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.

Monday, April 13, 2009

#118: Shots on Goal and the NHL Playoffs

---My Favorite Stat, with a Twist---

It's that time of year again: Time to test the Shots on Goal Differential (SOGD) theory we've (or at least *I've*) been watching for the past several years (refer to this post).

Looking at last year, the Western Conference teams sent four teams with a positive SOGD and four teams with a negative, and the first round matchups pitted a positive vs. a negative. The positive teams all advanced to round two.

The East didn't shake out so evenly. In fact, three of the four semi-finalists had negative SOGDs. The Penguins had the worst SOGD in the league among all playoff teams, and they got to the Final.

There has been no Stanley Cup winner with a negative SOGD since the 1990-91 Penguins, but, in that case, there was a significant mitigating circumstance; at the trade deadline, they shanghaied the Hartford Whalers for the ultimate face-off man in Ronnie Francis and a juggernaut on defense in Ulf Samuelsson. It's very possible, that their SOGD was already so far in the negative that even if the Pens were in the positive from the deadline on, there wouldn't have been enough time to vault them into the positive.

This year could be similar for the Penguins.

For the season, the Pens are -1.3. They bottomed out somewhere near -4 at some point. Since Dan Bylsma took over for Michel Therrien as Penguins head coach on February 15, the Penguins are a +4.4.

Since the trade deadline (March 4), the Penguins are nearly +6.5.

Last year, the additions of Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hal Gill at the deadline helped generate more shots on goal, too (though I don't know to what extent).

So, this year's chart will display the seed, the team, their season-long SOGD, and their (SOGD after the trade deadline - playoff teams only).

Eastern Conference
1. Boston -0.5 (-1.9)
2. Washington +4.0 (+7.0)
3. New Jersey +3.5 (+4.0)
4. Pittsburgh -1.3 (+6.5)
5. Philadelphia -2.8 (-2.4)
6. Carolina +3.1 (+2.8)
7. NY Rangers +2.7 (+3.7)
8. Montreal -1.7 (-4.3)
9. Florida -5.3
10. Buffalo -0.9
11. Ottawa +0.8
12. Toronto +1.5
13. Atlanta -4.6
14. Tampa Bay -4.4
15. NY Islanders -4.6

Western Conference
1. San Jose +6.0 (+3.1)
2. Detroit +8.4 (+9.0)
3. Vancouver -0.7 (-1.3)
4. Chicago +4.1 (+5.0)
5. Calgary +2.5 (+4.5)
6. St. Louis -0.9 (+0.9)
7. Columbus +1.1 (-1.1)
8. Anaheim -0.2 (+3.3)
9. Minnesota -3.2
10. Nashville -0.4
11. Edmonton -4.5
12. Dallas +0.8
13. Phoenix -3.5
14. Los Angeles +1.0
15. Colorado -0.2

Based on the above, the following two first-round picks could be made with a certain degree of certainty.

- Detroit Red Wings over Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even though Columbus seems to play Detroit tough during the regular season, the defending Stanley Cup champs have an advantage in SOGD of +7.3 (+10.1 since the trade deadline), and they're facing a franchise making its initial trip to the postseason. This is the lock of the first round.

- Pittsburgh Penguins over Philadelphia Flyers.

The East pits season-long negative SOGD against negative and positive vs. positive in an odd coincidence, but the trade deadline difference between these two teams in particular serves as the tie-breaker. Pittsburgh is the clear statistical favorite (+8.9).

All the top seeds in the East should hold serve. The most intriguing series is the New Jersey Devils versus the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward is playing on another planet right now. A Hurricane series victory could only be scored as a light upset.

Upset watch in the West: Anaheim Ducks over the San Jose Sharks. Anaheim actually has the SOGD edge since the trade deadline. Home ice advantage may not help the Sharks against a team that won the Cup just two years ago.

The statistic shows that St. Louis may pull the upset over Vancouver, but Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo could be the difference-maker here.

Meanwhile, Chicago and Calgary should be the most entertaining series in the first round.

Long term, it looks like a Detroit/Washington Stanley Cup Final, but the Penguins, the Sharks, or even the Blackhawks or the Flames could crash the "Rematch of 1998".

If the winners don't break out as the SOGD stats spell out, praise will be heaped upon the opposing goalie in direct proportion to how great the differential is between the teams.

In any case, the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs should feature more series that go at least six games than last year.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

#117: With Low Expectations Comes...

---No Benefit of Doubt---

Theatre of the Mindless...

The Scene: Cubicle in an office. The phone rings. A nineteen-year old INTERN picks up.

INTERN: Yahoo! Sports newsdesk.

BUSCH STADIUM: Yes, we're calling to confirm the final score of today's Pirates/Cardinals game.

INTERN (bored beyond belief at unpaid internship): Ok. Cardinals....?

BUSCH STADIUM: Six, Four, Pirates

INTERN (briefly fixated on a picture of some supermodel on his wall calendar): Got it. Cardinals Six, Four Pirates. Thanks.


INTERN hangs up phone.

The result:

This is the reason to love the Pittsburgh Pirates. People automatically assume they're going to lose every single game and laze off. They can't lose 82 soon enough. And you wonder what kind of a game/week/season they would have to put together to get that photo spot where CC Sabathia is in the example above. Or at least have their story be first on the news feed on the far right. For even an hour.

Game 2 tonight.

Bucs are guaranteed of not having a losing record until at least Wednesday night.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

#116: Pitt Run Done


The Pitt Panthers men's basketball team had probably their best season ever.

Prior to the start of the 2008-2009 season, Pitt had never:

- Defeated a #1 ranked team

- Been a #1 ranked team

- Advanced beyond the Sweet Sixteen round in the NCAA Tournament (after the field expanded to 64 teams)

This season, they did all three (and they accomplished the first two things twice. And they were within a few moments and a couple turnovers of advancing to their first Final Four since 1941.

Unfortunately, the title of this post does not just refer to the end of the season. With the certain departures of Forward Sam Young and Point Guard Levance Fields, as well as the likely departure of Center Dejuan Blair (though he has denied it), the three players who really made the true difference as the blue and gold traversed the deadly Big East, it marks the end of what will be a consecutive string of 20-win seasons and strong showings against quality programs. Tyrell Biggs' graduation won't help, either.

While the recruitment effort surely saw a boost this year with the Panthers establishing themselves in the national limelight, there is going to be a year or two when Jamie Dixon's squad will be simply a mediocre team.

Watching Brad Wanamaker choke at the free throw line throughout the tournament and take stupid fouls was not encouraging.

Seeing Jermaine Dixon cough up the basketball at the midcourt stripe (with a four point lead) late against Villanova, and then committing a foul on the other end (contesting what was an almost-certain layup, anyway) was probably what ultimately cost the Panthers a berth in the Final Four.

The players who remain, even with the added experience of being on an Elite Eight team, aren't the same type of players that they're losing. They haven't shown the potential to become those.

The 2009-2010 Panthers' squad will be the true measuring stick as to how good of a coach Jamie Dixon is.

This is not to say that Dixon is even just an average coach. There are coaches with more talent year after year who have failed to accomplish what Dixon has done. Gameplans are going to have to change. Louisville, West Virginia, and even Connecticut (who may be facing punishment from the NCAA for recruitment violations) are all young teams. Notre Dame is showing some promise. It is uncertain what Villanova will look like.

The point is that the Big East is not going to fade into a sub-par conference anytime in the near future, and Pitt will have a large target on their back, even if the main reasons for their success this season won't be there this fall.

Expect Pitt to take a large step back next season, perhaps even in the manner that the Georgetown Hoyas did this year.

On the very slim chance that Dejuan Blair does not leave for the NBA, there will still be a significant step back, but the Panthers might be able to eke into the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed.

One thing is for certain: Radio listeners will have to prepare for color announcer Dick Groat's constant stream of groans.

That may be the most unpleasant thing of all.