NHL ANALYTICS: Notable Players at 5v4

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  • Alex Ovechkin
    Alex Ovechkin
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Washington Capitals goal scoring wonder, Alex Ovechkin scored his 275th power play marker to become the NHL’s most prolific scorer with the man advantage during the holidays. In consideration of this achievement, it was only fitting to focus on some power play oddities at this point of the season. With the NHL hurdling through the recent spate of postponed games, if some players are listed in COVID protocol, this would give other players some opportunities to get 5v4 ice time.

Before we get into the players highlighted this week, a recent historical output at 5v4 from 2016-17 to the present was relevant to see the impact special teams have had in the last handful of years – with a note that absolute counts will be skewed due to the shortened season in 2020-21 and the COVID-cancelled regular season of 2019-20.

Using counting values isn’t the best use of data to demonstrate the pace of 5v4 scoring, but we will contrast that with a per 60 minutes rate to show how teams are producing during the same time frame. Included in the summary tables are goals against at 5v4, to signify the direction of shorthanded goals against as the NHL adopts a ‘power kill’ mentality, using an offensive strategy to kill off penalties and capitalize on unexpected scoring chances while short a player on the ice.

First, counting goals for and against versus the expected value for each category.

Data for team level statistics were compiled by Evolving Hockey, and the player set data by Natural Stat Trick.

Season

Goals For

XGFor

Goals Against

xGAgst

16-17

1276

1278

174

162

17-18

1430

1415

193

183

18-19

1344

1283

202

187

19-20

1177

1129

166

161

20-21

920

879

108

115

21-22

554

551

81

74

Making direct seasonal comparisons here doesn’t provide value after 2018-19 due to the shortened seasons, but the relationship between goals scored for and against can be measured via the expected goals for the same category during the listed seasons.

For instance, aside from 2016-17, teams outperformed the expected goals and that trend continues in 2021-22 with 554 goals slightly edging out the 551 expected goals. Even shorthanded goals are exceeding expectations despite the anomaly in 2020-21 where 108 shorthanded markers didn’t match the 115 expectation.

Turning out attention from absolute counts to rates we see some similarities. The table below shows how closely teams tracked to expectations on a per-60 basis, including the blip in goals against per 60 underperforming the expected goals against per 60 rate in 2020-21.

Season

GlsFor/60

xGFor/60

GlsAg/60

xGAg/60

16-17

195.0

195.2

26.4

24.8

17-18

217.1

215.4

29.2

27.8

18-19

210.4

200.9

31.8

29.4

19-20

214.1

205.8

30.2

29.4

20-21

210.0

201.1

24.8

26.5

21-22

225.2

223.3

32.3

30.1

In 2021-22, teams are outperforming their goals scoring output but the jump from the 209 goals per 60 average in the years leading up to this season, to the 225 range is notable. So, too, is the increased goals against slightly higher than the 28.5 average before this season. Half a season in comparison to a full schedule 82 games is not as ideal to make direct comparisons, but we aren’t looking at specific percentages here as much as identifying trends at 5v4 play.

Teams are scoring more, generating more scoring chances and also allowing more chances and goals against as a result.

Copy-cat qualities of this league has created an environment where most – if not all – teams use the 1-3-1 formation in the offensive zone, with a lone defenseman on the point with four forwards and the neutral zone drop pass – labelled as the sling shot – to generate speed below the puck and attack as a unit, limiting individual forays in zone entries.

In general, we are seeing an increase in special teams production both for and against.

On to individual players identified, and they’re summarized in the table below.

NHL Players at 5v4
NHL Players at 5v4


Evan Rodrigues – Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins highest goal scorer at 5v4 has skated alongside Jason Zucker, Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter as most frequent linemates. The potential unrestricted free agent at the end of the season has scored 62.5% of the goals while on the ice (5-0-5) firing at 21% iSh%. The five goals are better than the 3.1 expected goals, all metrics producing career bests. In just over 66 minutes, he’s still about 30 minutes shy of career high 99 minutes in Buffalo in 2017-18. However, the question remains as to whether he will continue his goal scoring prowess with Crosby and Malkin on the verge of returning, forcing a rotation of the power play lines. Will the recent success be enough to keep him in the rotation for the top unit? Coaches make room for impact players, at the expense of moving players out of the rotation – and while results are great, perhaps he’s moved to another unit to accommodate returnees.

Ondrej Kase – Toronto Maple Leafs

The former Ducks and Bruins forward has already matched career best four points at 5v4, during the 2018-19 season, with ice time earned over the half dozen games, a benefit of the various COVID issues and injuries running through the Leafs lineup. His four points in ’18-19 constituted every goal scored with him on the ice at 5v4, and only 40% of the goals scored as a Leaf this season. If that percentage gets a boost, there could be a short-term boost to the 5v4 production. A healthy lineup will force him back down the lineup.

Chris Kreider – New York Rangers

Entering the lone Monday night game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Blueshirts forward was only one goal shy of his career best (10) from 2020-21 in 47 games played. He’s scored nine goals on 19 shots in 103 minutes played, for an incredibly high 47% iSh%, and doubling his 4.31 expected goals. The productivity is significantly better than his historical averages in goals (6) and points (10), and while he’s clearly set to achieve career highs, he’s doing it improved positioning – whether by coaching strategy or individual skills development. Kreider also leads the NHL in individual high danger chances for generated. It’s paying off getting into high danger scoring areas, and he’s 11th in the league in individual HDCF per 60 minutes. The scoring may be unsustainable throughout the season, but if he continues to do the things that make him successful in the short term, he’s be rewarded – and so will his fantasy owners.

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John Tavares, Mika Zibanejad, Mikko Rantanen – Toronto, NY Rangers, Colorado

A note on these three players who are producing fairly well while putting up a pedestrian IPP. Measuring the percentage of points earned in on-ice goals scored the three players are significantly lower than the average of the players among the top 15 in 5v4 scoring (70%). This creates a gap that could be an initialing of better production if they contribute more on the ice. Some of that hinges on the team success as well. Rantanen and Zibanejad have played almost 20 more 5v4 minutes than Tavares, but he only lags them by one point. As well, his 47% IPP is also reflective of the Leafs overall improvements at 5v4, and scoring goals with less elapsed time in a penalty – thereby lessening the overall time on ice, but still getting productive results. Rantanen leads this group by only one percentage point playing only 25 games, but with a significant chunk at 5v4. All three players can potentially see that IPP percentage lift, meaning there’s still some immediate upside to productivity.

IPP NHL Players at 5v4
IPP NHL Players at 5v4

Happy new year to everyone! Thank you for your continued support and best wishes to you and your families. May 2022 be better than the previous two calendar years.