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Those Especially Special Teams

There I was, idly clicking my way around the hockey blogosphere, when, like the Bat Signal cast against the cloudy skies of Gotham, I spied a call for help. At the end of a post covering the All-Star Game and how perhaps it might be improved, Ritch from American Hockey Fan had a question...

Why not have the best Powerplay in the league face off against the best PK? Who would that be, I wonder? San Jose vs. Montreal, maybe? Perhaps the Forechecker will come to my aid again.

Fear not, good netizen - I'm always in need of topical inspiration, so let's take a look...

The NHL stat in this area merely covers percentage of opportunities converted. On that front, San Jose has the top power play (25.8%), and Vancouver the top penalty kill (88.4%). There, we have our answer, right? If we did, this would be an awfully short piece, that's for sure.

A great source of special teams statistics can be found over at mc79hockey.com, where you can find a breakdown of teams on a 60-minute basis (note: mc79hockey's stats are currently updated through Game 472, which is a few weeks old). In other words, given 60 minutes of power play time, it shows how many shots and goals are being racked up (for and against) by the various teams. Looking at power play numbers as an example, if you take Goals For/60 Minutes, and subtract Goals Against/60 Minutes (due to shorthanded goals allowed), you get a Goal Differential/60 Minutes. This gets us past the two major flaws in the NHL's basic power play figures, which only reflect percentage of opportunities converted. First, due to penalties being called at different times, you can have a PP lasting only a few seconds, but it counts in the NHL figure just as if it was a full five-minute major. Therefore, normalizing the power play output against a standard time period gives a better picture of actual production. Secondly, there is no consideration for a sloppy power play that gives up shorthanded goals, or an opportunistic PK that scores some of their own. I took the liberty of updating the Goal Differential/60 Minutes figure, which is indicated in the table below:

TeamPP Goals ForPP Goals AgainstPP TimePP Diff/ 60 Min
San Jose Sharks632391:549.34
Montreal Canadiens513347:048.30
Anaheim Ducks551407:247.95
New York Rangers441407:236.33
Florida Panthers413360:236.33
Toronto Maple Leafs505431:116.26
Dallas Stars474429:436.00
Pittsburgh Penguins537462:125.97
Boston Bruins458372:295.96
Colorado Avalanche446391:195.83
Nashville Predators452444:305.80
Los Angeles Kings474444:355.80
Washington Capitals455430:235.58
Tampa Bay Lightning477436:295.50
Detroit Red Wings425404:205.49
Vancouver Canucks456431:355.42
New York Islanders354344:475.39
New Jersey Devils427390:125.38
Carolina Hurricanes465471:085.22
Edmonton Oilers383418:185.02
Columbus Blue Jackets456466:225.02
Ottawa Senators4510422:374.97
Atlanta Thrashers427437:544.80
Minnesota Wild417427:184.77
Calgary Flames364413:474.64
Buffalo Sabres427457:264.59
St. Louis Blues313373:554.49
Phoenix Coyotes388415:454.33
Philadelphia Flyers337390:194.00
Chicago Blackhawks233395:593.03


Indeed, San Jose is way out in front with the man advantage, followed by Montreal, Anaheim, and then the bulk of the NHL grouped in a range from just under 5.00 to 6.33 Goals per 60 Minutes. You really see the Goal Differential factor come into play towards the bottom of these standings, where a team like Edmonton jumps several places compared to their typical NHL Power Play ranking, because the other teams around them give up so many more shorthanded goals. Similarly, those young Pittsburgh Penguins have given up seven shorthanded scores against, which drops them behind four other teams with fewer PP Goals For.

On the PK side, we see Montreal on top (1st in PK, 2nd in PP, no wonder they're doing so well), followed by Minnesota and Vancouver as the only teams with a Goal Differential/60 Minutes better than -4.00. According to the typical Penalty Killing percentage, the Canadiens would only be third, but on the strength of 10* shorthanded goals, they, along with the Wild (with 8 SH goals) pull ahead of the Canucks, who only have two such scores.

TeamPK Goals AgainstPK Goals ForPK TimeGoal Diff/ 60 Min
Montreal Canadiens3510444:26-3.38
Minnesota Wild318386:43-3.57
Vancouver Canucks322466:25-3.86
Edmonton Oilers303399:29-4.06
Nashville Predators357413:03-4.07
New Jersey Devils221287:06-4.39
Anaheim Ducks363425:16-4.66
Philadelphia Flyers396417:57-4.74
Carolina Hurricanes406429:17-4.75
Chicago Blackhawks457459:30-4.96
Ottawa Senators396392:08-5.05
Detroit Red Wings468429:13-5.31
Florida Panthers464472:36-5.33
San Jose Sharks333330:14-5.45
New York Rangers445425:14-5.50
St. Louis Blues464450:33-5.59
Calgary Flames5011416:00-5.63
Columbus Blue Jackets464447:11-5.64
Washington Capitals478413:09-5.66
Dallas Stars422417:36-5.75
Pittsburgh Penguins518413:57-6.23
Boston Bruins475394:24-6.39
Buffalo Sabres462403:04-6.55
Atlanta Thrashers546438:03-6.57
Colorado Avalanche443368:36-6.67
New York Islanders542454:10-6.87
Phoenix Coyotes563446:57-7.11
Toronto Maple Leafs583447:39-7.37
Tampa Bay Lightning476316:28-7.77
Los Angeles Kings604412:17-8.15


So, Ritch, in your dream matchup of top power play vs. top penalty kill, I'd indeed recommend pitting San Jose against Montreal. A possible extension of this analysis could look into the Shot Quality produced during these situations, to help separate the performance of the goaltender from that of the forwards and defense. For example, even though the Nashville Predators are fifth in this PK Ranking, I'd suspect much of the credit should go to Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason, who have been spectacular all season long. On the opposite end of that scale, we may find that there are skaters on teams at the bottom of these rankings that are giving up relatively few scoring opportunities, but goaltending (hello, L.A.) is letting them down - and a savvy GM might want to look for that kind of player to help complement a team that hopes to make a run in the playoffs this spring.

*remember, I tend not to count empty-net scores in my analysis.

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