(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.)
Scoring goes down in the playoffs. Perhaps you'd heard. But how drastically?
One way to see is by comparing individual players' points-per-game averages in the regular season and the playoffs.
Thirty players share the following characteristics: (a) they have at least 500 career regular season points; (b) they have at least a .650 regular season points-per-game average; and (c) their teams qualified for this year's playoffs. (Thirty one, if Marian Hossa's team qualifies today.)
Of those 30-31, how many have playoff points-per-game averages higher than their regular season points-per-game averages? Answer near the end of this post. No scrolling to peek, or I'll sic Ron Hextall on you.
While your gears are grinding, we've looked recently at teams on the playoff "bubble," teams whose playoff fate is in doubt for the last 4-6 weeks of the season — how they get in and how they do once in the playoffs. Let's drill down a little further. Since the lockout, roughly two thirds of playoff qualifiers have clinched a berth in the last week of the regular season.
How do they fare in the tournament compared to teams that clinch a spot earlier?
Clinching earlier is good for one more playoff win a year, on average, but that's a little misleading, since eight teams each year are forbidden from winning more than three playoff games. It's probably more relevant to look at the percentage of teams which bow out in the first round: 57.7 percent of late-clinching teams, as opposed to 51.9 percent of earlier-clinching. (The numbers under the rounds are the numbers of teams that made it to that round, and no farther.)
That, too can probably be explained by home ice and being a good enough team to clinch a playoff spot before the final week of the season. But we run the numbers we have, not ones we don't.
Do note though that even as the field is winnowed down, 19.2 percent of late-clinching teams make it as far as their Conference Final, while 27.8 percent of earlier-clinching teams do. Not appearing in the graphic: One Stanley Cup champion the last five years qualified the last week of the season, the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins. The other four took the easier way in.
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Here are some numbers on backup goalies. The theory I wanted to test was that over the course of a season -- when injuries, back-to-back games and such won't have as much of an influence as over a smaller sample -- the crappiest teams will face good opponents' backup goalies the most often.
I didn't want to sort through whether the starter was nursing an injury one particular night, or whether a hot hand was being played. Where a new guy came in as the new or at least a temporary number one -- Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, say, or Anaheim Ducks goalie Dan Ellis, I didn't want to count them, either. Also, I wanted to as best I could disregard mid-game goalie changes. So here's what I did.
I identified 17 true "backups" on teams that fought for a playoff berth into April. No more than one per team. I disregarded Philly and Chicago, Philly because two goalies played a lot, Chicago because they swapped their backup for their starter mid-season. The 17 goalies are identified at the bottom of the post.
Then I assembled those 17 goalies' game logs for the season, through March 31. I counted only games in which they were credited with decisions, and I disregarded any game in which they played 20:00 or less.
Which teams didn't get no respect -- that is, faced good teams' backups the most often?
What surprises you the most? Tampa Bay Lightning and, say, Ottawa Senators could be switched without troubling anybody much, I bet. And the Toronto Maple Leafs? Really?
I guess the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes aren't that surprising, when you consider they were both, let's call them stealth playoff teams for most of the year, and in the Sabres' case, prominent offensive persons were absent for long stretches.
There may be one somewhat hidden factor. The "totals" at the bottom show the distribution of playoff and non-playoff teams — nothing surprising there — and Eastern and Western Conference teams. I wonder if the distribution of West teams might be explained by the wider-open playoff race there.
Some overall perspective: In the 285 games in the sample, 108 were at home and 177 on the road; and as a group, the backups went 151-97-37, with a 2.53 GAA and a .915 Sv%.
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Didn't see that this made the news it probably should have. On March 22 against the Boston Bruins, Marty Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils set the all-time career record for saves made.
Someone update his Wikipedia page!
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Ok, a comprehensive list of the players (at least 500 regular season games with at least a .650 PPG average) whose teams made the playoffs and whose points-per-game average goes up in the playoffs:
Daniel Briere sont la! The bottom six:
And the rest.
Finally, from earlier in the post: The 17 "backups" are Auld, Bernier, Biron, Enroth, Brent Johnson, Karlsson, LaBarbera, Lindback, MacDonald, McElhinney, Niittymaki, Peters, Rask, Raycroft, Schneider, Mike Smith, Varlamov.