Fantasy HockeyFront OfficeJosh Kay

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
Washington Capitals 1705 2502 1.4674 371 21.76
San Jose Sharks 1819 3023 1.6619 392 21.55
Detroit Red Wings 1868 2927 1.5669 386 20.66
Philadelphia Flyers 1856 2559 1.3788 378 20.37
Montreal Canadiens 1846 2647 1.4339 372 20.15
Anaheim Ducks 1705 2616 1.5343 340 19.94
Vancouver Canucks 1834 2651 1.4455 357 19.47
Pittsburgh Penguins 1871 2694 1.4399 350 18.71
Tampa Bay Lightning 1770 2412 1.3627 331 18.70
Minnesota Wild 1721 2379 1.3823 320 18.59
Los Angeles Kings 1821 2542 1.3959 334 18.34
Chicago Blackhawks 1764 2380 1.3492 319 18.08
Buffalo Sabres 1776 2499 1.4071 321 18.07
Boston Bruins 1565 2189 1.3987 282 18.02
Ottawa Senators 1672 2278 1.3624 300 17.94
St. Louis Blues 1718 2273 1.3231 305 17.75
Calgary Flames 1750 2367 1.3526 310 17.71
Toronto Maple Leafs 1789 2501 1.3980 310 17.33
Edmonton Oilers 1773 2126 1.1991 306 17.26
Atlanta/Winnipeg 1716 2236 1.3030 295 17.19
Carolina Hurricanes 1978 2687 1.3584 340 17.19
New York Islanders 1690 2303 1.3627 289 17.10
New Jersey Devils 1613 2367 1.4675 272 16.86
Colorado Avalanche 1626 2230 1.3715 274 16.85
Dallas Stars 1787 2427 1.3581 301 16.84
Florida Panthers 1662 2355 1.4170 276 16.61
Nashville Predators 1656 2173 1.3122 275 16.61
New York Rangers 1764 2435 1.3804 285 16.16
Phoenix Coyotes 1702 2228 1.3090 271 15.92
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.

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