Wednesday, April 29, 2009

#119: And Onto Round Two

---The Annual Analysis Continues---

Anyone who made series predictions based off post #118 did pretty well.

Once again, Steeltown Sports is studying the trend of Shots on Goal Differential (SOGD) in the National Hockey League as it pertains to eventual series and Stanley Cup winners.

For those joining in mid-stream, SOGD is calculated by taking the average number of shots per game taken by one team, and subtracting the average number of shots given up.

Example: Team A gets an average of 31 shots per game, and give up 28. Team A's Shots on Goal Differential is +3.

No team has won the Stanley Cup with a negative SOGD for the season since the 1990-91 Penguins (who got Ronnie Francis and Ulf Samuelsson at the trade deadline).

Here's a post-mortem breakdown of each first-round series, how it fell out, and why (in SOGD terms).

Each series will contain the teams' SOGD for the season, and, in parentheses, their SOGD after the trade deadline. Figures in red highlight the dreaded "negative".


Eastern Conference:

1. Boston -0.5 (-1.9)
8. Montreal -1.7 (-4.3)

For the regular season, Boston had a +1.2 advantage, and a +2.4 advantage after March 4. Both would indicate that Boston had a decided advantage.

In the series itself, Boston outshot Montreal by an average of 4.75 per game (19 total). The Bruins outshot Montreal in every game except Game 2, where the shots were even at 31 a side.

Boston was the pick, and the winner.


2. Washington +4.0 (+7.0)
7. NY Rangers +2.7 (+3.7)

Washington had the advantage in both time frames, but New York was in the positive itself. Still, the +1.3 season-long advantage, and +3.3 post-deadline advantage was even greater than Boston's edge over Montreal.

That said, this series went a full seven games, and was not decided until the last five minutes of the finale.

What happened?

The previous post mentioned that if an upset were to be pulled along the way, there would be much credit given to the underdog's goaltender.

In Game One, the Capitals outshot New York 35 to 21, but the Rangers prevailed 4-3.

In Game Two, Washington again had a decided SOG advantage, 35 to 24, but lost 1-0.

Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers' netminder, faced 70 total shots on the road, but allowed only 3 goals, giving a save percentage of .956.

In Game Four, a 2-1 Rangers victory, New York was outshot 39 to 21. The Capitals nearly doubled them up and still lost. One headline read, "Lundqvist makes 38 saves, Rangers take 3-1 lead".

New York was outshot in every game except Game Six, and the total SOGD for the series was Washington +7.14 (which was about their post-deadline amount).

Lundqvist made what should have been a quick Capitals victory a true challenge.

Incidentally, New York was outshot 13 to 1 in the final period of Game 7.

Washington was the pick, but was nearly upset by goaltender Lundqvist.


3. New Jersey +3.5 (+4.0)
6. Carolina +3.1 (+2.8)

Considering how close these two teams were in SOGD, it is not surprising that the game was not decided until the final minute of another Game Seven.

The great Martin Brodeur completely collapsed with under two minutes to go and Carolina escaped to the second round.

The statistical pick was New Jersey, but it was also said that a Carolina victory would only constitute a minor upset.

The series featured two overtime games, and another game that was .2 seconds from going into OT. New Jersey outshot Carolina in four of the seven games, but the ultimate average margin in the series was Devils +0.43 (see the difference in full-regular season average).

One would have to think that Martin Brodeur at age 30 would have won the series.


4. Pittsburgh -1.3 (+6.5)
5. Philadelphia -2.8 (-2.4)

This was one of two series that was highlighted in the previous post that might not be as close as expected, considering the post-deadline success of the Penguins in the SOGD category.

The final series differential was Penguins +1.0, (similar to the +1.5 season differential that Pittsburgh had over Philly...not so similar to the post-deadline difference) and it's why the series seemed so close.

Still, the Pens were the statistical pick, and they prevailed.

Overall, the Eastern Conference saw three of the four teams with the superior SOGD advance, and the one that did not go on missed out by a razor-thin margin.


Now to the Western Conference:

1. San Jose +6.0 (+3.1)
8. Anaheim -0.2 (+3.3)

The previous post said that the "upset alert" was in play for this particular series as the Ducks had vastly improved their SOGD down the home stretch, while the heavily-favored Sharks went almost as far in the other direction.

The Ducks were the pick, and they prevailed in six games.

The series itself, though, was a statistical anomaly.

Anaheim was outshot in each of the six games played. Sometimes badly. The final advantage: San Jose +12.17

However, the mitigating circumstance was Jonas Hiller, the Ducks' goalie. He was the Number One Star in three of the games (One, Two and Six), and the Number Two Star in Game Four). For those keeping track, the Ducks one all four games where Hiller was given props.

So, a shutdown-goalie helps negate a heavy SOGD advantage.

Hiller's save percentage this year was .921. San Jose's Evgeni Nabakov's was just .910. This, too, may have been a key factor. Just two years ago, the Ducks, behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere, were able to defeat a heavily-touted Detroit Red Wings team in the Western Conference Final, another outcome attributed to goalie play.

Perhaps next year, we'll add save percentage to the formula.

Still, the SOGD theory has given four winners out of five so far.


2. Detroit +8.4 (+9.0)
7. Columbus +1.1 (-1.1)

This was the "lock" of the first round, and it didn't disappoint. The Red Wings easily swept aside the Blue Jackets in their first-ever trip to the post-season in four games. The overall average margin in SOGD was Detroit +7.5, once again not too far off from their total season advantage.

Not much else needs to be said with regard to this series, but it is starting to appear that the post-deadline difference does not loom as large as expected.

Steeltown Sports is five-of-six so far in picking winners.


3. Vancouver -0.7 (-1.3)
6. St. Louis -0.9 (+0.9)

This series, statistically speaking, could have gone either way. As it was, Vancouver needed all of four games to eliminate the Blues. There is nothing above that would have suggested so simple a dismantling.

Roberto Luongo stood tall and wide in the net for the Canucks and was the Number One Star in three of the four games. St. Louis won the shots-on-goal battle in two of the games, and the teams were even in another. Overall, the Blues enjoyed a +2.75 series advantage, but Luongo nullified it.

Goaltender experience and Vancouver's slight SOGD for the season might have pointed the other way, but, for the sake of argument, the Blues were the pick by virtue of their superior post-deadline SOGD success, which was the new wrinkle added to this year's study.


4. Chicago +4.1 (+5.0)
5. Calgary +2.5 (+4.5)

This series was expected to be the most exciting of all the first rounders. Although it didn't quite go seven games, there was a sense that, entering Game Six in Calgary, it was destined to do so, as the home team had won each time.

Chicago won the SOG battle in all but the last game, which was dominated by the Flames 44 to 16. Blackhawks goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, who thwarted the Flames for the Stanley Cup in 2004 while with Tampa Bay, was the Number One Star in Game Six.

The disparity in that game, though, was enough to give Calgary an overall SOGD advantage of a slim +0.17. Without Khabibulin's heroics, there would certainly have been a Game Seven.

First Round Results: Six winners (Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Detroit, and Chicago), one clear loser (St. Louis) and one loser that, perhaps, should not have been (New Jersey).

Quickly looking ahead to Round Two:

Eastern Conference

1. Boston -0.5 (-1.9)
6. Carolina +3.1 (+2.8)

Clearly, Boston will be favored. They shouldn't be, according to our data. Carolina has a season-long differential advantage of +3.6, and +4.7 after the deadline. From the first round data, it seems that the season-long difference is the more indicative of the two, but that should still be enough to see Carolina win in no more than six games.

Plus, Cam Ward is a superior goalie to Tim Thomas. His Conn Smythe award in his trophy case should help bolster the 'Canes.


2. Washington +4.0 (+7.0)
4. Pittsburgh -1.3 (+6.5)

Post-trade deadline numbers indicate another seven-gamer for the Capitals, but the regular season numbers point to a Washington victory in five.

The biggest question mark is Washington goaltender Simeon Varlamov. He performed admirably against the Rangers, but he will now face two of the world's best forwards in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. The 20-year old has a very small sample set to draw any definitive conclusions. If the Penguins can rattle Varlamov early, they may be able to eke out a victory in seven by stealing a game or two at the Verizon center.

Washington is the pick, however.

Still, congratulations to Dan Bylsma on officially becoming the head coach. He deserves the chance after transforming the Penguins' offensive philosophy, and, with it, their fortune.


Western Conference:

2. Detroit +8.4 (+9.0)
8. Anaheim -0.2 (+3.3)

Detroit should win in five. And it may be that they lose Game One after being off for over a week. They've also had trouble playing in Anaheim, but this year's Ducks aren't the Champs from two years ago. The Ducks are due for a letdown after beating their up-state rivals.


3. Vancouver -0.7 (-1.3)
4. Chicago +4.1 (+5.0)

If Vancouver somehow wins this series, Roberto Luongo will be the reason (injuries, too, can always hamper "futures" picks).

Everything else has already been covered.


Of the eight teams that remain, four have a season SOGD in the positive, and each of them are pitted against a team with a negative SOGD on the season. If history over the past 18 years is any indication, only Carolina, Washington, Detroit, or Chicago will hoist Lord Stanley's chalice in June. But, should one of the others beat the odds, we'll find out why that team can join the Pens of 1990-1991 in the rare feat.

So, buckle up, and hope one at least one of these series gets beyond five games. Otherwise, we'll be forced to watch the NBA playoffs.

And only David Stern wants that.


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