(Ed. Note: Welcome to Stat Nerd Sunday, where we occasionally obsess over hockey numbers like a Dungeon Master obsessing over the level of his warrior elf. Here's Matt Barr, formerly of LCS: Guide To Hockey and Trolleytracks and now blogging hockey at Kertwang.me.)
The last 12 teams on the playoff bubble: Whose even strength and man advantage play is up to snuff?
You're a Buffalo Sabres fan, you say. A key defenseman and your all-world goalie are hurt. You coughed up a point in the waning moments of a winnable road game last night. You get to play in Raleigh this evening against a team that could take your playoff spot; meanwhile, you have six regulation wins in 20 games you've played this season when you played the night before.
Do what I do when I'm down? Console yourself with stats! Other stats, besides the back-to-back games one! Your team has had, by one measure, the best last 20 games of all the playoff bubble teams in both conferences. Let me show you.
This season, the league as a whole scores (and allows) about 2.5 goals per 60 minutes of play at even strength. It scores (and allows) around 6.6 goals per 60 minutes in man-advantage situations.
NHL game-by-game data lets you look at a block of games for a team and work out how many minutes during that stretch they were playing at even strength, with the power play, and shorthanded. By way of example, in their last 20 games (all stats/data/analysis through games of April 1, by the way), the Calgary Flames have spent 1,007 minutes playing at even strength, 117.57 minutes on the power play, and 88.55 minutes shorthanded.
Applying league average rates of scoring, which are actually, to three decimal points, 2.746 goals per 60 minutes even strength, and 6.598 goals per 60 minutes during man advantages, you would expect the Flames to have scored and allowed 41.56 goals at even strength over their last 20 games, scored 12.93 power play goals, and allowed 9.74 power play goals against.
Here's how they really did:
This all can be easily quantified in terms of net goals. With this methodology, we can figure out:
How many net goals has the team scored or allowed compared to league average, given the team's specific distribution of ES, PP and SH minutes played, over a period of time?
In the Flames' case, as you'll see in charty/graphy format below, its robust power play is offset more or less by its fair-to-middling even strength defense and penalty kill, so that over the last 20 games, the Flames have netted 0.81 goals over average. Nice, but probably not enough to play yourselves into a playoff spot from behind.
Using the baseline of these league-average rates of scoring, we can line up all the teams still fighting for playoff berths and see how they've been doing in this same way. Here's the West:
The defending champs, in their 20 games leading up to April 1, scored about 11 more goals than expected based on the distribution of their ES, PP and SH time. That'll give you a puncher's chance. Chicago and Anaheim each have been making the most and then some out of their even strength time, with the Blackhawks scoring 6.25 more ES goals than average and the Ducks an even more impressive 9.02.
The Nashville Predators (11-7-2) and Los Angeles Kings (12-5-3) have similar records over the 20-game span, but you see that the Preds have had to squeeze more scoring out of 42 fewer minutes on the power play compared to the Kings. The real difference has been in even strength defense, with Nashville giving up 7.72 fewer goals than average at even strength, while the Kings have been right about in line with the league.
The interesting team in the East is the 10-10-0 Montreal Canadiens. They've scored and prevented goals at just about exactly the rate the league would expect. The issue is obviously the staggering 143.07 minutes of shorthanded time. You don't need stats to tell you more discipline is in order, but ... damn.
And behold your Buffalo Sabres, scoring even strength goals, scoring power play goals, and killing penalties better than the other four Eastern bubble teams. It'll be a question of what you and your backup goalie and rookie defense have done for me lately, though, as the season winds down.
A word of praise is in order for the Rangers' even strength defense. An average team would have given up nearly 7.5 more even strength goals over the last 20 games.
I won't represent that this predicts how the teams will finish in the remaining playoff races. It's a fuller, more complete record of what has happened over 20 games, and in the sense that how the teams have played over the last 20 games gives you an idea of how well they'll play the next 10, then it's instructive.
What it teaches us is what teams have been doing well and poorly recently; and in terms of special teams, how spending two periods' worth of time more shorthanded than any of your rivals is really not a good idea.