Doesn’t it seem like there’s a statistic for everything? The Boston Bruins are 3-0 in Stanley cup playoff wins when an Alberta Clipper rips through town. The Vancouver Canucks have a 65% win percentage on full moon games. I'm exagerating, but if there’s one thing for certain, the 2013 NHL playoff broadcasts will not be any different when it comes to crazy situational stats.
We will leave it to all the talking heads on television to give their picks for this year’s playoffs, some of them have a method to their madness, but most just go with a ‘gut feel’. I decided to go back over the last 20 years and see if there were some regular season statistics that are consistent with teams that are one-and-done, and those that characterize Stanley Cup winners. The one statistic that had a very strong correlation with playoff success was a team’s shooting differential.
Team Shooting Differential (per game)
This statistic takes a look at the 'average shots for' versus the 'average shots against' for a particular team. The theory is a team with a positive differential gets more shots on net, allows fewer shots against (with strong defense and blocked shots), and hence has proportionately more scoring chances than their opponent.
In the last 20 seasons, not only have almost all Stanley Cup winning teams had a positive team shooting differential, they have consistently been in the Top 10. Here is how the Stanley Cup winners since 1993 have stacked up:
- Los Angeles Kings (2012) – Ranked 6th overall with a +3.2 differential per game
- Boston Bruins (2011) – Ranked 17th overall, but still had a +0.5 differential
- Chicago Blackhawks (2010) – Ranked 1st overall, a +9.0 differential per game
- Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) – Ranked 21st overall, the only SC winner with a negative differential -1.3
- Detroit Red Wings (2008) – Ranked 1st overall, a huge +10.9 per game differential
- Anaheim Ducks (2007) – Ranked 3rd overall, a +4.1 per game differential
- Carolina Hurricanes (2006) – Ranked 10th overall, a +0.7 per game differential
- Tampa Bay Lightening (2004) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +4.6 per game differential
- New Jersey Devils (2003) – Ranked 1st overall, a +8.1 per game differential
- Detroit Red Wings (2002) – Ranked 4th overall, a +4.6 per game differential
- Colorado Avalanche (2001) – Ranked 4th overall, a +4.1 per game differential
- New Jersey Devils (2000) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +7.5 per game differential
- Dallas Stars (1999) – Ranked 6th overall, a +3.7 per game differential
- Detroit Red Wings (1998) – Ranked 2nd overall, a +5.0 per game differential
- Detroit Red Wings (1997) – Ranked 1st overall, a +7.9 per game differential
- Colorado Avalanche (1996) – Ranked 6th overall, a +3.3 per game differential
- New Jersey Devils (1995) – Ranked 5th overall, a +4.7 per game differential
- New York Rangers (1994) – Ranked 3rd overall, a +8.2 per game differential
- Montreal Canadians (1993) – Ranked 10th overall, a +1.8 per game differential
In the last 20 years, only the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins have had a negative differential and gone on to win the Stanley Cup. 63% of Stanley Cup winning teams have been in the Top 5, and 90% of winning teams have been in the Top 10 when it comes to overall shooting differential.
Albeit a shortened 48 game season, here are how the the numbers stack up for the 2013 season:
(See past year's shot differential)
Looking at this year’s differentials, the following three playoff bound teams have a negative differential:
- Toronto Maple Leafs – Ranked 29th overall with a -5.9 differential per game
- Washington Capitals – Ranked 26th overall with a -4.2 differential per game
- Vancouver Canucks – Ranked 19th overall with a -0.8 differential per game
Taking it a step further, there are only 4 teams since the 1992-93 season that have had a differential below +2.0. This year’s fringe playoff teams are the Anaheim Ducks (+0.1), Pittsburgh Penguins (+0.7), and the Minnesota Wild (+1.7).
Looking for Value or an Upset?
There is no doubting the fact that teams in the regular season that shoot the puck more, and prevent shots against, tend to win more games and have better records. Now that we’ve essentially ruled out 6 of the 16 playoff teams this season, where is there value? Last year there was incredible value with the LA Kings. They finished 8th in the Western Conference barely getting into the playoffs, but they were a Top 6 team in shooting differential. Here are a few series that jump out at us:
- 1) San Jose Sharks (+2.8) vs. Vancouver Canucks (-0.8) – The Canucks have home ice advantage and are favored, but face a 3.6 SPG deficit.
- 2) Boston Bruins (+3.6) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (-5.9) – The Bruins are favored in the series, but the Leafs facing a 9.5 shot per game deficit, this series might not even be close.
- 3) New York Rangers (+2.6) vs. Washington Capitals (-4.2) – This series is a virtual deadlock according to the odds makers, yet the Rangers have a 6.8 shot per game advantage.
Good luck hockey fans with your selections for this year’s playoffs, while shooting differential isn’t a crystal ball for picking the Stanley Cup winner, hopefully it has helped narrow down and eliminate certain teams from contention.
For even more help, check out our article: What Do NHL Playoff Seedings Means For Stanley Cup Chances? and also, Goal Differential per Game: If You're Not Top 10, No Stanley Cup