Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stat Me Up

Finally, the real season is upon us once again--the Stanley Cup playoffs. The most exciting round of the playoffs is also about to start tonight, and you're wondering how it's all going to pan out. Especially if you're in a hockey pool you want to figure out where those upsets will come from. Johnny Canucklehead is here to help you with all that and more.

Let's have a look at the way things have panned out since the lockout in round one.

I'm crushing your head

Some experts say look at the head-to-head record. Well, if you want to be hover around .500 in your predictions that's the way you should go. Of 48 series in the 1st rd. since 2006, only 27 were won by the team who won the regular season head-to-head (or by the higher seed if the season's series was dead even).

What is more telling is regular season "dominance." If one team holds more than a three-game edge over their opponent in the regular season, the odds increase dramatically. Of nine series where this was the case going in, seven teams triumphed. Just ask the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers who as a #7 seed knocked off the #2 seed New Jersey Devils. Of course, a 5W 1 L edge in the regular season should have been a sign of the coming 1st rd. apocalypse in Jersey.

So, given this season the St. Louis Blues won all four meetings with the San Jose Sharks, you do the math. Then again the Anaheim Ducks won all four regular season games vs. the Nashville Predators in 2010-11 and lost in the 1st rd. So...grain of salt meet kernel of wisdom.

Smaller goalie equipment is an improvement

Goaltending can be a key factor in determining who advances (well, duh!). It is sometimes surmised that the fresher netminder (i.e., the one who played less games in the regular season) is often the better choice.
That has proven true 27 out of 48 series in rd. one. So no more a strong indicator than the head-to-head records.

When you look at what seems to be the breaking point of 70 games played, things look a bit different.
Of ten series where one goalie cracked that 70 GP and the other was under the 70 GP threshold, the fresher goalie's team had a 6-4 edge. Not as huge an advantage as expected but something to consider when Jonathan Quick played almost 70 this season (69 GP) and in 2010 he played 72 and lost to the Vancouver Canucks in rd. 1.


Obviously, a team with a better goals for vs. goals against on the season should be a better team. Yet sometimes a team may have a better goal difference yet not as many points to show for it due to the wonky overtime/shootout loser point rule.
Of those 48 first round series so far 33 have seen the team with the better goal difference come out on top. That's over a 68 percent success rate. In other words it's like a 112-pt season.

This year we have some very interesting possibilities in rd. 1.
Obviously, the Florida Panthers with a measly 203 GF and 227 GA are a terrible team who benefited from being in a lousy division (Yes, GM Dale Tallon did a great job putting the pieces together, yada, yada, yada, but in any other division in the NHL, the Cats are not making the playoffs). Given the New Jersey Devils are a +19 (228 GF-209 GA), it's a pretty easy series to predict that maybe the Devils might take that.

What's more interesting is the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings series. Maybe Detroit is too old. Maybe Detroit is not a great road team (after being a terrific one last season). Yet Detroit not only outscored the Preds; they also have a better D.
  • Nashville 237 GF 210 GA +27
  • Detroit 248 GF 203 GA +45
Twice before the Preds have flopped in the 1st rd. as a higher seed. The 2012 team comes in with huge expectations given the impending free agency of their top two defencemen (the restricted free agent Shea Weber and unrestricted Ryan Suter) and the additions at the trade deadline of Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Taylor Swift. High expectations can often equal huge upset loss. Can you say the entire playoff history of the Washington Ovechkins?


Defence wins championships. Really? Does defence alone really win championships?
Sure the Stanley Cup is littered with tales of goaltenders acting like Gumby on skates leading teams to Cups but what to make of the 2009 champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Crosby Malkins were 17th in goal against average yet tied for second in goals for.
The 2006 Caroline Hurricanes were tied for 18th in GAA, but 3rd in GF.
Sure, there are Cup teams like the Red Wings of 2008 who led in GAA but even they were also 3rd in GF.

So when some bobblehead on TV goes on about the penalty kill, the shot blocking or the need to tighten up on D, remind yourself that you still have to score goals to win playoff hockey games.
The team with the better goals for triumphed 33 out of 48 times in rd. one from 2006 to 2011.

Now if you look at the 17 1st rd. series where the lower seeds had more GF than the higher seeds, the lower seeds won ten of those. Last year we saw the Tampa Bay Lightning (238 GF) upset the Pittsburgh Penguins (238 GF) who were without Sidney Crosby. Despite Tampa being only a miniscule +7 in goal difference vs. the Pens' +39. Guy Boucher that 1-3-1 out the door. Tampa actually carpetbombed the Pens in Game 5 8-2 on Pittsburgh ice! Any team with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier is one that can and should score.

So keep an eye on the Ottawa Senators and their 249 GF vs. the New York Rangers 226 GF. In fact, explain this one when you check the Rangers seasons out:
2010-11 233 GF 198 GA, 93 pts, seed #8
2011-12 226 GF, 187 GA, 109 pts, seed #1

So the Tortorella Fellas gave up 11 less goals but also scored seven less goals this season. Even the new math says that's just a +5 improvement in goal difference. That equalled a 16-point jump to the top of the Eastern Conference? I guess it did.

Defensively they blocked tons of shots again this season, but I'm not so sure this is a Stanley Cup winning strategy let alone one to get out of the 1st rd. After all, you run the risk of getting players injured blocking shots that Henrik Lundqvist seems more than capable of doing without breaking any bones. The Strangers might want to spend less time blocking shots and more time creating ones on the opposition's goal.

On that note everyone should all spend more time scoring.
Enjoy round one!

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