Power-Play Importance and its Correlation with Making the Playoffs
Power-Play is Important; How strong is the correlation to winning?
Every educated hockey fan knows just how important having a strong power-play is. The question is “how important?” Last season I was fascinated by the fact that the Boston Bruins, a team that had the leagues’ worst power-play percentage during the regular-season, was able to make it to the Stanley Cup. Albeit they were 17.5% successful on the power-play in the playoffs; the fact still remains that they came into the playoffs with the number three seed despite that lack of regular season success.
This fact led me to do some digging, and interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins have been ranked 25th or lower in power-play opportunities (drawing penalties) since the beginning of the 2007-2008 season. For this reason, 2007-2008 has become the “arbitrary cut-off point” for this corresponding study on power-play effectiveness in the National Hockey League.
The obvious effect of having a strong power-play is that it leads to extra goals. Additionally though, the underlying importance of having a power-play that opponents “fear” will lead to them to play more cautiously in certain situations for fear of taking a penalty. The amount of times this can happen in a game, or throughout a season, to a given team, is difficult to quantify – that is, events where the other team approaches a situation cautiously – but that doesn’t make it any less real.
Is power-play effectiveness so important though that it leads directly to winning? For that answer, we must analyze the set of data below:
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NHL Power-Play Percentages (Cumulative from 2007-2008 till present)
|Team||PP Chances||Total PP Shots||Shots per PP||PPG Goals||Percent|
|San Jose Sharks||1819||3023||1.6619||392||21.55|
|Detroit Red Wings||1868||2927||1.5669||386||20.66|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||1770||2412||1.3627||331||18.70|
|Los Angeles Kings||1821||2542||1.3959||334||18.34|
|St. Louis Blues||1718||2273||1.3231||305||17.75|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||1789||2501||1.3980||310||17.33|
|New York Islanders||1690||2303||1.3627||289||17.10|
|New Jersey Devils||1613||2367||1.4675||272||16.86|
|New York Rangers||1764||2435||1.3804||285||16.16|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||1798||2531||1.4077||271||15.07|
The years 2007 through the end of the 2012 season result in a total of 96 playoff spots awarded throughout the six seasons (eight per conference per year). Since there are 16 playoff spots per year, we will use the St. Louis Blues as the cut-off point (they are 16th ranked), though the Calgary Flames are only 0.04% behind the Blues, so it would be unfair not to throw them in as well.
The playoff teams that are not in the upper echelon group of the most consistent power-play units are as follows:
2007: East: New Jersey Devils #4 seed, New York Rangers #5 seed. West: Dallas Stars #5 seed, Colorado Avalanche #6 seed, Nashville Predators #8 seed
2008: East: New Jersey Devils #3 seed, Carolina Hurricanes #6 seed, New York Rangers #8 seed. West: Columbus Blue Jackets #7 seed
2009: East: New Jersey Devils #2 seed. West: Phoenix Coyotes #4 seed, Nashville Predators #7 seed, Colorado Avalanche #8 seed.
2010: East: New York Rangers #8 seed. West: Nashville Predators #5 seed, Phoenix Coyotes #6 seed.
2011: East: New York Rangers #1 seed, Florida Panthers #3 seed, New Jersey Devils #6 seed. West: Phoenix Coyotes #3 seed, Nashville Predators #4 seed.
2012: East: Toronto Maple Leafs #5 seed, New York Rangers #6 seed, New York Islanders #8 seed. West: None
Exactly 75% (24 of 96) of seeds were teams that weren’t in our top grouping of most consistently successful power-play units. Additionally, the only two teams not to make the playoffs during the past six years (Edmonton and Atlanta/Winnipeg), are ranked in the bottom sector of our 6-year power-play rankings.
Exactly half (12) of the remaining 24 spots were taken by three teams: Rangers, Devils, and Predators. Those three teams have Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur, and Pekka Rinne, all of whom are sensational goaltenders. Though, Nashville did have Dan Ellis as their main goaltender in 2007-2008, but they got in because they were lucky. They only had a +1 goal differential at the end of the season.
Let’s look at the seasons of the other teams that made it without an excellent goaltender.
2007-2008 Dallas Stars:
The Stars did it with the penalty-kill, ranking second in that category on the season at 85.6 percent. Also, the Stars were the “comeback kids” as they ranked first in “Winning when trailing first” percentage. Dallas won 47.6 of their games even after allowing the first goal. Most importantly, though, Dallas had a +22 goal differential, good for fourth in the NHL.
2007-2008 Colorado Avalanche:
The Avalanche were quite a curious team in 2007-2008, because they didn’t excel at much. Their most important stat is probably the fact that they were neck and neck with the Los Angeles Kings for the team with least time on the penalty-kill. The Avalanche took the fewest minor penalties, recording just 318 minutes of minor penalty minutes. They were ranked fourth in the league in power-play time minus penalty-kill time. Less time spent on the penalty-kill means more time on the attack (at least in theory), and the fact that they were disciplined, helped mask the fact that they had only the 21st ranked penalty-kill unit by percentage. The Avs also took care of business very well at home, recording 27 wins which was good for third best in hockey behind the Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks.
2008-2009 Carolina Hurricanes:
The sixth seed in the East that season, the Hurricanes’ key to success was quite simple: puck control. The Canes ranked first in the league in takeaways minus giveaways with a +161 margin. In fact, only three other teams had a margin in that category of +100 or more. Coincidentally, this was a year that Carolina also had an excellent power-play, registering a 18.7% success rate. Additionally, the Hurricanes were the most disciplined team, tallying just 9.8 penalty minutes per game.
2008-2009 Columbus Blue Jackets:
The Jackets snuck into the playoffs on the backs of goaltender Steve Mason who registered a career year en-route to a 2.29 Goals against Average, second to Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. The Blue Jackets finished with the fewest giveaways as well. The Blue Jackets finished with the worst power-play in the league yet snuck in thanks to puck possession.
The traits of teams without an excellent power-play continue on like this throughout the research. If you don’t have a good power-play, you better have an excellent goaltender/defense, a great penalty-kill, discipline, and excel at puck control. But overall, not capitalizing on power-plays can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.