The title and story sounds familiar. The Rangers will be a dangerous team in the playoffs. The usual reason is because Henrik Lundqvist can steal a series, something he’s done multiple times in the past. But the Washington Capitals are not in the playoffs this year, so there needs to be a different narrative. This year’s team looks different. This team is one of the hottest in the league heading into the playoffs. This year, the #fancystats put them up there with the best.
Puck possession and PDO (SV%+SH%) are two stats we use regularly around here. It’s been proven many, many times that teams that drive puck possession are teams that are successful. Teams with a high PDO (over 100) generally were “more lucky” and have abnormally high SH% or SV% (or both). Teams that rode those to the playoffs generally fizzle out early, as the luck runs out and their SH%/SV% regress to the mean. This may seem complicated and a bit of an abstract concept, but Exhibit A is the 2011-2012 LA Kings. Exhibit B is the 2013-2014 Toronto Maple Leafs, who didn’t even make the playoffs.
The Rangers are in the top-ten in the league in puck possession at 5v5 (Fenwick-For of 53.6%), and trail only the Bruins in the Eastern Conference. Puck possession at 5v5 is important, but perhaps the best part is that the Rangers have been trending up in 5v5 puck possession in close situations. Aside from that abysmal ten-game stretch in October, the Rangers haven’t even been near 50% Fenwick-For (FF from this point on). They’ve been hovering around 53% since February, and above 50% since November 7, as shown in the chart below.
Now we hit the PDO part of the discussion, which again favors the Rangers. PDO is a measure that combines SH% and SV%, and should average around 100 (a .920 SV% and an 8% SH% gives you 100). The Rangers fall at 98.7, but that has also been trending up as pucks have started going in and the goaltending has returned to the form that we expect. From the below chart, he Rangers have spent just eight games under a 100 PDO (rolling 10-game average) since January 12, and those eight games were during their cold spell in March.
So what does all this tell us?
Teams that are able to control the play and have strong goaltending (most of what PDO is calculated from is SV%) are teams that become very dangerous in the playoffs. In 2012, #fancystat folks were all over the Kings, practically drooling at how much of a sleeper they were. Only those that did not see the underlying numbers (tops in the league in FF%, strong goaltending, PDO trending up) were surprised at the run they made.
The Rangers of this year may not be the Kings of 2011-2012, but they are eerily similar. Both teams had terrible starts. Both teams were among the best in the league in puck possession. Both teams really turned it on late. Both teams had strong goaltending. Both teams were able to run four lines consistently. Both teams had strong defense.
This is not to say the Rangers will make a 2012-Kings run this year. The Kings did not have a team like the Bruins in their way, a team that is also a strong puck possession team with strong defense/goaltending. This Rangers squad will make things difficult for any team facing them, and they certainly won’t be a push over if they get to the Bruins."The Rangers will be a dangerous team in the playoffs",