Ducks, Blackhawks, Rocket most improved teams this season

No team in any major North American league has improved more than the Anaheim Ducks. (bridgetds/Flickr)

No team in any major North American league has improved more than the Anaheim Ducks. (bridgetds/Flickr)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

The NHL is nearing its halfway point while the major junior and minor leagues are starting to get their playoff pictures in order. Like every year, teams rise and fall, but some much more than others and this season, no team has improved their fortunes more than the Anaheim Ducks who increased their points percentage just slightly more than the Chicago Blackhawks.

Looking strictly at improvements made in terms of points percentage, the Ducks went from .488 last season to .794 (+ .306 percentage points) this year, 1/100th of a point better than the Blackhawks who, with the help of their record-setting start, improved from .616 to a ridiculous .921 (+ .305).

Overall, here are the ten most improved teams in all six major North American leagues (NHL, AHL, ECHL, QMJHL, OHL, WHL). Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see the five teams in each league that have risen and fallen the most (numbers are as of games played through February 26).

  1. + .306 – Anaheim Ducks (NHL)
  2. + .305 – Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
  3. + .278 – P.E.I. Rocket (QMJHL)
  4. + .254 – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
  5. + .246 – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
  6. + .235 – Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
  7. + .232 – Texas Stars (AHL)
  8. + .230 – Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
  9. + .229 – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL)
  10. + .206 – Boston Bruins (NHL)

For Anaheim, this is their first full season under coach Bruce Boudreau who has gotten his star players to perform to expectations once again after an off year last season. They’re proof a coaching change can be a very positive thing as Randy Carlyle, now coach of Toronto, just wasn’t getting the results he did when he first got to Anaheim and won a Stanley Cup in 2007. Of course, first-year goaltender Viktor Fasth has been a solid addition as well as he is currently eighth in goals-against average (2.01) and 14th in save percentage (.924) and only twice in 10 appearances has he allowed more than two goals.

Additional scoring from graybeards Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, both of whom have 16 points in 17 games, greatly relieve the pressure to score from the first line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan. Selanne is a well-known freak of nature, posting a better points-per-game average over the past three seasons (.941, 162 points in 172 games) than many players half his age and Koivu is having his best seasons since 2006-07.

Whether or not they’re able to keep up their current pace, Adam Gretz of CBS Sports doesn’t believe they will, it’s a vast improvement over last year’s team and certainly makes one think if Alex Ovechkin is really a coach-killer as his Capitals are 14th in the Eastern Conference and have suffered the fifth-worst fall in the NHL.

Patrick Kane is enjoying his finest season ever (10-14-24 in 19 GP) in Chicago's record-setting campaign. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

Patrick Kane is enjoying his finest season ever (10-14-24 in 19 GP) in Chicago’s record-setting campaign. (Tim Kolupanowich/CM)

In Chicago, the Blackhawks are enjoying they type of depth they haven’t had since their salary cap purge after they won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Their star power remains the same as captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (who has worked hard to improve himself both on and off the ice), Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lead the way, but they have so much more support now than they did the past two seasons.

Strong overall play from young role players including Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad and Michael Frolik have made coach Joel Quenneville’s job extremely easy. They are also receiving remarkable consistent goaltending from Corey Crawford and Ray Emery as only twice this season have they allowed more than two goals. Of course facing a seventh-best 27.5 shots per game is a big help.

Like the Ducks, it’s hard to believe the Blackhawks can keep this up. In fact it’s pretty much impossible as they have to lose in regulation sometime, right? Currently they are on pace to shatter the record for best points percentage set by the 38-5-1 Boston Bruins in 1929-30. The Hawks are currently sporting an insane .921 points percentage.

The Quebec Major Junior League’s Prince Edward Island Rocket round out the top three most improved teams in North America this year.

They are currently in eighth place in the QMJHL with a 34-22-3 record (.602 points percentage) after finishing last in 2011-12 with a dismal 19-43-2-4 record (.324 points percentage). Coach Gordie Dwyer deserve a lot of credit for improving every aspect of his team. Last season they were 16th and 17th in goals for and goals against, respectively; this year they have jumped up to eighth in both categories. Goalie Antoine Bibeau is sixth with a 2.92 GAA and second with a .907 sv. %, much better than his numbers last season (4.46 GAA, .868 sv. %).

They also boast two of the top four scorers in Ben Duffy (32-60-92) and Josh Currie (43-48-91). Last year Duffy was their highest points producer finishing 12th overall while their next highest scorer, Matej Beran, finished 45th in the scoring race. Hard work all around has paid off, especially for Josh Currie who is faster and stronger than last season and has nearly doubled his career high in points already.

Here are the five teams in each league that have improved and fallen the most in terms of points percentage. Beside each team in parenthesis , you will find how their rankings changed within their respective conferences. The exception is the QMJHL which looks at entire league standings since they do not have conferences, only three divisions.

NHL – Most Improved

  1. + .306 – Anaheim Ducks (13th to 2nd)
  2. + .305 – Chicago Blackhawks (6th to 1st)
  3. + .235 – Montreal Canadiens (15th to 1st)
  4. + .206 – Boston Bruins (2nd to 4th)*
  5. + .112 – Toronto Maple Leafs (13th to 7th)

NHL – Farthest Fallen

  1. – .176 – Philadelphia Flyers (5th to 10th)
  2. – .168 – Buffalo Sabres (9th to 15th)
  3. – .165 – New York Rangers (1st to 11th)
  4. – .152 – Florida Panthers (3rd to 13th)
  5. – .144 – Washington Capitals (7th to 14th)

AHL – Most Improved

  1. + .232 – Texas Stars (15th to 1st)
  2. + .204 – Binghampton Senators (15th to 4th)
  3. + .144 – Springfield Falcons (11th to 2nd)
  4. + .132 – Syracuse Crunch (7th to 1st)
  5. + .116 – Providence Bruins (12th to 5th)

AHL – Farthest Fallen

  1. – .262 – Norfolk Admirals (1st to 13th)
  2. – .180 – St. John’s IceCaps (2nd to 14th)
  3. – .109 – Bridgeport Sound Tigers (3rd to 12th)
  4. – .103 – Oklahoma City Barons (1st to 10th)
  5. – .081 – San Antonio Rampage (6th to 14th)

ECHL – Most Improved

  1. + .186 – Idaho Steelheads (7th to 3rd)
  2. + .167 – Toledo Walleye (11th to 5th)
  3. + .111 – Reading Royals (8th to 1st)
  4. + .106 – Cincinnati Cyclones (10th to 2nd)
  5. + .095 – Trenton Titans (12th to 13th)**

ECHL – Farthest Fallen

  1. – .094 – Las Vegas Wranglers (3rd to 5th)
  2. – .078 – Elmira Jackals (1st to 8th)
  3. – .067 – Wheeling Nailers (6th to 11th)
  4. – .054 – Gwinnett Gladiators (2nd to 3rd)
  5. – .045 – Utah Grizzlies (6th to 7th)

QMJHL – Most Improved

  1. + .278 – P.E.I. Rocket (17th to 8th)
  2. + .246 – Halifax Mooseheads (6th to 1st)
  3. + .229 – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (3rd to 3rd)
  4. + .188 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (15th to 7th)
  5. + .160 – Moncton Wildcats (11th to 5th)

QMJHL – Farthest Fallen

  1. – .421 – Shawinigan Cataractes (2nd to 17th)
  2. – .393 – Saint John Sea Dogs (1st to 15th)
  3. – .166 – Victoriaville Tigres (4th to 1th)
  4. – .097 – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (8th to 12th)
  5. – .093 – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (16th to 18th)

OHL – Most Improved

  1. + .185 – Belleville Bulls (7th to 1st)
  2. + .156 – Owen Sound Attack (6th to 3rd)
  3. + .153 – Erie Otters (10th to 10th)
  4. + .131 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (9th to 6th)
  5. + .119 – Kingston Frontenacs (10th to 8th)
  6. + .119 – Guelf Storm (7th to 5th)

OHL – Farthest Fallen

  1. – .364 – Ottawa 67’s (2nd to 10th)
  2. – .230 – Niagara IceDogs (1st to 6th)
  3. – .071 – Plymouth Whalers (2nd to 2nd)
  4. – .071 – Mississauga Steelheads (6th to 7th)
  5. – .052 – Brampton Battalion (4th to 4th)

WHL – Most Improved

  1. + .254 – Prince Albert Raiders (12th to 4th)
  2. + .230 – Kelowna Rockets (6th to 2nd)
  3. + .184 – Victoria Royals (7th to 6th)
  4. + .112 – Portland Winterhawks (3rd to 1st)
  5. + .092 – Red Deer Rebels (9th to 5th)

WHL – Farthest Fallen

  1. – .327 – Vancouver Giants (4th to 10th)
  2. – .276 – Moose Jaw Warriors (2nd to 10th)
  3. – .203 – Brandon Wheat Kings (6th to 12th)
  4. – .174 – Regina Pats (7th to 11th)
  5. – .101 – Tri-City Americans (1st to 4th)

* The Bruins have played the fewest games in the NHL which is why they have fallen in the standings despite an improved points percentage.

** The ECHL has added three teams, the Fort Wayne Komets, Orando Solar Bears and Evansville IceMen to their Eastern Conference leading to a drop in the standings for the Titans despite an improved points percentage.

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