November 08 2012 04:38PM
The Abbotsford Heat had a really good October. They lost only once in regulation, boasted the league's best PK and have a couple players at the top of the scoring race. All that added up to the best WIN% and goal differential in the AHL through nine games.
Of course, it needs to be noted that 9 games is a very small sample. Almost any team can go on a nine game run in any given season - even the really lousy ones (remember when the Wild were leading the Western Conference after 8 weeks last year?). The question is, are the Heat legitimately good or are they pulling a Minnesota Wild and riding the percentages?
The Bad News
We can't parse out AHL data quite like we can the NHL stuff, so it's impossible to know just how the club is doing at even strength. That said, we do have overall shot volumes and shooting percentages thanks to the AHL daily report, which is basically a big data dump containing all sorts of goodies.
Here's what is worrying...
The Heat are currently 28th overall in terms of shots on net per game (26.33). The median shot per game rate in the league is just over 30. Despite that, Abby has scored the 4th most goals per game (3.56). Now, initially some might think "heck that just means they're totally efficient snipers."
As comforting as that thought is, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to pro hockey, few shots + lots of goals almost always means the team in question is getting lucky. The Heat have a team wide shooting percentage of 13.5% through nine games so far (!), which is ridiculously high even if they were playing the entire game on the powerplay. According to Marlies fan So Truculent, the AHL's league-wide SH% currently is 9.48%, which puts the Heat well outside the norm. In fact, I ran the numbers and Abbotsford has the second highest shooting percentage in the AHL next to Portland, who top out at 14.23%. Only two other clubs (Rochester and Connecticut) are above 12% so far.
Unless Baertschi and Horak are the next Crosby and Ovechkin, it's exceedingly unlikely the Heat will continue to shoot lights out in the long run. In which case, the club needs to increase it's shot on net per game by a non-trivial margin. It's possible their low shot total is partially due to the fact they've been leading so often (although they do tend to get drastically outshot in just about every first period they place for some reason). The lone bright spot is the only legitimately good underlying number the team has so far is shots against, which sits at 27.44/game (8th best).
Also floating the Heat's fortunes is their uncanny PK, which is running at a league best 97.5%, and a potent PP, which at 32.0% is second best in the AHL. In fact, when we consider their 3 short-handed goals, the Heat have a special teams goal differential of +10 (8 PPG - 1 PKG + 3 SHG).
Even if Abby's special teams are legitimately good, there are still in line for a major correction. For example, the best PP in the NHL last season was the Predators at 21.6%. The best PK was New Jersey at 89.6%. That's usually where top-end teams fall give or take a percentage or two.
What it Means
Abbotsford is running hot right now (pun intended) and they've managed to collect a lot of points through the early going. That's always good. Unfortunately, their record has been inflated by a lot of abnormally good fortune thus far and their underlyling numbers suggest they aren't nearly as good as their record makes them seem.
It's impossible to know how long the good luck will last (The Wild's fairy tale ended in December last year, for instance) but be prepared for an ugly correction down the road at some point.