lake, where he has raised the FedEx Cup twice before.

In total, six players inside the top 20 of the FedEx Cup standings will not be around for the weekend, as Hideki Matsuyama (No. 11), Jordan Spieth (No. 15), Tom Hoge (No. 17) and Billy Horschel (No. 18) will head to Wilmington earlier than expected.

Biggest FedEx Cup movers from Friday

Lucas Glover

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121

60

Yes

Ryan Palmer

110

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57

Yes

Troy Merritt

64

17

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Yes

Tyler Duncan

118

75

No

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Sepp Straka

35

10

Yes

James Hahn

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108

83

No

Adam Scott

77

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53

Yes

Brian Harman

55

32

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Yes

J.J. Spaun

25

2

Yes

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Lee Hodges

99

77

No

2022 St. Jude Championship updated odds and picks

  • Cameron Smith: 23/4
  • Tony Finau: 13/2
  • J.J. Spaun: 17/2
  • Troy Merritt: 10-1
  • Denny McCarthy: 14-1
  • Justin Thomas: 14-1
  • Matt Fitzpatrick: 14-1
  • Sepp Straka: 16-1
  • Will Zalatoris: 18-1
  • Sam Burns: 20-1
  • Brian Harman: 20-1

With 26 players within five strokes of the lead, this remains anyone’s ballgame with 36 holes to be played. We saw last year with Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English that TPC Southwind can be a difficult golf course to close on, as the water hazards tend to get ever so slightly bigger when the pressure is on. Factor in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and this should be ramped up a touch. Because of this, it may be prudent to search among those names at 5 under — or maybe even 4 under. 

Jon Rahm is the obvious name, as he is one of those at 4 under and listed at 40-1. Ranking seventh in strokes gained tee to green, the Spaniard has been unable to get things rolling on the greens and has a trio of three putts to his name already. The putter has been an issue all season, but it could be worth an investment. If not Rahm, Rickie Fowler is still a name which is still intriguing at 300-1. He is a long shot for a reason, but his off-the-tee numbers have been incredible and his approach statistics are negatively skewed by two iron shots that found the water on Friday. Everything else looks good in his game, and he has shown a liking for TPC Southwind in the past.

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Trayce Thompson hits three-run home run in Dodgers' 8-3 victory over Royals

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Trayce Thompson hit a three-run home run in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 8-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.



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Biggest MLB stars suspended for PEDs: Fernando Tatis Jr. joins Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, more on list

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Friday night, a shockwave was sent through the baseball world when Major League Baseball announced San Diego Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for Clostebol, a performance-enhancing drug. The 80-game suspension begins immediately. Tatis will miss the final 48 games of 2022 and the first 32 games of 2023.

“We were surprised and extremely disappointed to learn today that Fernando Tatis Jr. tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Prevention and Treatment Program and subsequently received an 80-game suspension without pay,” read a statement by the Padres. “We fully support the Program and are hopeful that Fernando will learn from this experience.”

Between the offseason motorcycle accident that broke his wrist and this PED suspension, Tatis will miss the entire season and go roughly 20 months between appearances in an MLB game when he returns next season. The 23-year-old who’s finished in the top four in the NL MVP voting twice already is in the second year of his 14-year, $340 million contract extension.

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Needless to say, this is a shocker, and Tatis is certainly one of the biggest stars to be suspended for PEDs. Here are 10 other big name players who have been suspended for banned substances, listed alphabetically.

Suspended: 65 games in July 2013

In December 2011, Braun was suspended 50 games for PEDs, though he was able to get the suspension overturned through an appeal because the sample’s chain of custody had been broken. Less that two years later, Braun was suspended again, this time for his connections to Biogenesis. Braun was suspended 50 games for PEDs and additional 15 games for his actions during the appeals process of the original suspension. He later admitted to lying and using PEDs during his 2011 NL MVP season.

Suspended: 50 games in August 2012

If nothing else, Cabrera undoubtedly has the most ridiculous PED defense. He created a fake website pushing a fake product that he said led to a positive test inadvertently. It did not fool MLB’s investigators. Cabrera was an All-Star the year he was suspended and would have won the NL batting title, though he withdrew his name from the race. “I have no wish to win an award that would be tainted. I believe it would be far better for someone more deserving to win,” Cabrera said at the time.

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Suspended: 80 games in May 2018 and 162 games in November 2020

Unlike some other players in this post, there is no wild story to Canó’s suspension(s). He was suspended in May 2018, served it, was suspended again in November 2020, and he served that too. There was no nasty appeals process or anything like that. Canó was traded in the offseason immediately following his first suspension, however. Still hard to believe another team wanted a declining 36-year-old player owed big money and coming off a PED suspension.

Suspended: 50 games in August 2012

Colon missed all of 2010 with arm problems, resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011, then joined the Athletics as a free agent in 2012. He took responsibility for the failed test and went on to spend another seven years in the big leagues as a journeyman starter.

Suspended: 50 games in August 2013

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A total of 13 players were suspended in 2013 as part of the Biogenesis scandal, and Cruz — an All-Star that season and a year away from becoming a consistent 40-homer threat — was among them. Cruz did have to settle for a one-year contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, however.

Jenrry Mejia

Suspended: 80 games in April 2015, 162 games in July 2015, and a lifetime ban in February 2016

Mejia was not a big name player, but he deserves a mention here because he was the first — and is still the only — player to be hit with a lifetime ban as a result of a third positive PED test. And the thing is, Mejia was hit with his second suspension while he was serving his first, and he was hit with his third suspension when he was still serving his second. Now, lifetime bans aren’t always lifetime bans. Mejia was quietly granted reinstatement in July 2018, though he has not pitched in an MLB game since 2015. He is still active and is currently pitching in the Mexican League.

Rafael Palmeiro

Suspended: 10 days in August 2005

The first star player to be suspended for PEDs, Palmeiro was hit with his suspension less than five months after sitting in front of a Congressional panel and saying: “I have never used steroids. Period.” The suspension came less than a month after Palmeiro became the fifth player to reach the milestones of 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Palmeiro’s suspension also shows how far the penalties have come. He was suspended only 10 days. Now, first-time offenders get 80 games.

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Manny Ramirez

Suspended: 50 games in May 2009 and 100 games in April 2011

Ramirez was not the first player to be suspended twice for PEDs — Neifi Pérez was suspended 25 games in July 2017 and then 80 games in August 2007 — but he was certainly the first big star to be suspended for PEDs twice. Manny was with the Rays and voluntarily retired following the second suspension and later agreed to a reduced 50-game ban in December 2011, though it is technically still pending. Should Ramirez, now 50, attempt a comeback, he’ll have to serve the suspension before being activated by an MLB team. Manny played in the minors in 2012, in Taiwan in 2013, and in the minors again in 2014.

Alex Rodriguez

Suspended: 162 games in 2014

A-Rod never actually failed a PED test. He did admit to using PEDs during his time with the Texas Rangers, then he was suspended following MLB’s investigation into Biogenesis in August 2013. A-Rod was originally suspended 214 games (the rest of the 2013 season and all of 2014), though he got it reduced to 162 games through appeal. Rodriguez went scorched earth during the appeals process and threatened to sue MLB, the MLBPA, the Yankees, the commissioner, you name it. He never did follow through on the lawsuits, however. At the time the 162-game PED suspension was the longest in MLB history.

Miguel Tejada

Suspended: 105 games in August 2013

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Tejada, the 2002 AL MVP, tested positive for amphetamines, not testosterone or a hardcore anabolic steroid. Amphetamines were not always banned and were once common in big league clubhouses. Under the policy at the time, the first positive test for an amphetamine effectively came with a warning. The second brought a 25-game suspension and the third an 80-game suspension. Tejada had previously tested positive for an amphetamine, and he tested positive for the second and third time with the Royals in 2013. The 25-game and 80-game bans together equal 105 games. Tejada never played in the big leagues again after being suspended.



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