Friday, April 15, 2016

Stingy D = Playoff Success

Let the real hockey begin!

So now it's time to figure out who's going to go deep or go home. First of all, toss out looking at the seedings and focus in on the goals against.

In each of the past three seasons in the 1st round, the team with lowest GA has won seven of the eight series. The three lone exceptions (Los Angeles Kings '13, Chicago Blackhawks '14 and Anaheim Ducks '15) to this all went on to the Conference Finals.

Going a bit farther back in 2011 and '12 the lower GA teams went 5-3 each season in rd. 1.

Now here are how the 2015 NHL playoffs rd. 1 match up GA-wise:

Panthers 208 GA vs. Islanders 216 GA
Lightning 201 GA vs. Red Wings 224 GA
Capitals 193 GA vs. Flyers 219 GA
Penguins 203 GA vs. Rangers 217 GA

Ducks 192 GA vs. Predators 215 GA
Kings 195 GA vs. Sharks 210 GA
Stars 230 GA vs. Wild 206 GA
Blues 201 GA vs. Blackhawks 209 GA

Now, if you had run the table the last five seasons and picked just the lower GA teams each round as the playoffs progressed, you'd have been 54-20 overall. You'd have picked the Stanley Cup winner 4 out of 5 times correctly.

That's picking after each round knowing who is playing who.

For argument's sake, let's say you had to do the bracket straight through to the Final from the start of the playoffs and used this lower GA standard to make your picks.

So you'd have gone as follows:

'15 Chicago over NY Rangers in Final (actual: Chicago over Tampa)
(11 out of 15 overall to advance correct)

'14 LA over Boston (actual: LA over Rangers)
(11 out of 15 to advance correct)

'13 Chicago over Ottawa (actual:Chicago over Boston)
(again 11 out of 15)

'12 St. Louis over NY Rangers (actual:LA over New Jersey)
(just 6 out of 15)

'11 Vancouver over Boston (actual: Boston over Vancouver)
(9 out of 15)

I'd take those returns any day.

Now how about our old favorite the defending Stanley Cup Champion?
There was a run from 2004 thru 2012 where out of eight playoff seasons, five times the defending champs lost in the 1st rd. and once even missed the playoffs altogether (hello, '07 Carolina Hurricanes meet the '15 LA Kings and '95 New Jersey Devils).

Prior to 2004, you'd be hardpressed to see the defending Cup winners flop so badly. The past three seasons has seen a sort of righting of the old ship with the '13 Kings and '14 Blackhawks both getting to the Conference Finals before bowing out.

Anyway, the teams that tended to flop out all have one thing is common. They either fell in the overall standings or stayed right where they were. The Blackhawks, although not as good defensively in the '15/16 season jumped from 7th overall to 5th so, after losing Game 1 in OT despite outplaying the Blues by a mile, maybe don't count them out in rd. 1 yet.

Then we have the famous losing Finalist failings. Maybe because going all the way to the Final and coming up empty drains your team, or the whole NHL sees how you can be beat, the losing Finalists don't have a lot of success come the following playoff year.

Since after the '94 lockout and starting from that shortened '95 playoff season to '15, the losing Finalists have done the following:

Missed the playoffs five times.
Lost in the 1st rd. seven times.

Won a rd. and got to the Conference Semi-Finals five times.
Got to the Conference Finals but lost there twice.

Got back to the Finals...and won it! Just the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins.

So, how about the '15 Cup runner-up Tampa Bay Lightning (without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman) in the 2016 NHL playoffs? Well, they dropped from 5th overall to 12th so that's not a good sign.

Of the playoff teams that had fallen off in the standings from the previous season their record is just 3W-4L in the 1st rd, and only those '09 Pens who fell from 4th to 8th won more than one round.

In other words, don't put any money on the 'Ning getting back to the Final even if you think they can knock off the Datsyuk Retirement Run in rd. 1.

Since the '04 lockout, there's also been this huge push from the teams that lose in the Conference Finals returning at least to that stage the following season and sometimes to the Final and winning it. Check this out:

Teams that made consecutive Conference Finals
'04 & '05 Buffalo Sabres
'10 & '11 San Jose Sharks

Teams that lost in Conference Final and then went to Final and won!
'09 & '10 and '14 & '15 Chicago Blackhawks
'13 & '14 LA Kings

Teams that took it two steps further...and beyond.
'07, '08 & '09 Detroit Red Wings

Wings lost in '07 in the Western Conference Final, won the Cup in '08 and got back to the Final in '09 to lose to the Penguins...who also made two Finals in a row in those '08 & '09 years.

Now is '15 Conference Finalist Anaheim taking the next step because we know the '15 Eastern rep New York Rangers are hardly a good pick to do that in 2016?

I'll let all this sink in until we have a look at teams who get shutout and/or thumped early in series.

Until then, I'd suggest stick with the Cats and Isles and forget the hype even about the Kings and Sharks unless you enjoy tremendous hits that lead to non-scoring chances and very few shots on goal. Is anyone coaching either teams? All that hitting in the first period in Game 1 is doing the Ducks a world of good for round two. Keep at it, boys!

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