Thursday, June 06, 2013

Our Modest Suggestion for the Most Overrated NHL Statistic for 2013

Power Play Conversion Rate


Today, fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins are probably grinding their teeth over the fact that their boys are a big fat oh-for-12 on the power play in three games.  Big deal.

Yeah, the Pens were all whoop-dee-doo on the power play this season, finishing second (to a team we will get to in a moment) during the regular season.  Then, they were 7-for-21 against the New York Islanders in a six-game playoff series, 6-for-25 in a five-game series romp over the Ottawa Senators.  Going 13-for-46 in their first two series is pretty good -- 28.3 percent, an improvement over their 24.7 percent in the regular season.

But then Boston happened, just as the New York Rangers happened to the Washington Capitals (first on the power play in the regular season, dumped in seven games after going 3-for-16 in their first round series). 

Just as the Detroit Red Wings happened to the Anaheim Ducks (fourth in the regular season) in Games 4-7, when the Ducks went 2-for-10 after going 5-for-15 in Games 1-3 (did we mention the Ducks went 1-3 in those last four games?). 

Just as the Ottawa Senators happened to the Montreal Canadiens (fifth in the regular season), holding the Habs to 3-for-19 in their first round matchup that Ottawa won in five games.

Nine teams finished the 2013 regular season with power play conversion rates of 20 percent or better.  Perhaps as a foreshadowing of what was to come, only five of them made the playoffs (Washington, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Montreal, and San Jose).  Only two won a playoff round (Pittsburgh and San Jose).

Ah, but look at 5-on-5's.  The four conference finalists finished in the top-eight in 5-on-5 ratio of goals scored to goals allowed.  Three of them (Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Boston) finished in the top four.

In the Bruins-Penguins series, Boston has outscored Pittsburgh 11-2 at even strength.  That happens to be the total scoring for the series, neither team having realized a power play goal through three games.

In the Chicago-Los Angeles series, the Blackhawks won Games 1 and 2 by outscoring the Kings 5-2 at even strength.  In the Kings win, it was 3-1 on even strength for the Kings.

If Boston sweeps the Penguins out, especially, we suspect much will be made of the Penguins getting nothing out of a power play stocked to the rafters with talent.  Well, they might not score any power play goals, but that will not be the reason they lost.  Not anymore than it is the reason the Caps lost to the Rangers.  New York outscored the Caps 14-9 at even strength in seven games.  Boston is laying waste to the Penguins at even strength.

Think of it this way.  Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and did it by finishing 14th of 16 playoff teams in power play conversion rate.

It only makes sense.  If power plays are harder to come by in the post-season, and you get shut down (who doesn't at some point), then five-on-five -- like money in the Willie Sutton analogy about why he robbed banks -- is where the wins are.

Try not to overthink the game; it ain't the power play.