By The Numbers: Predicting The First Round of the NHL Playoffs

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

By Mitch Cole (@DirtyWaterBuzz)

It’s the NHL playoffs. Anything can happen, right? Every team gets a clean slate, and the regular season doesn’t matter anymore.

Actually, if you ask me, it does matter.

While the records don’t matter one bit (we saw the 8th place in the west LA Kings win the Cup in 2012), the statistics do matter. So I’ve decided to take it upon myself to predict the winner of each series in both conferences using Score Adjusted Fenwick%, Score Adjusted On-Ice Shooting%, and Score Adjusted On-Ice Save%, all at even strength. We’re going to use score adjusted metrics here to eliminate score effects. Since a team down by two goals or more is likely to have more shot attempts than the team with the lead, as the team holding the two goal lead is likely to play more conservative (also called “playing not to lose” by some), score adjusted metrics will give us a more accurate look at who controls play, who shoots better, and who makes the most saves.

Remember, fenwick, like corsi, is a metric used as a proxy for puck possession. It’s a measure of unblocked shot attempts taken by a team over the course of a game, time period, or season. Shooting percentage and save percentage are pretty straight forward stats. They tell you what percent of shots a team or player are goals, and what percent of shots on goal a team’s goaltenders or a single goaltender makes a save on, respectively.

Let’s start with the east:

Montreal Canadiens vs Ottawa Senators

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 49.1% (MTL) vs 48.8% (OTT)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 8.0% (MTL) vs 8.3% (OTT)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .935 (MTL) vs .928 (OTT)

While the numbers suggest that Ottawa is an inferior possession team to Montreal, a team that has for a couple of years now defied what possession metrics tell us should happen to them, you’ll remember when I wrote about Ottawa’s incredible run that their possession numbers improved following the dismissal of Paul MacLean. As I wrote then, the Senators posted a Corsi% of just 47.7 through 27 games under MacLean. If we eliminate all of the data prior to December 8 when MacLean was fired, we find that the Senators’ Corsi% is 50.7 (or 50.8, depending on how you choose to round); a drastic 3% improvement. Additionally, they averaged a score adjusted fenwick% of 50.3. As one would expect, their on-ice shooting% also increased, with the team averaging an on-ice shooting% of 8.52 after Cameron took over. And while many like to attempt to discredit their success by saying Andrew Hammond has bailed them out, you have to remember that Craig Anderson wasn’t hurting the team prior to Hammond taking over. Hammond was called up because Anderson was injured and they needed him to play. Hammond has just played so well that benching him would make no sense.

While Ottawa has better possession metrics and better shooting metrics than Montreal, there’s still the factor of Carey Price. Price is a legitimate candidate for the Hart Trophy this season, finishing with an even strength score adjusted save percentage of .946. Pretty insane, right? Price has been other worldly this season, and in my opinion is the X factor in this series. However, Price has an even strength save percentage of .886 against the Senators this season. While that could be cause for concern, it admittedly is in an incredibly small sample size (Price only played in two games against Ottawa this season). So, while that is definitely something to keep in mind, I’m not sure how much, if at all, it matters.

Prediction: Montreal will defeat Ottawa

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 53.8% (TBL) vs 52.2% (DET)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 9.3% (TBL) vs 7.4% (DET)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .915 (TBL) vs .925 (DET)

Tampa Bay has the edge in fenwick, and their score adjusted on-ice shooting percentage is drastically better than Detroit’s. Personally, I believe that Tampa’s higher fenwick and much higher on-ice shooting percentage is enough to offset the 10% difference in on-ice save percentage. I’m going to have to give the Lightning the edge here. They’re a young, scary good team against a Detroit squad that, while good with a solid mix of veterans and younger players, faltered a bit down the stretch. Tampa’s attack is fronted by noted superstar Steven Stamkos, among many others, and I just don’t see Detroit being able to take this series.

Prediction: Tampa Bay will defeat the Red Wings

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 50.2% (NYR) vs 53.1% (PIT)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 8.9% (NYR) vs 7.6% (PIT)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .928 (NYR) vs .923 (PIT)

This is a tough one for me to predict. The Penguins have the edge in fenwick, but the Rangers are a lot better in on-ice shooting percentage and hold a .005% edge in on-ice save percentage (New York’s goaltenders make five more saves per 1,000 shots than Pittsburgh’s). And let’s be honest, here: Henrik Lundqvist is a much safer bet to perform well in the playoffs than Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s received heavy criticism for poor playoff performances since winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2009. Additionally, Pittsburgh played very, very poorly down the stretch, falling all the way down to the wild card spots. However, I tend to not take into account a team’s recent performance history in the playoffs, as it’s been shown to have little to no effect on their performance come playoff time.

But, I’m going to stick with my gut on this one. Prediction: The Rangers will beat the Penguins in this series.

Washington Capitals vs New York Islanders

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 52% (WSH) vs 54.6% (NYI)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 8.1% (WSH) vs 8.1% (NYI)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .922 (WSH) vs .910 (NYI)

Despite the deadlock in on-ice shooting percentage and the Islanders’ dramatically better fenwick percentage (2.6% is a large margin in possession metrics), I’m unsurprised by Washington’s massive edge in on-ice save percentage. Braden Holtby has had a very strong year, and while Jaroslav Halak has been a significant upgrade for the Isles over Evgeni Nabokov, he’s still a pretty unreliable goaltender. This is also a difficult series for me to predict, because as much as I want the Islanders to make a deep run in the playoffs due to some pulling on my heart strings (miss you, Johnny Boychuk), Washington’s offense can be extremely deadly, especially if given power play opportunities (you really don’t want to be watching Alex Ovechkin rip one timers from the left side faceoff circle all night). However, I have a good feeling about the Islanders this season, and I really hope I’m right on this one.

Prediction: The Islanders will win this one over the Caps.

Now, for the West.

St. Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 53.6% (STL) vs 52.4% (MIN)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 8.1% (STL) vs 6.2% (MIN)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .922 (STL) vs .917 (MIN)

A lot of people are pretty high on the Wild in this series, but personally I don’t see it. St. Louis has the edge in all of the above metrics, including a massive difference in shooting percentage (nearly 2%). This is an easy one for me.

Prediction: St. Louis takes this one, no doubt in my mind.

Nashville Predators vs Chicago Blackhawks

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 53.3% (NSH) vs 52.8% (CHI)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 8.2% (NSH) vs 7.2% (CHI)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .929 (NSH) vs .932 (CHI)

The injury to Patrick Kane has really hurt the Blackhawks this year, as their 7.2% on-ice shooting percentage. With a healthy Patrick Kane in the lineup, I’m inclined to believe the numbers would be quite different. But, while Kane was recently cleared for contact, I don’t envision him making a return during this series. And even if he did, he’d be playing at far less than 100%.

Outside of that, Peter Laviolette’s Predators have the edge in fenwick, and are only .003% behind the Blackhawks in on-ice save percentage. And in a playoff series, I’m more willing to trust Pekka Rinne than Corey Crawford right now.

Prediction: The Predators will knock off the Blackhawks in this one

Anaheim Ducks vs Winnipeg Jets

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 51.7% (ANA) vs 52.8% (WPG)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 8.4% (ANA) vs 7.9% (WPG)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .918 (ANA) vs .925 (WPG)

This is by far the hardest series to predict. While the Jets have the edge in score adjusted fenwick and on-ice save percentage, Ondrej Pavelec is so incredibly unreliable that it hurts to watch. The fan and the analyst in me wants to believe that the Jets will pull this one out, but I just don’t know if I can trust that Pavelec will continue to play at a not-awful level.

At the same time, though, the Ducks have a history of being great in the regular season, only to bow out of the playoffs early under Bruce Boudreau. And I don’t think the .5% difference in on-ice shooting percentage can save the Ducks.

Prediction: I’m sticking with the Jets in this series.

Vancouver Canucks vs Calgary Flames

Score Adjusted Fenwick%: 50.4% (VAN) vs 45.6% (CGY)

Score Adjusted OSh%: 7.8% (VAN) vs 8.9% (CGY)

Score Adjusted OSv%: .916 (VAN) vs .923 (CGY)

I love watching the Flames this year, I really do. They have so many exciting young players, and they’re so much fun to watch. But, if Ryan Miller or Eddie Lack can stay solid, and the Canucks can avoid falling vixtim to score effects, they’ll probably pull this series out. But my word, when score effects take over for Calgary, they’re a scary, scary team to play against. How many times did they come back from two, three, or even four goal deficits to win and/or tie a game this season? Too many for me to count. As much as it pains me to do this, I have to go with what my brain tells me, and not my heart.

Prediction: Vancouver ends Calgary’s incredible run far short of what the Flames and their fans had hoped for.

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