Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Separating Playoff Contenders from Pretenders

The NHL playoffs are upon us and it is time for many of us to make our picks to win the Stanley Cup or draft a playoff pool team. The playoff games are much tougher since only the top half of the NHL qualifies and scoring usually drops significantly as these higher quality teams face off against one another.

Who should you favor when making your picks? Most people will take a look at the final regular season numbers. Some will put lean towards teams with a good power play, others favor those with strong goaltending. One thing that I find to be very revealing is to look at games where two playoff teams were matched up against one another. In other words, how did each club fare when facing a quality opponent.

With that question in mind I uploaded the complete regular season results for every singly NHL team and then recalculated some key statistics into playoff and non-playoff categories. One notable exception is that I deleted the extra point for a OT loss or a SO win because those things don't exist in the playoffs. I also didn't count the "goal" credited to the SO winner in the regular season. So what we have is the old school "winning percentage" based on OT Wins and Losses and if the game wasn't settled at the end of OT it counts as a tie. So .500 is the break even point like in the old NHL.

The table below lists the results for all 16 playoff teams. What does the data tell us? Don't underestimate Washington. They played extremely well against other playoff clubs--in fact the Caps had a higher winning percentage (.561) against playoff teams than non-playoff teams. There were only four teams that put up a better percentage versus non-playoff teams: Detroit, Anaheim, Washington and the Rangers.

Beware of teams that racked up big regular season point totals against weak teams because there are no basement dwellers in the post-season. Who were the worst offenders? The Sharks absolutely destroyed non-playoff teams to the tune of .705 win % in the regular season, hmmm. The bottom half of that table show you a bunch of teams larded up on weak opposition but struggled against the other playoff clubs. Three of the teams that have home ice advantage have warning flags: Minnesota, San Jose and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have the advantage of facing off against Ottawa which also struggled against quality teams but the Pens might not be a post-season juggernaut. Likewise, Minnesota had a less than sterling record against quality teams but Colorado also struggled greatly versus good teams.


Team

Playoff Team Win %

Non-Playoff Win %

Playoff Team Goal Differential

Non-Playoff Team Goal Differential

DET

.694

.630

+41

+31

WAS

.561

.500

+13

-2

ANA

.558

.528

+4

-1

NYR

.543

.486

+12

+3

MON

.537

.622

+13

+28

DAL

.535

.538

+16

+17

NJD

.500

.583

-11

+16

SJS

.500

.705

-6

+35

PIT

.478

.653

+4

+24

CGY

.476

.549

-9

+11

OTT

.476

.598

-8

+24

BOS

.463

.549

-16

+7

PHI

.446

.639

-11

+29

MIN

.439

.695

-12

+22

COL

.427

.598

-20

+28

NAS

.389

.609

-10

+13

How about those special teams? Which PP and PK units excelled in games versus other playoff teams and which struggled? Again, Washington really stands out here their PP% against playoff teams was an outstanding 24% and their PP unit struggled against the weaker teams at just 16%. Other teams where the PP unit was better against tougher opposition include Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Minnesota. Teams where the PP tended to vanish against better clubs include Boston, Calgary, Dallas, and Philadelphia. Don't count on the a ton of PP goals from the Bruins and the Flyers in the post-season as both clubs saw a huge drop off.

How about penalty killing? In general the gap appears to be smaller than on PP side of things. It would appear that good PK units are good almost all the time. This is one area where the Nashville Predators excel. Most of the stats presented here offer cold comfort to Predators fans but Nashville along with Dallas, Detroit and Minnesota all had the top PK% versus other playoff teams (all in the West I might point out, the 3 top PP units were all in the East).

Team

Playoff PP%

Non-Playoff PP%

Playoff PK%

Non-Playoff PK%

ANA

17.5

18.1

83.9

82.5

BOS

13.5

22.3

77.6

79.6

CGY

14.1

19.4

80.0

83.0

COL

12.7

16.6

79.3

83.4

DAL

15.8

20.6

88.0

82.2

DET

20.1

21.3

86.2

82.3

MIN

20.9

17.2

84.2

86.0

MON

24.1

24.3

80.9

84.1

NAS

14.8

14.8

86.3

84.4

NJD

15.3

16.1

81.3

85.1

NYR

16.3

16.7

83.5

85.9

OTT

19.8

16.9

81.9

80.2

PHI

17.9

27.6

81.7

85.4

PIT

21.3

19.2

78.1

85.2

SJS

18.3

19.3

83.5

88.4

WAS

24.2

15.8

77.3

82.9

Now let's take a look at defensive and offensive efficiency. First we have team save percentage broken down into playoff and non-playoff opposition. Some clubs almost always play their #2 goalie against weaker clubs so we might see some big differences on this one as the #1 netminder will start almost every game in the playoffs. Here are the teams that actually had a better SV% when matched up against other playoff teams: Anaheim, Calgary, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, and NY Rangers. Teams that saw a sharp decline in SV% against better opposition: Boston, Minnesota, Montreal, NJ Devils, Philadelphia, and San Jose.

Finally, how about offensive efficiency? Which teams finished off their scoring chances when they had the opportunity? I'm using team shooting percentage--which is I'll admit is an imperfect measure but it is all that I have available for the moment. Most teams are going to convert fewer scoring chances when matched up against better teams, a few beat this trend: Anaheim, Dallas, Detroit, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Washington. Teams that suffered a big drop off: Boston, Colorado, Nashville, Ottawa, and Philadelphia.


Team

Playoff SV%

Non-Playoff SV%

Playoff ST%

Non-Playoff ST%

ANA

91.9

91.7

9.0

8.9

BOS

90.9

91.8

8.0

9.6

CGY

90.7

90.1

9.4

10.1

COL

91.2

89.3

7.6

11.2

DAL

90.6

90.3

11.0

10.6

DET

91.7

90.0

9.2

8.7

MIN

90.4

92.6

9.9

9.9

MON

90.5

92.8

11.5

10.1

NAS

90.6

91.0

8.6

10.0

NJD

90.8

92.2

8.2

8.6

NYR

91.5

90.5

7.9

7.9

OTT

89.9

90.4

9.4

11.5

PHI

90.6

92.2

9.6

11.4

PIT

90.4

93.0

11.3

9.8

SJS

89.1

92.2

8.6

9.3

WAS

89.8

90.1

10.7

8.5


Conclusion: Which teams are pretenders hiding behind regular season records puffed up from munching on bottom dwelling clubs. Based on the data above I'd say don't count on Boston, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Ottawa and Colorado and Nashville going deep into the playoffs. But there are some cautionary flags even for favorites like San Jose and Pittsburgh. Which are the playoff contenders? Well Anaheim looks rock solid especially when you consider that Selanne and S. Nidermayer were not even in the lineup for many of these games. Detroit, Dallas, Montreal and the Rangers also appear to be very solid against other quality clubs. But more than anything the data suggests that Washington could be a big time competitor in the post-season despite not qualifying until the last weekend. They have played some great hockey against top teams.

One last question, which non-playoff team might have made things interesting if they had qualified for the post-season? The table below shows the same winning percentage breakdown for the 14 non-playoff clubs. Vancouver, Buffalo and Carolina just missed the post-season so it is not terribly surprising to see them them at the top. Chicago was a surprise to me. The fact they played well against other playoff clubs bodes well for the Blackhawks future, if they can improve versus non-playoff clubs they could take the next step forward. On the other hand, Edmonton and Columbus both did very well against weak clubs and they will need to win more "hard" points against tough teams to climb up the standings next year.

Team

Playoff Win %

Non-Playoff Win %

Playoff Goal Differential

Non-Playoff Goal Differential

VAN

.490

.500

+1

-5

CHI

.489

.474

+5

-2

CAR

.463

.598

-15

+19

BUF

.459

.576

-2

+20

TOR

.439

.455

-23

-5

PHX

.412

.565

-20

+4

FLA

.390

.549

-24

+15

NYI

.389

.464

-12

+22

ATL

.378

.415

-29

-20

STL

.375

.461

-31

+1

EDM

.357

.545

-30

+3

LAK

.343

.435

-44

+7

CJB

.341

.566

-20

0

TBL

.341

.402

-24

-21


6 Comments:

  • There's a couple misleading things about the winning % against playoff teams. Boston went 0-7-1 against Montreal, which absolutely kills their winning % against playoff teams. Their winning % against playoff teams that doesn't include Montreal is over .650.

    Second, Washington played on average 10 less games against playoff teams than everyone else in the Eastern Conference because they played in the pathetic southeast division.

    By Blogger Nick, at 5:29 AM  

  • Nick: Well those 8 games against Montreal still count don't they? If you want to discount them go ahead, but seeing that they have to face Montreal I'd say those 8 games vs Montreal are extremely relevant.

    As far as games played go, Washington did enjoy as much of an advantage as you indicate.

    # of games versus playoff teams:
    WAS 41
    BOS 41
    MON 41
    OTT 41
    NJD 46
    NYR 46
    PIT 46
    PHI 46

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 8:28 AM  

  • Nevermind about the Caps games, they only played 33 versus playoff clubs. I was looking at the wrong column on my spreadsheet. Still, despite playing in fewer playoff matchups you have to give them some credit for beating quality teams.

    By Blogger The Falconer, at 8:57 AM  

  • Really, Nick. The fact that Montreal has to play Boston in the opening round is extremely relevant. I think that Montreal will take them out quickly unless some unforeseen variable occurs. If someone key gets injured or if someone mentally breaks down, then maybe Boston. All the guys on NHL Network are picking Montreal.

    Even though Washington is in the Southeast and played fewer games vs. Playoff teams, they overcame such adversity. They are playing like a team that really wants it. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Laick have been great upfront. Having Huet has helped them immensely. Not to mention, they got Fedorov, who is not posting spectacular numbers, but he has been a part of the Red Wings when they were going to the playoffs from 1990 to 2003. That is a lot! I think that they will at least make it to the 2nd round maybe the Conference Finals? I just think that the teams that have impressed me the most down the stretch are Washington and San Jose. But you never can tell. Look at the Rangers. They have quietly finished 4th in the East; also, Anaheim is also tough again. They are gelling right now at the right time.

    By Anonymous Steve, at 10:04 AM  

  • I just saw your blog through the New York Times blog. I had to read this after I laughed for about 5 minutes when I saw the title, "Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons?" Nice choice.

    By Blogger dani, at 4:25 PM  

  • Great work and very informative. Thanks for all the statistical goodness.

    By Blogger auxlepli, at 7:09 PM  

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