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Apr
16

A different way of looking at special teams statistics

April 16, 2014, by

Derek Stepan tallied 18 power play points this season and added three shorthanded assists to lead the team

The Rangers went on a bizarre tear in March in which they scored on seven of 41 shorthanded situations, yet managed just five goals in 45 of their own power play opportunities. Obviously that was just a weird anomaly, but it made me realize that the traditional ways of measuring special teams – power play and penalty kill percentages – might not be the best way to assess their impact on winning and losing.

We all know what a huge impact special teams have on individual hockey games, but noting what rate a team’s power play has scored at and how often a penalty kill has surrendered goals over the course of a long season seems kind of silly. The percentage stats put way too much stock on what happened in October, which has no bearing on the present. Plus, those percentage stats don’t factor in shorthanded goals for and against, and we just saw how crucial those were to the Rangers’ success.

Power plays are constantly affected by the same factors that influence many other stats – hot streaks, injuries and dumb luck. Even the worst power play in the league can get red-hot for stretches, while a unit featuring five All-Stars can suffer a lengthy drought. The same goes for PK units.

In my eyes, the real purpose of special teams statistics should be to measure what affect they have on a team’s record. The Devils just missed out on the postseason because of their unfathomable 0-13 record in the shootout and there have been plenty of other examples of the skills competition dictating which teams make the playoffs. You’d think special teams would have an even greater impact on a team’s success over the course of the season since they’re a factor in literally every game.

So, I thought it might be interesting to tabulate how many goals each team scored on special teams, minus how many goals they allowed. That number should paint a much clearer picture of how special teams have impacted a team’s win/loss record than the percentage stats. After all, goal differential is a playoff tiebreaker and is surely heavily influenced by special teams.

This isn’t meant to sound like a complicated #fancystat, but I tried something a little different with the existing special teams statistics. This chart shows how each team actually did this year on special teams (power play goals for – shorthanded goals allowed – power play goals allowed + shorthanded goals for). I highlighted where each of the 16 playoff teams finished in the new rankings:

pp plus minus 2013 2014 highlightedObviously, this is not a foolproof test. The numbers can easily be skewed because certain teams get way more opportunities on the power play and make more frequent trips to the penalty box than others over the course of the season. But since there is value in players and teams that draw penalties and stay disciplined, this shouldn’t be disregarded even though it’s a “counting stat.” Special teams goal differential does seem to be a little more accurate in determining season-long success than the traditional power play and penalty kill percentage rankings:

pp pct 2013 2014 nhl

The Rangers’ power play ranked 15th in the NHL with an 18.1% conversion rate this season

penalty kill pct 2013 2014 nhl

The Rangers’ penalty kill ranked 3rd in the NHL with an 85.3% success rate this season

Still not convinced that the special teams “battle” is more indicative of success than season-long percentages? Consider this: the Rangers were 20-2-2 when winning the special teams battle (scoring more power play goals plus shorthanded goals than their opponent) this year, but just 4-10-0 when losing the battle outright. New York was 21-19-4 when “drawing” the special teams battle with opponents. I’d love to go back and check on that for each team, but I haven’t found a time-saving way to do that other than going through all 30 team schedules…no thanks.

To me, it makes much more sense to gauge whether a team’s power play and penalty kill are hot or cold at any given point in the season rather than factoring in how they were performing months ago. The go-to special teams stat should either be something like the goal differential idea I outlined, or a measure of how many times each team won and lost the special teams battle during the course of a season.

14 comments

  1. Ken in Shandaken says:

    Great post. Can’t really draw conclusions from such a small data base, but what a telling statistic. Win the special team battle, win the game more than 80% of the time. Lose the battle, lose the game more than 70% of the time. Play even, win about half the time. Amazing correlation at least in this one case. Someone SHOULD go back and check this stat in the past and track it in the future. Let’s get hot on the power play starting tomorrow!

    • Kevin Baumer says:

      It seems pretty logical that an extra goal for or against would have a massive impact on winning and losing given that average goals per game hovers just over five, but yeah, it’s still a pretty convincing correlation.

  2. Walt says:

    The 94 cup team had the best PP, and PK in the NHL that season.

    If there is anything that I’m hoping for during these play-offs is MSL, on the PK, could shake things up with a few short handed goals.

    I believe that this series will be won by the special teams, and we can’t let those dirty bastar*s in orange and white goat us into taking penalties, or geting off of our game.

    LGR!!!!!!

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      Walt I couldn’t agree more. I think MSL will get going on the PP as well. I would bet my fanhood of the Rangers AV is inserting MSL into part of the success of the PP. I think they’re using the practice time to work on it. At one point our PP was ranked 7th or better in the NHL. To finish 15th shows how bad it became by seasons end. Nash & MSL need to get involved in the scoring with the man advantage. The Flyers took the most penalties in the league. We will get our chances and MSL should use it to get hot in the playoffs for the Rangers to win the series in 6. LGR.
      PS.
      Nothing is ever easy with this team. At least not since 94′. So we all know this series will end up like 2 tired fighters throwing hay makers in game 7. At least it’s at MSG! I’m hoping for victory in game 6 in Philly tho. Just to spit in their fans faces collectively.

  3. SalMerc says:

    Using this information for the Philly series tells me that if we make them take more penalties (skate hard, cycle, dog them out of their zone) AND we can convert near our season averages, we should be in good shape.

    What we cannot do is take stupid penalties or get Nash or Zucc in the box with one of their no-names on off-setting penalties. That usually hurts us.

  4. todd says:

    Win the majority of faceoffs!

  5. The Suit says:

    Great post

  6. HARLEMBLUES says:

    RANGERS SIGN DEFENSEMAN MAT BODIE FROM NCAA CHAMPS UNION COLLEGE.

  7. Spozo says:

    I love the KISS point of view, as in Keep It Simple Stupid. You win games by scoring more goals by than the opposition, regardless of how you do it.

  8. RangerMom says:

    Great post, Kevin. Maybe this will inspire a new fancy stat — the Baumer %.

  9. Ray says:

    Great post Kevin. One thing I might add is that while the Rangers scored more PK goals than PP goals down the stretch, they did score more PP goals than their opponents did. They convincingly outscored their opponents when they were a man down.

    Moreover, the improvement in the PK was real. Callahan looked great on the PK, but was often on the ice for goals against. MSL, Nash, Zuke are amazing.